Recommendation letters give you the chance to highlight aspects of your character not otherwise apparent in your application. The people who are most qualified to do this are faculty members who know you well (who will not necessarily be the most famous professors on this campus).
Ideally your recommenders will be able to affirm your many outstanding characteristics: for example, your breadth of intellect, seriousness of purpose, generosity with other students, and constant desire to improve. Second, they will line up behind your project or study proposal and explain why they believe you will definitely be able to achieve your goals.
Give each recommender a brightly colored folder with your name clearly marked on it, well in advance of the first deadline. The folder should contain:
- a draft (even if preliminary) of your personal statement and research proposal
- your CV
- for each fellowship to which you are applying: a brief description; the deadline for the recommendation letter; and the internet link for uploading it
- a copy of the best paper that you wrote for his or her class, preferably with the professor’s comments
Do not forget to thank all of your recommenders for writing on your behalf, and keep them apprised of how you are faring in the various competitions.
Although most fellowships seek only faculty recommendations, some invite letters from others who can speak about non-academic skills, such as leadership ability or dedication to public service. For these contests, you may ask internship, employment, or volunteer supervisors.
It is probably best to avoid seeking letters of recommendation from graduate students. As they are also students, not unlike you in many respects, their words may not carry the same authority as those of full-time faculty.