Teachers and Counselors

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What the Recommendation Can Do

Congratulations on being selected by a high-achieving Flinn Scholarship applicant to represent them in this important phase of the application process. Each application requires two teacher recommendations as well as a report and recommendation from the high school academic counselor.

We encourage counselors and teachers to sit down with the student to discuss the application and review a copy of the student’s work and talk about additional information that could be shared. This teamwork will result in a much more cohesive and effective application package.

Teachers should accept a request to write a recommendation for a Flinn Scholar applicant if they have taught the student in an academic subject in high school. While the focus of a recommendation should be on the student’s intellectual acuity and agility, teachers are welcome to include information about advising a student’s work in an activity beyond the classroom.

Counselors have a lot of freedom in their recommendations and can integrate quotes from others in the letter. These quotes can come from teachers not writing letters for you, as well as observations and feedback from coaches or community figures who know the student well.

Counselor recommendations can also discuss further the honors, awards, or experiences the student could only mention briefly in the application.

While there is no word limit, most effective letters are not less than 400 words or more than 1,000 words.

Below are tips for writing both a teacher and counselor recommendation, as well as FAQs about the Flinn Scholarship program and submitting an application.


Tips for Teachers
  • Talk with your Students

    In your initial conversation with students who request recommendations from you, you should request a description of the specific scholarship, its criteria, and an indication of the students’ reason for choosing you to write on their behalf. Are they asking primarily because they earned a high grade in your course, or because you recognized that the course material did not come easily for them and they succeeded despite the challenge? Is there a distinctive role they perceive you having played in their school (and future) careers? Your letters should always establish the nature and duration of your relationship with each student. Next, consider whether you have seen these students in different contexts and/or outside of the classroom: Are there episodes in the students’ lives or specific projects you supervised or saw outcomes of that they hope you will comment on?

  • Orient the Reviewer of the Application

    Your recommendation helps reviewers understand your students’ environment. Specifically, we want to know what your classroom and courses are like. The raw data of grades and test scores are meaningless unless we know what students did to earn them. Help our readers understand the expectations you bring to your classes and the ways in which you encourage your students to meet them. To elaborate: Different subjects favor different styles of learning; some require students to work quite independently; for others, teamwork is the norm. Students’ ability to apply what they have learned to real-life situations may be important in one setting; technical proficiency may be important in another. Oral presentations may dominate assessment in one course; projects may dominate in another. Some teachers emphasize argumentative and expository writing grounded in research; others cultivate their students’ creative expression.

  • Complete the Portrait

    You have the advantage of seeing your students almost daily and can write with authority about their habits of mind as demonstrated in your classroom throughout the year. This may include assessments of their intellectual and personal growth as reflected in class discussions (insights offered and leadership assumed), laboratory or field performance, and evidence of written work. How do they approach a question or topic? Do they have a preferred problem-solving strategy? How do they demonstrate academic initiative? What evidence do they give of a love of learning that exceeds the basic requirements of your course? For what do they exhibit a passion, and how do they pursue it? How do they share their enthusiasm for ideas with their peers and with you? Answers to such questions are often most effectively conveyed by an episode that illustrates your students’ behaviors; these stories often catch the attention of our readers and will help solidify your students’ identity in their memory. Avoid exaggerating claims for the student’s accomplishment or ranking in the roster of students you have taught throughout your career. Committees do notice when a teacher describes multiple students as “The single best I have encountered in 20 years.” Such misguided claims, while rare, essentially negate the value of that person’s letters for all of the students.

    Toward maximizing the range of insights about your students, we encourage you to meet with the other teacher and the counselor who are joining you in writing recommendations for a particular student. Convening as a recommendation team adds significant value to your time and efforts by allowing all three of you to coordinate your efforts, making sure that each offers different perspectives and different illustrations of the student’s traits. You want the letters to complement, not coincide with, each other; we should learn something distinctive from what each of you has to say.

  • Declining to Recommend
    Do not agree to write a letter if you have serious reservations about a student’s performance or character. In such a case, you have some obligation to inform the student of the nature and depth of your concerns and give the student an opportunity to choose someone whose reflections may be more positive. You may also say “no” to a request for a recommendation if the student offers inadequate advance notice (two weeks is usually considered acceptable; three, preferable).
Tips for Counselors
  • Orient the Reviewers of the Application

    Your recommendation helps reviewers understand your students’ environment. We want to learn how effectively and creatively students have used the resources available at their school and in their community, and how they have exercised initiative by making new opportunities for learning and discovery. This exposition helps us see what features in students’ learning environments are most important to them and helps us account for variations in resource bases at different schools. Help us understand your school’s culture, structure and programs: Is volunteer service expected or required? Are certain awards decided by faculty or by students’ peers? Was an activity already established or was it launched by the student about whom you’re writing?

    Where relevant programs, activities, and awards are unique to your school or unique in terms of logistical constraints, please explain. For instance, if one student did not to pursue the IB diploma because the courses conflicted with those in the music program to which she was committed, help us understand that choice.

  • Assess Progress and Achievement

    When possible, use your recommendation to indicate the progress and growth of your student over time. Avoid exaggerating claims for the student’s accomplishment or ranking in the roster of students you have encountered throughout your career. Committees do notice when a counselor describes multiple students as “The single best I have encountered in 20 years.” You do not have to compare your candidates to each other or rank individual students, especially if you are writing for more than one in a given application cycle.

  • Complete the Portrait

    We hope your recommendations will describe distinctive contributions your students make to the school and/or civic community—in essence, whether your students recognize that education represents a public benefit as well as a private good. For example, a student may note in her application that she has worked on the campus clothing drive; if she has left out the detail that she initiated and managed a district-wide competition to see which school could generate the most donations, we hope you will include that information. You might also discuss any provisions a student has made for institutionalizing his or her work, ensuring that it will continue after graduation and make a lasting contribution to the good of others.

    You also have the opportunity to incorporate into your own letter remarks made by faculty other than those your students have chosen to write on their behalf: from coaches, parental volunteers at your school, civic leaders and others who do not know your students in a purely academic setting.

    Toward maximizing the range of insights about your students, we encourage you to meet with the two teachers who are joining you in writing recommendations for a particular student. Convening as a recommendation team adds significant value to your time and efforts by allowing all three of you to coordinate your efforts, making sure that each offers different perspectives and different illustrations of the student’s traits. You want the letters to complement, not coincide with, each other. We should learn something distinctive from what each of you has to say.

  • Declining to Recommend
    We do not want you to write a letter if you have serious reservations about a student’s performance or character. In such a case, you have some obligation to inform the student of the nature and depth of your concerns. You may also say “no” to a request for a recommendation if the student offers inadequate advance notice (two weeks is usually considered acceptable; three, preferable). In either case, remember that because the Flinn Scholarship Program requires a counselor letter, your refusal essentially disqualifies a student from applying: a decision that we believe should be made with great caution.
FAQs for Teachers and Counselors
  • How are Flinn Scholars chosen?

    Competition is more rigorous for the Flinn Scholarship than for even the most-selective colleges and universities. In the fall, we often receive more than 700 applications and each spring we award 20 scholarships. Flinn Scholars come from every corner of Arizona. Upon arrival at the university, they choose concentrations in virtually every discipline. There is no blueprint for a Flinn Scholar.

    Merit, demonstrated by academic and personal achievement, is the only factor in selection; financial need is not a consideration.

    Our reviewers are panels of community leaders and Flinn Scholar alumni. They examine applicants’ academic achievement, leadership and involvement, service to the community, ability to communicate, and personal qualities. Each of these factors is an important part of the holistic picture that an applicant presents to us. A list of baseline criteria is posted on our Requirements page.

    From all applicants, reviewers select a group of semifinalists for an initial interview at the Flinn Foundation offices. Following this interview, 40 applicants are named finalists and invited to interview with the Selection Committee, comprised of state leaders in various fields. The Selection Committee recommends recipients to the Foundation’s Board of Directors. All finalists are notified of their status by late March and a public announcement is made in April.

  • What does the Flinn Scholarship provide?
    Total value of the Flinn Scholarship, including the cash value of tuition offered by each university, exceeds $115,000. But the award’s monetary value is only the beginning of the program’s benefits.
  • Why should my best students apply for a Flinn Scholarship?

    Flinn Scholars have a competitive edge. Over the course of four years, they routinely compile extraordinary records of graduate-level coursework and published research. By graduation day, they have become globally-traveled leaders wielding influence in the state, nation, and world. They convey a serious sense of purpose and goals. Every year, Scholars win prestigious fellowships such as the Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright, Gates Cambridge, Churchill, Goldwater, Truman, and Udall, and alumni regularly attend the nation’s top graduate schools, often with full scholarships.

    Many Scholars say the most important aspect of the program is joining a community of similarly motivated students of diverse interests. They form long-lasting friendships within an unparalleled network of talented future leaders in every field you can imagine.

  • What can I do to help my students become Flinn Scholars?
    Please see the tips for teachers and counselors on this page.
  • How do I submit recommendations for my students?

    During the online application process, your students will submit your email address as part of their applications. You will receive, via email, instructions on how to submit your letters online. Once submitted, your recommendations are confidential during and after our selection process. In addition, guidance counselors must upload a copy of applicants’ transcripts. We ask that you ensure that your recommendation, including the transcript, is submitted to us by the deadline. Incomplete or late applications may not be reviewed.

  • What feedback on the application or interview can my student expect?

    We do not provide information regarding an individual’s performance to applicants, their families, or their teachers and counselors, during or after our selection process. All materials applicants submit, all material generated during the review process (i.e., readers’ and interviewers’ notes), and the teacher and counselor recommendations remain confidential. Throughout the year, and throughout the state, we conduct information sessions for educators, students, and families. We confer with counselors to suggest how students can maximize their educational opportunities during their high school careers and thereby become viable candidates for a wide range of competitive programs and awards. And we offer in-service conferences for teachers and counselors to help them better support their students through our process.

    You may send questions about the application process to application@flinn.org.