Truman Scholarship Overview

Dakota Foster '17 History and Purpose: The Harry S Truman Scholarship is the official federal memorial to the 33rd president of the United States. President Truman often spoke about the importance of promoting young leaders, and envisioned a program that would encourage educated citizenship and political responsibility. Therefore, after his death in 1972, a bill for this memorial was proposed and authorized to allow the Foundation to “award scholarships to persons who demonstrate outstanding potential for and who plan to pursue a career in public service,” and to conduct a nationwide competition to select Truman scholars. Since 1978, each year hundreds of college juniors have competed for roughly 60 awards. The rigorous selection process requires that good candidates have a strong record of public service and submit a policy proposal that addresses a particular issue in society.

 The Foundation defines public service as employment in government at any level, uniformed services, public-interest organizations, non-governmental research and/or educational organizations, public and private schools, and public service-oriented nonprofit organizations such as those whose primary purposes are to help needy or disadvantaged persons or to protect the environment. The Truman Scholarship is committed to encouraging future “change agents” in America. Many of those chosen as scholars go on to serve in public office as public defenders, leaders of non-profit organizations, and educators.

Award Description & Funding Details: The Truman  offers financial support for graduate study, leadership training, and fellowship with other students who are committed to making a difference through public service. Truman Scholars receive up to $30,000 for graduate or professional school (in the US or abroad), participate in leadership development activities, and have special opportunities for internships and employment with the federal government. Leadership development activities begin with the Truman Scholars Leadership Week immediately following Scholars’ junior year of college. This event, held at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, introduces new Scholars to the services provided by the Foundation and the many pathways to public service, offers seminars and workshops with distinguished Truman alumni and other public service leaders, includes a policy analysis project, a graduate school and career fair with representatives from the schools and programs most attended by Truman Scholars, and community service events in the Kansas City area. Additional opportunities include a ten-week long Summer Institute in Washington, DC where Scholars participate in internships with government agencies and nonprofit organizations, seminars and workshops, meetings with Washington policymakers and Truman alumni, and opportunities for community building among Scholars. Following the Summer Institute, Scholars may elect to stay on in Washington, DC for a full year in the Truman Fellows Program.  Scholars are placed in public service jobs – most with the federal government – while participating in a graduate level public policy course, mentoring opportunities, and a community service program.

Eligibility: Applicant must be/have a full-time junior (or a senior who will complete her undergraduate degree in three years); U.S. citizen or United States national from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; a 3.7 minimum GPA; this may be waived,  if the student has an extensive record of public service (see Director of Fellowships for guidance); planning to pursue a graduate degree in any discipline (need NOT be politics or history) in the US or abroad; have an extensive record of public and community service, outstanding leadership potential and communciation skills, and committed to a career in public service. Scholars are required to work in public service for three of the seven years following completion of a Foundation funded graduate degree program as a condition of receiving funding. The Scholarship may be deferred for up to four years.

How to Apply

Students must apply through the Amherst campus process which includes receiving essay feedback and guidance from the Office of Fellowships; completing the Truman online application and requesting recommendation letters to be sent to the Office of Fellowships, all by the early internal deadline. (The Office of Fellowships will attach your unofficial transcript to your application for the internal deadline. Candidates then are interviewed by the campus Committee on Student Fellowships, who will decided whom to endorse. Endorsed candidates will have time to revise materials as advised, order official transcripts that include fall grades to be sent to the Office of Fellowships, and the Director of Fellowships will submit their completed applications to Truman. To start an online application, contact Christine Overstreet, Director of Fellowships, to be registered. Endorsement: Amherst may endorse up to four candidates, and an additional three who are transfer students.

Application materials: The Truman online application contains several essays on the candidate’s leadership, service, and academic goals, as well as a policy proposal, and space to list numerous activities. Application components and instructions are described in detail on the Truman Application page.

For Recommenders

Content: Each of the three recommendation letters for a Truman candidate focuses on one of three qualities – leadership, service, or academic achievement. Please ask the candidate which letter you are being asked to write and note this focus in the first paragraph. The prompt for each letter is as follows:

  • Leadership - Please confirm the candidate's leadership example in the application essay. Address the candidate’s personal characteristics (confidence, persuasiveness, diligence, conviction, vitality, poise, and so forth) which you feel contribute to the candidate’s leadership abilities.
  • Commitment to a career in public service: Please discuss the candidate’s suitability with particular emphasis on commitment to a career in public service. Address in particular the public service activity the candidate has highlighted in the application essay.  Please address the candidate’s values, interests, goals, and/or ambitions which represent commitment to a career in government or elsewhere in the public service.
  • Intellect and prospects for continuing academic success: Discuss the candidate's suitability with particular emphasis on academic scholarship, intellectual capabilities, and prospects for success in graduate school, and if possible, for the program highlighted in the application. Discuss the candidate’s intelligence, academic performance, analytical abilities, and other characteristics which you think contribute to further academic success.

You may find helpful these Suggestions for Writers of Recommendation Letters.

Format and submission: Please type your letter on institutional letterhead, including your contact information, and sign it. Then send either a hard copy by USPS or inter-department mail, or a scanned version by email attachment to the Office of Fellowships, address below. The Director of Fellowships will upload your letter to the Truman application portal.

Christine Overstreet, Director of Fellowships
212 Converse Hall, 413-542-2536,
Carter McClintock, Fellowships Specialist
213 Converse Hall, 413-542-5079,                                 
Mailing address: Office of Fellowships, Amherst College, 212 Converse Hall, Amherst, MA 01002; Fax: 413-542-8555

Amherst College Truman Winners and Finalists

Amherst's most recent Truman Scholars are Dakota Foster '18 and Pierre Joseph '15.      

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