Harry S. Truman Scholarship

History   |   Description   |   Eligibility   |    How to   |   Application   |   Recommendation   |Checklist

History and Purpose

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship is the official federal memorial to the 33rd president of the United States. Dedicated to education and public service, President Truman often spoke about the importance of promoting young leaders, and envisioned a program for students 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. The Foundation awarded its first Scholarships in the 1977-78 academic year.

Each year hundreds of college juniors compete 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.

Description of the Truman Scholarship

The Truman Scholarship 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, 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.  Scholars participate in seminars and workshops with distinguished Truman alumni and other public service leaders, 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. Truman Scholarships may be applied to graduate study in the US or abroad.

Eligibility requirements & Rules for Nomination

Applicants must be/have:

  • a full-time junior or a senior who will complete her undergraduate degree in three years
  • a 3.7 minimum GPA; this may be waived,  if the student has an extensive record of public service
  • pursuing 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
  • have outstanding leadership potential and communication skills
  • be committed to a career in public service as defined above
  • 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; scholarship can be deferred up to 4 years
  • nominated by her undergraduate institution (MHC may nominate up to 4 students plus 3 transfer students)

How to Apply

All applicants must apply through a campus process, facilitated by National Fellowships Advisor Christine Overstreet and be selected as a Truman nominee by the College (represented by the Committee on Fellowships, chaired by the Dean of Studies). Interested students should attend an information session or meet with Christine to discuss candidacy; to apply, Christine must open a registration form for the student in the Truman system. Christine works with students on essay drafts and other application materials for submission to the Committee. The Committee interviews candidates and following nomination decisions, applicants will further revise their materials for submission to the Truman Foundation.  Note that deadlines for the campus process are earlier than the Truman Scholarship application deadline.

Application components

  • A completed online application form where the candidate enters biographical information as well as past work, education, extracurricular activities and awards (some sections request high school as well as college activities); future educational and career plans; and answers short essay questions about leadership and service record as well as policy concerns.  
  • A Policy Proposal (guidelines and an example are supplied by the Foundation)
  • Three recommendations – one specific to public service; one to leadership potential and abilities; and one to intellectual capability and suitability for graduate level work
  • Official Transcripts – from all undergraduate study sources; request and have sent directly to Christine
  • A Nomination Letter (submitted by the National Fellowships Advisor)


Truman seeks the following in recommendation letters: Each of the three recommendation letters for a Truman candidate focuses on one of three qualities – leadership, service, or academic achievement. Be sure before agreeing to write a letter that you are able to amply address the quality that should be the focus of your letter. There is a prompt for each letter as follows:

  • Leadership - Please 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: Describe a significant contribution made by the candidate through one or more public service, community or government-related activities.  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 intelligence, academic performance, analytical abilities, and other characteristics which you think contribute to success in graduate school.

Read more about recommendation letters for national fellowships.

Format and submission: Please print your letter on institutional letterhead, including your contact information, and sign it. Then please send either a hard copy by USPS or inter-department mail, or scan the letter and send by e-mail attachment to Christine Overstreet by January 13, 2016. (Address: Christine Overstreet, 300C Mary Lyon Hall, Mount Holyoke College, 50 College Street, South Hadley, MA 01075).   Christine will upload your recommendation letter to the Truman Scholarship online site by the final deadline.

Campus Process and Checklist

For all deadlines, submission time is 12:00 noon - please note that Truman Dates for 2015-2016 will be updated here when posted

Timeframe Task(s) to Complete
Early fall Attend Truman Information Session; meet with Christine to discuss candidacy; discuss interest with faculty and other potential recommenders and give potential recommenders Truman guidelines for recommendation (specific to leadership, intellectual capability, or service); research graduate study programs
mid Fall Order transcripts from all study abroad to be sent to Christine (we will use unofficial MHC transcripts for internal review, which Christine can obtain)

Begin online application; draft short essays and policy proposal and send to Christine for feedback

Solicit recommendation letters: one each on your academic work, leadership potential, and public service

Jan 13 Online application and recommendations due to Christine - Letterhead, signed, format; may be sent electronically
Jan 25-29 Committee on Fellowships interviews candidates; Christine notifies candidates of status once all interviews are completed; after December 5th, nominees order official MHC transcripts to be sent to Christine; candidates revise application materials according to Committee feedback
By Jan 31 Candidates submit final version of application in system; if recommendation letters not in proper format, must be received by this date
By Feb 2
Christine submits applications with nomination letter in online Truman application system
 by Feb 25 Finalists notified and confirmation form due
Feb 26 Finalist list posted on Truman website
2/29-4/15 Regional Review Panels interview candidates
April 22nd Scholarship winners posted
May 24-29 Truman Scholars Leadership Week