The Rhodes and
Marshall Scholarships

Daniel C.


Daniel: "Do not be discouraged! Every application is unique, and the criteria are not simply checked off ...."

When I discovered the email inviting me to the interview I was quite shocked. I had sort of forgotten that I even applied (traveling probably helped in this regard), despite having spent months on the application. This most likely happened because I never thought much of my chances, and the evidence objectively indicated that this would be the right attitude to maintain. Given the four criteria, I adequately fulfilled the academic one but had deep deficits when it came to less cognitive dimensions, such as service to society (evidence of having, or being someone who might, “fight the world’s fight”) as well as that nebulous thing called social grace. I can now say that there really is no reliable way to judge one’s chances, and it is a matter of judgment, both for the nervous applicant and the deciding committee. Being more of an art or skill (“know how”) rather than a method or procedure (“knowing that”), judgment prevents this sort of prediction game, which might discourage applicants who think they have no chance at all (as I did). So do not be discouraged! Every application is unique and the criteria are not simply checked off or not, given a higher or lower number, but more so refracted through the prism of each individual application.
            In retrospect, what I think convinced (or rather moved – I’m not positive it’s a matter of persuasion…), the committee to invite me for an interview was the strength of my recommendations and my essay. The only thing one really has control over is this latter document, and I would spend as much time on it as possible. Even though I didn’t win the scholarship, the intense self-reflection demanded by the personal statement forced me to become more engaged with contemporary political events, to clarify my academic goals, and to figure out how I could improve myself as a human being by actively doing something to better the state of the world. When preparing for an interview, Ken recommended reading The Economist, and this certainly helps. Equally important, though, would be to not just passively absorb the information (which is massive), but to synthesize it into a narrative about where certain variables in the world are now and how they got there. This not only helps during interviews because one actually has an opinion and can take a position on an issue, but also in being an informed human being with a “live” narrative of how the whole formed by the disparate news items is developing. The clarification of academic goals will also certainly help if one plans on applying to graduate school. More important than political engagement or the clarification of life goals, however, was the process of learning how to reflect on my place in the world and where that place should shift and what this shift should accomplish in the scheme of things larger than myself and my often petty desires. I ultimately chose to apply in order to undergo the application process and reap its ulterior benefits, with the added perk that I might just be invited to the interview or even win.
            Interview preparation was held at Reed and was probably more rigorous than the actual interviews. The mock interviews were all stimulating and challenging, but I would recommend that a future candidate take into account that the mock questions are all formulated by academics and that one should calibrate one’s expectations accordingly. Questions posed by faculty often had an overly academic bent that (in my case, at least) did not come up during the actual interviews. Current events were also barely touched upon in the actual interview. What was the focus turned out to be my statement of purpose, but I would be careful not to generalize given the changing composition of the committee and the fact that other candidates reported different interview “types” than mine. One person was asked almost exclusively about water policy (current events), another person about her personal statement (projected goals), another about an abstract legal problem (academic interests), most a hodgepodge. What helped me most prepare for the real interview was thus the mock questions Ken provided after really reading my statement closely. The advice on factors that one controls and that help shape social atmosphere but are not necessarily visible to one, such as speaking up, straightening shoulders, looking at multiple faces even if answering one person’s question, was also incredibly helpful. I would recommend, after the mock interviews, creating a mental list of questions derived from the personal statement and formulating prepared answers to recycle should those questions (or similar enough variants) come up during the interview.
            The interview was held in a law firm in downtown Seattle and the group of candidates was truly stellar. I couldn’t help wondering why I was among such accomplished people. By the end of the weekend, however, I realized that I could converse with all of these people about issues of global importance without making a fool of myself. What began feeling like an intensely awkward competition for prestige ended up being a high energy seminar informally held in a small room full of people who were my age and more accomplished and intelligent than any other peer group I’m likely to meet (or be locked in a room with for a weekend). After my interview, I just had fun talking to the candidates, and everyone seemed eager to discuss their projects, thoughts, and emotions about the widest variety of subjects. These discussions were the absolute highlight of the experience, and I made a number of friends in very different fields. Conversations ranged from the role of the media in society, the need for good environmental journalism, water policy, why it’s difficult to market anti-depressants in India, constitutional law, athleticism, the neuroscience of jokes (I was the only paleo-Freudian), and more. There was only one other humanities person (she studied classics and archeology and was fascinated by pots – we spoke about shards and history), but all were quite kind and no one intimidating. If anything, the variety of backgrounds, academic and personal, made for lively discussion. One of the interviewers even commented that there was an atypical amount of good will among this year’s batch of candidates.
            Looking back, the lunch was quite casual but I was nonetheless very nervous and basically did not eat. I spoke a lot to an interviewer who worked as a privacy lawyer for Facebook but also studied the philosophy of religion at Oxford (we both had strong positions against utilitarianism). I also spoke to another interviewer who was a risk manager about her profession. Somehow I ended up saying politely that I didn’t think risk management existed or was possible, and she was very responsive to my point of view. At this point in the conversation, my nervousness had faded and I was just asking people questions about things I found interesting, which is more natural for me than monitoring my conversational habits, which was my somewhat paralyzing beginning.

As for the actual interview, the questions were as follows:


Christ Church, Oxford

Christ Church, Oxford


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