By their own admission, the Rhodes Trust and the Marshall Aid Commemoration
Commission are seeking similar candidates. At one time, a Rhodes Scholar was
regarded as more outgoing, well rounded and athletic, whereas a Marshall
scholar was considered more focused on academics. Now they almost mirror
one another. Wanting to improve its academic standing within the Oxford
community, Rhodes House has in recent years placed more emphasis on academic
success, and the notorious athletic qualification has paled into relative
insignificance. Marshall is also looking for outgoing young people to
serve as good ambassadors to the United Kingdom, not pure scholars who will
never leave the quietude of the library or laboratory.
In the broadest terms, they are looking for young leaders in their fields or in their communities -- people who can
connect theory to practice, emotion to reason, individual to group.
They want involved people who exhibit a restless curiosity and a rigorous
compassion for others. In their interviews, candidates are commonly
asked, "What is your greatest accomplishment?" The selectors
want to know if that accomplishment includes a dimension of outreach, whether
it be serving the greater scientific community or improving the circumstances
of the less advantaged.
The Rhodes Scholarship is available to U.S. students under
24 years of age by October 1 of the year of application and who will have
received a bachelors degree prior to October 1 of the year they will begin to
attend Oxford. (If you are not a U.S. citizen, check with me because the Rhodes
is by no means limited to the United States. Americans in fact make up a minority of Rhodents.)
In the words of the Rhodes memorandum:
Proven intellectual and academic achievement of a high
standard is the first quality required of applicants, but they will also be
required to show integrity of character, interest in and respect for their
fellow beings, the ability to lead, and the energy to use their talents to the
The following elaborates upon the above statement and
originates from the American secretary of the Rhodes Trust (and from a few
- Cecil Rhodes' will specified
four criteria by which Rhodes Scholars are to be selected:
The first quality is the most
important; the second, least. As to the latter, energy is only "exemplified" by
sports. Sports are just a
single way of demonstrating one's energy and capacity to carry through
with one's goals. They are a
way of mixing with others, but many Rhodes Scholars have only limited if
any athletic prowess. (Here I
write from experience -- at the time I had no athletic background at all.) The Rhodes selectors simply want people
with sufficient vigor who will be able to make the most of this
investment. Do not disqualify
yourself on the basis of limited athletic achievements.
Rhodes selectors are explicitly aware that no one is a paragon of all four
of the above categories. Instead they seek well-rounded students "with a bulge" --
that is, with a well developed talent or a sustained commitment to one or
two areas. They want that
person to use his or her talents or commitments to "fight the world's
These four qualities should
be ongoing. The candidate should be able to demonstrate a sustained
commitment -- two years at a given interest is good.
Johnny-come-lately's are immediately spotted.
Unlike the Marshall, Rhodes
has no minimum GPA, but as the American secretary has noted, "The
Rhodes Scholarship is an academic award. While there are many things
to enjoy on the Scholarship, students who do not want to apply themselves
academically in an Oxford degree course should not apply." Thus
a high GPA will be expected of candidates.
A Rhodes Scholar doesn't just study abroad in Germany
during the junior year, but while there, gets involved in doing something
unique and fulfilling, such as transcribing 12th century documents in the
city archives. That is, a Rhodes Scholar not only makes use of
opportunity but pushes that opportunity to do something unique and
meaningful. A Rhodes Scholar doesn't merely candy stripe in the
hospital but works with one disadvantaged individual over a sustained
period of time, getting something out of the experience as well as giving
out one's own energies. A Rhodes Scholar need not be a
"joiner" but defines his or her own role, pushing a bit beyond
normal expectations (usually because he or she is so daft as to not
recognize what the "normal expectations" were in the first
- literary and
- energy to use one's
talents to the full, as exemplified by fondness for and success in sports
[note as "exemplified" by sports -- sports are only one way
to demonstrate one's energy and capacity to carry through with one's
- truth, courage,
devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness,
unselfishness and fellowship;
- moral force of
character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one's fellow
Specific qualifications and structure of the selection process
The Marshall Scholarship is available to U.S. graduating seniors and postgraduates, usually with a post-freshman minimum GPA of 3.7.
In the words of the Marshall rules:
In appointing Scholars the selectors will look for
distinction of intellect and character as evidenced both by their scholastic
attainments and by their other activities. Preference will be given to
candidates who combine high academic ability with the capacity to play an
active part in the life of the United Kingdom university to which they go, and
to those who display a potential to make a significant contribution to their
own society. Selectors will also look for strong motivation and
seriousness of purpose, including the presentation of a specific and realistic
academic program. In sum, academic merit, leadership potential and ambassadorial potential are equally weighted criteria, and the Marshall website on these three criteria provides ample detail of each. (I strongly recommend reading this description of criteria when applying for ANY scholarship as it's a good list of questions you ought to ponder.)
The following elaborates upon the above statement and
originates from Marshall conferences and personal discussions with Marshall
- In the most general terms,
Marshall scholars in the United Kingdom are expected to be able to
communicate with many people who are very different from themselves, and
once they leave the United Kingdom, it is hoped that they will be a kind
of ambassador, one who understands and can be an advocate for Britain in
their subsequent lives.
- Marshall selectors are often
asked whether there are indeed shifts in desired student profiles and
changes in directives "from the top." Officially, the
answer is "No." It has been said that in the past,
attempts were made to address imbalances in gender and ethnicity, but such
is not necessarily the case now. In the past, the disciplines of
science and engineering have been popular, but now selectors will
seriously consider most anything, even business-oriented degrees if a
degree of outreach and leadership can be demonstrated. Thus a
student's area of study is in itself not a problem.
- Yet the nature of that field
of study may not necessarily foster an active, outgoing lifestyle needed
for a healthy, beneficial interaction with one's community.
- For example,
medievalists will have an uphill struggle because they have difficulty
addressing the issue of increased Anglo-American interaction.
- A desire to study fine
arts may suffer from an unsatisfactory justification to pursue such a
program in the United Kingdom.
- A student who
significantly changes his or her academic career -- chemists who in
Britain would study international relations or even the history of
science -- also faces an uphill struggle. The selectors value
consistency over hodge-podge academics.
- One selector told me
he was uneasy about law and medical students because the Marshall
Scholarship simply becomes a break from a pre-arranged program.
When asked "What will you do if you do not win?", those
students who respond with plans of law or med. school "take the wind
out of their sails." (Compare this to the Rhodes
qualifications above.) The exception is a medical degree leading to
research and a U.K. institution that can assist the scholar in that
future research. Yet a different selector told me of one successful
candidate who admitted that this Marshall was his last chance to become a
well rounded physician. Future medical professionals might consider a master's program such as public health or epidemiology, programs that would augment their later trajectories.
- Yet in all these cases, if a
compelling case can be made and if a logic in pursuing these fields at
specific U.K. institutions can be shown, a candidate need not be deterred.
- Students can pursue a single one-year MA (twelve months, not ten) or two one-year
MAs using the Marshall as long as, in the case of the latter, the successive programs
"make sense together." In the past, preference
was given to two-year programs, and the pursuit of second undergraduate
degrees was also strongly encouraged. The latter is no longer true (unlike the Rhodes), and like the Mitchell and the Gates, the Marshall is for postgraduate work only.
- Students with a slightly less
than 3.7 post freshman GPA may, in rare cases, be considered. The
selectors recognize that grade inflation has affected some institutions
more than others, and a case can be made for Reed to be numbered among the
latter as our averge GPA is much lower than elsewhere. Using the relevant statistics, the faculty endorsement will
make a strong case on your behalf, but GPAs significantly below 3.7 will find it an uphill battle.
You might also want to check out the "Marshall Partnership Scholarships" to forge connections with particular schools. (These are not made in addition to the forty Marshall scholarships funded annually, but they can direct the judges' attention to particular programs and institutions.)
The Gates and Mitchell Scholarships
The Gates scholarship for postgraduate work at Cambridge (any discipline) seeks candidates who are 1.) a good fit for Cambridge, 2.) academically strong, 3.) potential leaders to "take others with them" and 4.) committed to the greater good, whereas the Mitchell scholarship for postgraduate work in Ireland/Northern Ireland (any discipline but one year only) similarly desires applicants who are 1.) academically strong, 2.) potential leaders and 3.) commited to public service and community. For the specific eligibility requirements, please see their respective websites.
Back to Rhodes &
"Selecting and connecting"