The Rhodes and
Marshall Scholarships

Interview preparation


A personal note:  As a friend came down from the interview room, she described the layout to me as looking like "The Last Supper."  It rather felt that way, too.  As I was led up the steps to that final interview, I recited my planned mantra -- deep breath, stand up straight, smile, look them in the eye.  And yet I had fun -- nervous, trembling, risky fun -- but fun nonetheless.


Interview structure

Types of questions

The interview is not necessarily the most important part of the whole process; some Rhodes selectors consider it a means of seeing whether the person actually reflects the documents.  Both Rhodes and Marshall interviewers aspire to see how you think, and it is hoped the interview will encourage you to stop and reflect when confronting something new.  For example, when the questions shift to something completely different, a good candidate might still be able to draw a connection between the seventh question and the third.  Think of it as participating in a good discussion rather than a back-and-forth Q&A, and endeavor to construct logical arguments on your positions and goals during the interview itself.

You might always have an opening and closing remark in mind -- no more than thirty seconds -- just in case the need arises.  For example, some scholarships typically begin, "So, tell us a bit about yourself."  And they often end, "Do you have anything you would like to add?"

Don't rush your answers.  It's fine to pause a moment for thought.  Once you've answered -- and keep the answers concise but thorough -- be quiet and wait for the next one.

Don't rave about your accomplishments.  It's already in the application.

The Marshall interview is intended to be "rigorous but not confrontational."  If there is no specialist in the candidate's field, one of the interviewers will research it in advance.  Short responses -- even one word responses -- are good, as is a bit of humor and a bit of nervousness.  The candidate may be interrupted while giving an answer, and this may simply be intended to see how fast the candidate reacts to a new situation.  And it is important to say "I don't know" if necessary.  There is no shame in that.  They want to see if you will hold onto your ideals but not be so dogmatic as to not budge an inch. Otherwise they will pursue you into rougher and rougher waters.  If you feel you didn't answer something well, don't let it fluster you.  You probably answered other questions better, so just move on.

The interviewers will be a mix of past scholars and non-scholars, of academics and professionals.  Sometimes the interviewer list is published in advance.

A regional Marshall chair detailed the pre-arranged structure of the interview as follows:

At a recent conference, selectors from seven or eight national scholarships (including the Rhodes and Marshall) were asked about common mistakes made during interviews.  They listed the following five:

        Candidates would use the words "never" and "always."  That simply opens oneself up to a forced withdrawal.

        Candidates were falsely confident.  It is fine to be phased; it is acceptable to be a bit embarrassed.

        Candidates refused to say "I don't know."

        Candidates would attribute everything they knew on a given subject to a particular book they read in a particular course.  In such cases, "you" disappear, and the book takes your place.

        Candidates take the interview as an exercise in defense rather than discussion.  At an extreme, candidates even get defensive when something about their application or personal statement is under examination.

For specific examples of questions, see the "Past Reed candidates speak" section of this website. The Gates website on interviews is very specific in terms of what questions are asked, and while they are more focused on whether the applicant is a good Cambridge fit (rather than being focused on his or her past endeavors), it's a good list of questions to ponder and to prepare for any scholarship.


St. John's College gateway to the rear courts, Cambridge

Postcard of St. John's College Gateway


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