The Rhodes and
Marshall Scholarships

Selecting and Connecting:
Finding out about U.K. Institutions


Selecting a program for the Rhodes and Marshall

The choice of Oxford program is broad.  Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) is popular, but candidates are advised that the economic section assumes basic knowledge in economics and mathematics.  One third of Rhodes Scholars pursue science degrees.  Pre-med students pursue Rhodes Scholarships to explore a different area of intellectual interest.  (Such is not the case for Marshall Scholars, according to one national Marshall selector [see below]).

"[T]he committee is unlikely to view you any more favorably because you elect to stay in your academic field or move from it -- as long as you have a cogent explanation for your choice," according to the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust. 

Most American Rhodes Scholars in recent years have pursued M.Phil. degrees.  According to a Rhodes scholar contributing to the American Oxonian -- a journal that circulates among past U.S. scholars -- the shift away from undergraduate degrees has been rather significant:

The least popular programs in recent years have consistently been the second BAs.  Our class saw a mass exodus from BA programs upon arrival (especially from PPE), followed by a trickle of similar defections throughout the rest of the year.  It seems from the parting comments that this is mainly due -- relative to graduate programs -- to unevenness in tutorials, frustration with the difference in maturity between graduates and undergraduates, very high work-to-substantial-learning ratio, or some combination of the above.  The program itself has probably not changed much since earlier years when (from the limited stories we hear) PPE seemed an Oxford standard, but there are now so many other interesting and more specific courses that undergraduate programs like PPE must be considered a calculated option and not simply a default.

Some sites will clearly say that the Rhodes selectors now have a preference for advanced degrees, but the selectors have explicitly stated that such is not the case, that it is simply what the scholars are choosing.  This choice may be because U.K. universities are now offering many more masters programs than ever before, sometimes with a desire to attract overseas students.  (Scholarships aside, I also believe there is a generally increasing professionalization of education -- that undergraduate degrees are no longer considered sufficient as so many people have them so everyone now aims higher.)  Regardless, give serious consideration to undergraduate programs, too, because it is often through those programs that you will be most exposed to the full university experience.  There are barriers to overcome -- a small age difference alongside the nationality difference -- but if you can surmount those barriers, it's a worthwhile experience to pursue a second undergraduate degree.  In the end, the most important criterion is which type of degree will best augment your own trajectory in life.  Either way, just go in with your eyes open.

Selecting a university for the Marshall

Unlike the Rhodes scholarship which is strictly for Oxford, the Marshall scholarship is for any U.K. institution.  In the past, approximately 75% of Marshall Scholars studied at Oxford, Cambridge or London, but if one of their choices fell among these three universities, the other choice could not.  Thus Marshall scholars have the added task of finding a second institution, but that task is now easier because the top departments in each field are listed in national accreditation report. You might peruse the following websites to investigate various courses and institutions in the U.K.:

Officially, Marshall candidates who select non-Oxford/Cambridge/London institutions as first choice or both choices are not given any preference, although selectors admit there is a strong desire to spread out the scholars in Britain.  Furthermore, while these three institutions are generally of the highest quality, in certain fields it may be preferable and more enjoyable to consider other institutions such as Manchester, Essex or York. Also note that, because many master's programmes are one year in length, Marshall candidates can choose a second one-year master's programme at a different institution if desired.

One Marshall selector has told me that if a candidate is also applying for a Rhodes scholarship (a common situation which in no way affects the Marshall application), that selector expects one of the two chosen institutions on the Marshall application to be Oxford.  His thinking is that the candidate should be aiming at the suitable program, not the honor of having a scholarship.  (Personally, this line of thought bothers me.  Not surprisingly, many if not most students apply for both scholarships.  By this logic, there would be no applicants for Cambridge or London on the Marshall.  Furthermore, few students could be expected to simply turn down the chance of further education at Oxford if their Marshall hopes do not become realized and if Oxford would have ultimately been their third choice.  Yet I include the selector's comments anyway, and he may not be representative of all selectors.)

Although Rhodes candidates need not worry about finding a second institution, they might be interested in using the above rankings and accreditation websites to see how Oxford ranks in their particular field.

In both scholarships, it is becoming increasingly important to form a link with the institution of choice.  (This is particularly true if you are seeking an advanced degree, especially if it is in the sciences.)  If a candidate can indicate not only detailed knowledge of their desired U.K. program but can also demonstrate personal communication with instructors in that program, that candidate will be regarded as much more credible.  This extra effort sounds like a great deal of work -- and it is -- but the internet makes the process much easier now.  Therefore, you are urged to do the following:


The Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge

1923 Postcard of The Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge


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