Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

The Rhodes and
Marshall Scholarships

Why apply when the odds are so long?


The big-name scholarships to study in the British Isles are limited -- only forty for the Marshall, thirty-two for the Rhodes, ninety for the Gates and twelve for the Mitchell. So the question is logical -- why bother joining the thousands who apply?  The number of students who "self-select out" of the Rhodes and Marshall process for this reason is probably huge.  Yet if one wants to be philosophical about the chances, then ask yourself why an athlete trains for Olympic gold or an oft-rejected writer continues to send in manuscripts to unyielding publishers.  Reed has produced many Rhodes and Marshall scholars in the past, and one of the longest serving national Marshall selectors told me that he considered Reed a natural source of Marshall scholars. There are also Rhodes and Marshall scholars on the current faculty to help you.  In other words, these scholarships are not as distant as they might first appear.

"But I haven't cured cancer or summited Mt. Everest." Here is how the American secretary to the Rhodes Trust responds to such worries:

[W]e are fully aware that the leadership we look for, and engagement in the "world's fight" we hope to see, can be demonstrated as well in one's backyard as it can be in Bangladesh or Yemen or the Artic Ocean. We are also cognizant that some of the kinds of far-flung and often exotic adventures some of our winners recount in their bios are simply unavailable to students without substantial financial means and/or who have to work during much of their non-university time.

These scholarships may take into account past great deeds, but they are really looking for the evidenced potential of great deeds in the future. They logically take circumstances into account, and while it is still a long shot, someone will win.  There will be much blood, sweat and tears shed during the process -- there is no such thing as a casual application -- but the process is also a great deal of fun.

Most importantly, it's time you thought about yourself.  You are going to be asked to give words to your deepest convictions, and perhaps for the first time in your life, you will step outside yourself and look at whence you came, where you stand now and the destination to which you are walking.  Reed is a wonderful place to tackle theory, but you yourself are responsible for its thoughtful extension and practical employment.

In more concrete terms, you might consider applying because of the value of the application process itself.  It will assist you in the following:

These are things one cannot learn in a classroom but simply must do for oneself.  The actual winning of the scholarship almost becomes peripheral because for the first time, you are going to be asked, quite simply, "Justify yourself."

Finally in a year's time you may be asking yourself the question, "Why re-apply?"  Keep in mind that there is no bias against applying again if the first attempt was not successful.  Logically, you will be asked what you've done in the intervening year, and you might be asked to reflect upon the first application, but the selectors explicitly state that there is no bias for or against re-applications.  Note that, in the case of the Rhodes for example, you can apply up to the age of 24, but don't delay by telling yourself that a couple years of graduate experience will put you in a better position for winning. On the contray. The American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust has explicitly worried about this trend of later applications and highlights how it is often better to apply during one's senior year because later applications may disrupt graduate study trajectories. Selectors "strive mightily to assure fair comparisons so that the more experienced applicant is not advantaged," he writes. So don't delay in the hope of relying on some great future experience, but should you indeed have that great future experience, don't hesitate to apply again.


St. John's College First Court and Chapel, Cambridge

1935 Postcard of St. John's College, Cambridge


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