On Rhodes, Marshall and other UK scholarships: Yes you can
Can UND students compete for the world’s most prestigious scholarships? Absolutely, the University’s scholarship coordinator says
The Rhodes Scholarships, the oldest and most prestigious graduate scholarship in the world, invite students to study at Oxford University in England.
Take a guess, said Yee Han Chu to the UND students attending Chu’s seminar on British scholarships. Since 1903, when Cecil Rhodes founded the scholarships, how many students from UND have won Rhodes scholarships?
“One?” ventured one student. Asked another, “Two?”
The answer is 12, Chu said. “Yes, we actually have had 12 in the history of the University,” she continued.
“But the last one we had was in the mid-1970s. So we’re just trying to get some of that momentum back.”
Competitive, but not impossible
Chu is the Academic Support and Fellowship Opportunities Coordinator at UND. As part of her work, she counsels students who’d like to apply for national and – as in the case of the Rhodes and other scholarships to study in the United Kingdom – international scholarships and other academic opportunities.
And that’s what the March 29 session, “UK Scholarships,” was all about. Besides the well-known Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, students also can compete for – among other choices – the Gates-Cambridge Scholarship to Cambridge University, the George Mitchell scholarship to study at a university in Ireland or Northern Ireland, and the Marshall Scholarship for graduate study at a number of UK institutions, Chu said.
There are a few key things that UND students should know about applying for the Rhodes and other UK scholarships, Chu said.
First, the odds are long. These are very competitive scholarships: The Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which was established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, got 5,000 applications one recent year for its 80 full-cost scholarships.
“Remember, these scholarships are some of the most prestigious in the world,” Chu said. “Because what they do is they give students opportunities to do incredible things. … When people apply for these, they’re really applying for very ambitious goals, such as to develop new companies, become a national political figure or a leader in higher ed.”
But here’s something even more important: While a student’s odds may be long, they are not zero (as UND’s history of Rhodes winners shows).
And capable UND students have proven that they can compete for and win scholarships at every level, including this one. Here’s how the Rhodes website itself describes its selection process:
“(T)he award is a personal one; selectors choose the strongest applicants in their geographic pool, regardless of institution attended and any presumed advantages, or disadvantages, that some might possibly ascribe to attendance at a particular college.”
Moreover, “we are committed to having Rhodes Scholars from institutions that have never had a Rhodes Scholar before,” the website continues. “And in most years, U.S. Scholars are selected from institutions for whom that is the case.”
Clearly, motivated and high-achieving students from UND can and will get every consideration, and have a very real chance of winning a UK scholarship, Chu said.
Aim high – starting now
That said, prospective applicants should start early in their college careers, because the more they stand out in college (in academic and extracurricular terms), the better. In particular, getting to know the faculty members and others who’ll write the student’s all-important letters of recommendation generally takes years, not weeks or months.
Also: “Do you aspire to be an authority in your field?” Chu asked, listing the kinds of questions that students should ask themselves.
“Do you have goals that are larger than yourself and focus on others? Do you have a strong record of service and leadership?”
Students who can answer “Yes” are the applicants the UK scholarships welcome, she said. “They’re looking for students who are not going to just sit back, but instead want to create and implement things and leave their mark on the world.”
Here’s another tip: Be able to explain why you want to study in the United Kingdom. For example, do you hope to study with a particular scholar at Oxford, Cambridge or another institution, someone who is a standout in your field?
And during your interview, can you show some familiarity with and even affection for the United Kingdom?
That matters, said Chu, who started the session with a pop quiz about things UK. (Sample questions: Who is the current prime minister? Answer: Boris Johnson. Which Americans married into the British Royal Family? Answer: Meghan Markle and Wallis Simpson.)
“There is a ‘cultural ambassador’ component to these scholarships,” she said. “There’s an expectation that you’re interested in their region. … They really want to strengthen the bond between the United States and the United Kingdom.”
Never know unless you try
To sum up, UND students who are interested in these scholarships are welcome to contact Chu, and UND faculty and staff who know of especially capable students should let those students know of these exceptional opportunities, Chu said.
After all, 12 UND students before them have in fact won Rhodes scholarships. “You know the saying, ‘There’s a first time for everything’?” Chu asked. “Well, in our case, we’re hoping, ‘There’s a 13th time for everything.’”
And if that’s the case, then UND’s next Rhodes scholar may be getting coffee in the Memorial Union – while on their way to a significant leadership activity, no doubt – as we speak.