Where to Start if You Want to Be a Rhodes Scholar

If you're a college student wondering what the Rhodes Scholarship is all about, here are the facts.

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Q: So I don't have to be a student at an Ivy League university or a highly selective college to apply?

A: No. Individuals, not schools, are selected for Rhodes Scholarships. In fact, in most years, at least one Rhodes scholar is selected from an institution that has not previously supplied a successful applicant.

Q: How old do I have to be to apply?

A: All applicants who wish to apply for consideration next year must be at least 18 but not yet 24 by Oct. 1, 2010. Applicants must also have achieved academic standing sufficiently advanced to assure completion of a bachelor's degree before Oct. 1, 2011. (Rhodes scholars elected in November 2010 will enter the University of Oxford in October 2011.)

Q: How long do Rhodes scholars study at Oxford?

A: Rhodes Scholarships are normally held for two years, the duration of most master's degrees and bachelor's degrees for those who already have another bachelor's degree, or for three years, the duration of many doctorates.

Q: Why would I want to get another bachelor's degree if I already have one?

A: The Oxford B.A. is a very different degree, with far greater specialization, than one would get in his or her major in an American college. It is nearly equivalent to an M.A. at a U.S. school. (An Oxford M.A. can even be awarded automatically to someone with an Oxford B.A. seven years after matriculation.)

Q: I might want to branch out. Would I have to study a subject at Oxford that's related to my major or career plans?

A: Not necessarily. Some Oxford B.A.'s and master's courses require more preparation in the field than others, although most humanities and social science B.A. courses—and even some of the master's degree courses—can be attempted without an undergraduate degree in the same field. The committee is unlikely to view you any more favorably because you elect to stay in your academic field or because you opt to move from it, as long as you have a cogent explanation for your choice.

Q: I'm not sure if a Rhodes Scholarship is for me. Are there similar fellowship programs I should consider?

A: Scholarships that are typically of interest to Rhodes applicants include the Marshall Scholarship, which is tenable at any university in the United Kingdom; the Gates Cambridge Scholarship at the University of Cambridge; the Mitchell Scholarship, which is a one-year scholarship for Irish universities; and the Fulbright Scholarship, which is tenable at institutions worldwide.

Q: How do I apply to become a Rhodes scholar?

A: Apply online at Embark. You will need five to eight letters of recommendation, the endorsement of your institution, a personal essay, a certified transcript, a list of activities, and proof of citizenship. You should probably begin the process by the spring of your junior year, since the deadline for receipt of materials is in early October and many colleges to have their own internal deadlines, which precede the Rhodes deadline, for endorsing candidates. About 1,500 students nationwide usually apply each year, and approximately 200 are invited to the interview with their respective district's selection committee. These interviews usually occur earlier in the same weekend that the announcements are made.

More information is available on the U.S. Rhodes Scholarship website (www.rhodesscholar.org), on the website of the Rhodes Trust, and on Oxford's website.

Updated 11/22/10: An earlier version of this story contained outdated link text.