How to become a Rhodes Scholar

A Rhodes Scholarship is one of the most prestigious graduate-level scholarships in the world. Rhodes Scholars win a two-year fellowship to attend Oxford University in any subject. Applicants for the scholarship – of which just 83 are given out per year – must demonstrate excellence in academics, sports, voluntarism, leadership, and moral strength.

The Rhodes Scholarships are administered by the Rhodes Trust, but were originally established by the estate of the important 19th-century British colonial administrator Cecil Rhodes. Since 1902, 7000 Rhodes Scholars have won the award. Rhodes intended the award as an extension of the British civilizing mission, in essence, bringing promising students from the empire’s far-flung colonies to study at one of the two most important schools in England. Initially most of the winners were bachelors-level students (American college-level), but for the past several decades winners have generally been graduate students.

In order to become a Rhodes Scholar, students must live in one of the eligible countries, and meet some stiff application criteria.

– Country Allocations –

Rhodes Scholarships are given to citizens of fourteen regions and over twenty nations: Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, other Commonwealth nations in the Caribbean, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Malawi, Swaziland, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Botswana, and the United States of America. Each country receives a specific allocation of awards per year, however, rather than placing all applicants in a general pool. For instance, in 2011, one Rhodes Scholar will come from Jamaica, but thirty-two from the United States.

Although the Rhodes Trust at Oxford sets the allocations and specifies awards criteria, the applications process is administered by offices in each of the countries. In America, for example, applicants must consult information from To qualify, an applicant must be a citizen of the country in question, between the ages of 18 and 24. However, Rhodes specifically ordered in his will that there could be no discrimination on the basis of race or religion. Much later, the Trust added gender to this category, and began to accept women as Rhodes Scholars.

– Criteria for Winning a Rhodes Scholarship –

In Rhodes’s mind, the winners of his scholarship had to demonstrate the best in moral and scholastic character, as defined by the traditions of the British Empire. The first of these is academic achievement, described as “literary and scholastic attainments.” Three other criteria are also specified, however. Applicants must possess the “energy to use one’s talents to the full.” Next, they also must have a history of “truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship.” Finally, they must display the “moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one’s fellow beings.”

The third and fourth criteria are, in a sense, a reference to proven leadership and volunteering for compassionate causes which many scholarships require. However, more specifically, and particularly with reference to the second criterion, Rhodes was especially interested in leadership in sports. In the British public school tradition, school sports were seen as an essential proving ground for the development of character and leadership skills, not merely physical strength. The Rhodes Scholarships have therefore always placed a premium on the combination of athletic skill with academic achievement, rather than solely focusing on academics.

Students interested in applying to become a Rhodes Scholar should consult the Rhodes Trust website, which contains links to national organizations. The financial aid office at their college or university may also be able to assist them in preparing an application. The application will have to include academic transcripts, a resume or CV, an essay describing the applicant’s ambitions at Oxford, proof of citizenship and age, proof of fluency in English (birth in an English-speaking country is assumed to be proof), a current photograph, and several references.