Gates scholarships are highly prestigious awards and competition is fierce. There are two rounds: for US nationals and for non-US international students. The scholarships are awarded to applicants who can demonstrate excellence in all four Gates’ criteria: outstanding intellectual ability; leadership potential; a commitment to improving the lives of others; and, a good fit between the applicant's qualifications and aspirations and the postgraduate programme at Cambridge for which they are applying. Full details about the scholarships and the selection procedure are found at the Gates Cambridge web site.
Applying for a Gates Scholarship
Because the Cambridge application form places strong emphasis on intellectual ability, the Gates Trust has requested that candidates fill in a statement supporting their application for a Gates scholarship (up to 500 words) and an additional reference. These should make particular reference to the Gates’ criteria that are not covered elsewhere in the Cambridge application form, viz. leadership potential and a commitment to improving the lives of others.
Common mistakes made in applying for a Gates Scholarship
- Seeking to impress academically in the Gates box on the application form. There are numerous pages on the application form that should demonstrate your academic abilities. The Gates box and reference are the only places where you can demonstrate your service for others and leadership. There is no need to make a further case for your intellectual qualities.
- Failing to detail the nature of service or leadership. Assessors view significant quantitative information about your academic study: academic grades, professors’ assessment of how students compare to their cohort, degrees studied, languages learnt and to what level. Similar detail should be given about service and leadership. What did you do? How did it make a difference? How many years did you undertake the role? How many people were in the team you led?
- Assuming knowledge on the part of the assessors. Applicants often enumerate service and leadership in just a single sentence, and so fail to provide the detail that is needed and assume assessors will understand the service undertaken. Theologians and RS scholars often fail to describe what leadership and service can be seen in a mission trip, being a minister of religion or Sunday school teaching.
- Choosing a referee who comments on academic ability only. Two academic references are required for any application for postgraduate study in Cambridge. The Gates reference needs to specifically address leadership potential and commitment to improving the lives of others.
- Writing an aspirational statement about future leadership or service. Commitment to others and leadership potential are demonstrated through past activities, however modest.
- Having a narrow sense of what leadership and commitment to the lives of others means. Starting an international charity and managing a team of thirty people are not the only means of demonstrating leadership and service. In addition, note that ‘others’ has not been restricted to human beings.