Competitive Scholarships: The Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Funding, Scholarships & Financial Aid

Competitive Scholarships: The Gates Cambridge Scholarship

The following is part of a series of posts by different mentors looking to introduce you to the world of competitive scholarships that can give American and international students opportunities to see the world, explore interesting research within their field, and afford an elite education! Below is a piece on the Gates Cambridge scholarship!

Many outstanding individuals apply for the Gates Cambridge scholarship every year. It is a terrific scholarship program, largely, in my experience, because of the awesome community that you become apart of while at Cambridge and beyond. What will help to set your application apart? To compliment a terrific piece that was written by my friend and Gates alum Greg Nance (How to win a full scholarship to Cambridge, also found in the ChaseFuture content library), I reflected on my experience applying for the Gates and the aspects of my application that I think played a role in my earning the scholarship. These were: (1) a thoughtful personal statement (2) learning experiences outside the classroom, and (3) strong references. While Greg and I seem to agree on the three main factors that earned us each the scholarship, like the diversity of scholars on the program, our approach to those factors are also diverse.

I. Thoughtful Personal Statement

Gates looks in particular for leadership potential and a commitment to improving the lives of others. You don’t need to speak to everything on your CV in order to illustrate that you possess these characteristics. In high school and throughout my undergraduate degree I spent my summers working at a summer camp. It was a job that I was extremely passionate about and one that enabled me to impact the lives of others in a positive way on a regular basis. I also had been recognized for my work at the camp through a leadership award. I felt that the work I had done at the camp was a great illustration of my passion, leadership and commitment to improving the lives of others. While I had other work that illustrated these qualities, I used my work at camp as the basis of my personal statement because it mattered a lot to me and I knew I would be able to convincingly and passionately write about my work there. I used the story of my work at camp to illustrate rather than tell Gates about the kind of person that I am, my fit with the Gates criteria, and to depict the passion that I would bring to the research I had proposed to do at Cambridge.

II. Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom

Like Greg, many of my greatest learning experiences throughout my undergraduate degree were those that I had outside of the classroom. I worked with an enriched support program that enabled students, who had not initially been admitted to a university degree program, the opportunity to gain admission. I volunteered with the center on campus for students with disabilities, and with a number of non-profit organizations. I also raced with one of the swim clubs on campus. My involvement in these various communities allowed me to build my CV and displayed my leadership skills, and my desire and ability to juggle a number of things at once. The nature of the activities, and roles that I took on with these activities also displayed my passion, and desire to improve the lives of others.

III. Strong Reference Letters

When you apply to the University of Cambridge you are required to have two academic references. For the Gates Cambridge scholarship, you also need one personal reference. My academic references were professors with whom I had taken a number of classes with throughout my university career and so were able to speak to my academic development throughout my time in the program. For the Gates scholarship, the personal reference is particularly important. 

While working for the Enriched Support program, I worked closely with the program director at the time, Hal. Hal had observed me facilitate workshops for my students. When I moved into a leadership position in the program, where I oversaw the work of other facilitators, I worked with Hal closely to help train and provide feedback for the facilitators I oversaw. I spent many meetings with Hal discussing my facilitator team. We also discussed, at great length, my academic work, my interests, my big goals, and how I hoped to achieve them. Myself and the other three team leaders even took a road trip out to visit Hal, one snowy weekend, at his house in the country. I was really lucky to have a referee who really knew me and was able to speak about me holistically in terms of my leadership potential, teamwork skills, and work ethic, and also my academic goals, and achievements, and how I fit the criteria of the scholarship. I am very lucky to still have Hal as a friend and mentor!

I think that it was the combination of my personal statement, learning experiences outside the classroom, and strong recommendation that played a role in my being fortunate enough to earn the Gates scholarship. Every Gates scholar approaches their application a differently, and personal statement, learning experiences and recommendations vary substantially between each scholar. There is no secret formula to earning the Gates (or at least that I'm aware of)! What is important is that these factors illustrate your passion, and your fit with the Gates community!