mountain in Banff, AB

My Experience Applying for the Rhodes Scholarship 📋

The decision to pursue graduate school was made in the spirit of wanting to stay in school for as long as I could. Enrolling in a masters or a PhD seemed like the regular path to professorship in academia. Many professors and teaching assistants have warned me about the narrow job market: many people juggle post-doctoral fellowships while searching for a stable position at a university, of those who are accepted into positions as associate professors, only a fraction are on tenure track. Many PhDs in my proposed field of study, political science, decide to switch gears to work in a field different than academia, like consulting or policymaking. I’d like to take a chance at making a living doing what I love, that being staying in school. Perhaps I will realize I am a fit in a company outside academia, or maybe I will stay in a small city I would not otherwise visit for two years as a post-doctoral fellow. I am willing to take the chance.

I am also taking a chance on getting through graduate school with as little debt as possible. I began my application for the Rhodes Scholarship in late June in anticipation of Victoria College’s internal deadline in mid-July. By then, I’ll have completed two academic consultations at Vic—one to decide whether I would have a shot at the Rhodes and the second to refine my CV to meet the criteria this scholarship. On the day of the deadline, I nervously emailed the registrar my CV and academic statement from the airport. 

News of my accepted nomination came through in July. I was at once, relieved that my application had been viewed favorably, and nervous at the prospect of finding six references: three of whom must be academic references. 

Cheryl making a punch needle rug with finished paintings in the background
I wrote about my experience with visual arts production and exhibition in Toronto.

I reached out to my prospective references mid September. By then, I had finished my academic statement, and met with the principal of my college for a letter of endorsement. Both are required documents for submission to the Rhodes Scholarship portal. All but one of my references submitted the letter of recommendation on the day it was due, which just so happened to be Thanksgiving Day. I am thankful for their time in helping me take a chance at this scholarship opportunity. My references wrote me an email confirming their submission, which arrived in my inbox in addition to the automated notification the Rhodes Scholarship portal sends.

Last Tuesday, I received an email from a member of the Rhodes Scholarship organizing committee informing me that I have been invited for an interview. The interview will take place this coming Saturday afternoon, and occupies a 40-minute time slot. A social will be held the evening before, where the finalists can each meet the panelists they will answer questions from the next day. 

stained glass windows of the UC Library
I enjoy reading and writing at the newly renovated library at University College.

To prepare for the final stage of this scholarship, my college has set up three mock interviews with me, one of which is hosted by two previous Rhodes Scholars from Vic. I have also scheduled time to chat with two Rhodes scholars I know as friends, and one who was a finalist last year and arrived at Oxford on a different scholarship that also completely covered her tuition fee. It takes a village to get through the Rhodes Scholarship application, and I am deeply grateful for everyone who has taken a chance on me. I am indebted to my professors for the knowledge they have instilled in me and for the time they had spent in writing my letter of recommendation. I am indebted to my advisors and mentors who also wrote such letters and taught me skills and supervised my efforts to make a change at home and afar. I am thankful for all the time that the Victoria College register and principal’s office have spent in support of my candidacy. And I am thankful for my friends and my partner, who have been nothing but understanding and supportive in this months-long process of creative inspiration, self-doubt, and graduate studies planning. 

Applying for a scholarship is challenging work. But it is a practice that can pay great dividends in return for the triumph in not just a completed application, but also: in the lengthy academic and extracurricular career you’ve had during your university years. If you are applying for a scholarship, whether it be to support your living expenses this school year or to offset the costs of graduate studies, I wish you the best of luck! It is an achievement in and of itself to complete an application, to collect the strength to shoot your shot. You can do it.

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