Monday, June 30, 2014

Q&A - Applying for the Rhodes Scholarship

I have recently received some queries about the Rhodes Scholarship which I am going to answer here, so others who have similar questions can also benefit. If you have a question, post it in the comments and I will try to answer it in a future post.  

Caveat: All answers are my opinions. My answers may be biased or off the mark because I can only speak from my one time experience of the selection process, and my interpretation can be wrong, or may not apply in your case.

I am a third year medical student. 
Do I need to have distinctions left right and center for my application to even be considered. I am doing my MBBS from an institute which rarely, if ever awards distinctions. Will very good scores in final profs count/matter? 
- Rhodes gives weightage to academic performance. As I understand, very good academic performance is the baseline as far as Pakistan is concerned, so the selection committee will expect you to have done the best given the parameters of your educational set-up. So, good scores will matter, as will the other criteria that Rhodes is looking for, but let me remind you that you should manage your stress, and not let yourself burn out in the process. It is extremely important to develop this, no matter where you go.
How often are doctors seen at Rhodes interviews? I know you had one in your batch. But is it common? 
- I don't have any data on who has been interviewed or short-listed in the past so I can't objectively answer your question, but personally I feel that they might be common enough, given that many of my Rhodes peers from other countries do medicine/related degrees here at Oxford and the Pakistani Rhodes scholar 2 years above me also did medicine.

I'm not sporty at all. I mean I do know my chess but that's about as is sporty as it gets for me. Does it effect my chances? Do you HAVE to be athletic to be considered?
- Sports is meant to demonstrate: Energy to use one's talents to the full. But sports is not the only way in which individuals demonstrate this trait. If you can show through other activities in your life that you emulate this trait, then you should not be worried. People who are enthusiastic artists or writers or actors emulate this trait too. Sports is but one interpretation of this trait. 
How much community service/social work is enough? Will I have to provide proofs along with my application? 
- It is really tough to define a baseline for this or a threshold. Whatever you do needs to be meaningful, impactful and should demonstrate "truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship" or "moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one's fellow beings". Whatever you do, you should know where it fits in to your larger personal context, why are you doing it and why does it matter to your community and the world at large.
I do not think that you will be asked to show proofs.
Does it matter that I won the National Spelling bee? Does it matter that all of my declamation and MUN experiences ended with school? 
- I think showing sustained personal achievements matters - so if those were the last things that you did and have done nothing since then probably that is not a great fit, especially since it can be interpreted to mean that in your undergraduate years you found nothing that could motivate you to action. But if those experiences gave you skills and traits that you have positively used in other ways later in your life then that can be woven into a good personal narrative.
Is it too late to pick back up on my co-curriculars? 
-  As I said, sustaining a level of personal achievement is important. If you are applying for August this year, and it is already end of June as I write this, then perhaps you don't have enough time to do anything meaningful. Co-curricular activities need to demonstrate certain traits to the selection panel and perhaps it is not a good idea to take up extra curriculars for the sole purpose of adding things to your CV.

I did my graduation from Karachi University in Biotechnology and then switched over MBA programs. My majors were Banking & Finance.  
I am concerned that I switched degrees, would it backfire? Should I mention it or not. I mean, my KU degree has not mentioned which courses I took. 
- Students switch degrees, it happens, I am not sure how it could backfire. As long as you found something which you liked and excelled at, you should be good. 

I would like to ask are you really a Freemason? The "Chosen Ones" who thinks they are the only one who can govern this world's affairs, directly or indirectly.
- Would you really believe me if I said no? Or would you actually believe me even if I said yes? Besides the world's affairs are for all who take an interest in them, the rest make (conspiracy) theories. 

Actually I am about to write the personal statement and for that I need your assistance. 
- I can't offer you any direct assistance for your personal statement, as it would be unfair to those who don't have the recourse to a Rhodes scholar for their personal statement, but the advice that I believe is helpful is captured in this post: The Impossible Personal Statement 
Can I submit a provisional transcript from my university until I don't have my degree? 
- Yes, that should be fine in my opinion.  

I appeared in CSS exam this year and now I am waiting for the results, which will be announced in October. Should I discuss it in my personal statement or not? I think, it can backfire if I make it to the interviews. They can ask me, what you will do if you get selected, will you go for the Rhodes scholarship or will you join the civil services? 
- Best to mention it and even better to discuss it in your interview. CSS shows dedication to service of your people, which is a great attribute. Rhodes scholars have taken time off from civil service to get a degree from Oxford and then return to their Civil service responsibilities, so it is not an either/or situation, you can benefit from both.  

Should I submit the IELTS doc along with my application as the officials have not mentioned it, but a friend said to submit it as it will mount good impression on the evaluators.
- I don't think it will hurt to send it but it is not an official requirement. You will probably need it anyway if you get into Oxford. 

The traits that I quote are mentioned here: Selection Criteria for Rhodes Scholarship


  1. Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my queries. Your answers have been really helpful in outlining exactly what I should be working on. I just had this one question. I feel very strongly that it is crucial to address people's reluctance to get their children vaccinated against the polio virus owing to misguided religious reasons up in the North-west And I want this to be the basis of my social work. Can I do this without, for lack of a better word, legitimizing, it with an NGO? Do individualistic efforts have lesser validity and consequence than affiliated ones?

  2. My bachelor's degree completes in may 2015. Is it possible for me to apply for the rhodes scholarship 2015?

    1. Hey, I think it should be possible. Perhaps it is best to consult the Rhodes scholarship website for this.

  3. Ever since I read your blog in early 2013 I have been meaning to reach out to you with my queries.I could not spot you on the internet and therefore talked a PNEC-student in to find your email address.This shall explain how good it in fact is to see you come back to this place and welcome our Rhodes queries.Thankyou for finding time.

    I have the following queries:

    a) I am majoring in Earth & Environmental Sciences but my postgrad/career passion is Governance and Public Policy.How positively or negatively does it influence my chances,given that I am coming from a pure Applied Sciences background and hoping for a Rhodes in Social Sciences?

    b) I plan to apply in next year's cycle and provide my GRE score with my application.How much significance in your opinion should I attach with my GRE total?

    c) How valid is this perception that while finalizing a Rhodes scholar,an important factor is also the relevance of the candidate's chosen research area/subject focus to the development of Pakistan and of the world at large? (For instance,in a given year the Committee might have reached a unanimous conclusion that Engineering or ICT is a priority field.In this circumstance,an applicant with lets say Philosophy as their focus might already have a comparative disadvantage).


    1. Hello!
      a. I think doing cross disciplinary studies is almost always a positive thing and something that is valued in the Rhodes, too.
      b. The GRE is not an official requirement but it can serve as a good indicator of academic performance. In the overall sense of things I would say that you should really aim for a good score since, even if you don't get the Rhodes, you can use that score to apply for Fulbright etc.
      c. I am not part of the selection committee so I am not aware if this perception has any basis in reality. I think there has been sufficient diversity in what the Pakistani Rhodes scholars study, that I feel this perception of a subject-related bias is unfounded.

      Best of luck!

  4. hie , i need to apply for rhodes this year but i have not taken my toefl yet. can i send my toefl scores later after the submission of the application.

    1. If it is urgent, I think it is best to confirm this directly from the selection committee either via phone or email. I don't want to put you at a disadvantage because I don't know about this.

  5. I've not been able to find the name of Rhodes Scholar Elect for this year (2014).
    Also,we do not happen to have a centralized/official or unofficial presence of Rhodes Scholarship Pakistan (a community page/network) over the internet which,if there was one,could have served as a valuable source of information dissemination and knowledge-sharing on the application and subsequent processes.

    1. The information about the new elects can be found here:

      I have created a facebook page for Rhodes scholarship applicants in Pakistan, after your query:

  6. I am a student of D-Pharm from karachi.... I will appear in my final examination by the end of this year... So i am uneligible to forward my application to the trust this year na.... I know but just want a confirmation... kindly reply me..

  7. Hi Ali,I am a student of international relations and will be completing my BS program this june. Its probable that my course completion may got delayed because I just got back from US after completing exchange semester (fall 2015) as a Fulbright student. So my question is,would this former selection make me eligible to apply for Rhodes any longer? And if yes ,then what would be the best time to apply for it and how, in specific? Thank you in anticipation. hoping your reply soon.

    1. I think your Fulbright exchange selection will not affect your Rhodes eligibility.
      I don't know what your long term objectives are, but I think if you want to go for higher education in 2017 then you should apply for the Rhodes this year.

    2. thank you so much for your answer. Could you please tell me what month do they start taking applications and what makes an ordinary student to be a nearest holder for this program? (e.g. any publications necessary?).Thank you

  8. Hi Ali!

    Is there any way to get in touch with you via email or something that's more convenient to you for your guidance?