Funding Your Future: How to Make Your Application Stand Out for the Gates Scholarship and win a FREE college education!

Funding Your Future is a series on General Intelligences published with the intention of introducing high achieving students to large, fall-deadline scholarships. Within this article, you will find eligibility and application advice for the Gates Scholarship, as well as advice and perspective from two students who received the Gates Scholarship this past year – Sedonia and Quynh-Thuong. Keep reading to gain great insight into what goes into becoming a Gates Scholar and how to possibly win this competitive scholarship!

THE AWARD: The Gates Scholarship provides a full-tuition scholarship, defined as what is not already covered by your institution and other financial aid. In addition to this, students will also become a part of an amazing network and receive mentoring, internships, and more.

THE ELIGIBILITY: All applicants to the Gates Scholarship must be a high school senior, Pell-Grant eligible, a US Citizen, national, or permanent resident, and have a minimum of a 3.3 GPA. In addition to this, applicants must be of the following ethnicities:

  • African-American
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native
  • Asian & Pacific Islander American
  • Hispanic-American

THE APPLICATION: The Gates scholarship application opened July 15th, 2020, and phase I of the application will close September 15th, so the sooner that you get started, the better. Phase I seems like the part of the application that you have the least control over, since it is basically just biographical information. There are multiple phases to this scholarship application. While phase I is seemingly easy, consisting of mostly just basic biographical information, Phase II consists of writing four essays that, last year, included the prompts:

  • “What is a topic that interests you and how have you gone above and beyond to research more on it?”
  • “What is a challenge you overcame?”
  • “Who is your biggest role model?”
  • “Tell us about your community.”

In addition to these essays, you will also need things such as letters of recommendation, test scores, transcripts, and family information. This phase lasts around a month. Phase III is the final stage, otherwise known as the interview stage, which could either be in-person or over video call. Around a month or so after this, you will receive notification of your application decision. 

STUDENT PERSPECTIVE:

Sedonia Davis is an incoming freshman at Tulane University planning to major in neuroscience with a minor in spanish while on the pre-medical track in order to one day become a psychiatrist. She is from Port Barre, Louisiana and went to a very small high school with limited resources, which shouldn’t discourage anyone.She was a part of student council, youth leadership council, National Honor Society, spanish club, Senior Beta, and many other student organizations. Sedonia was a recipient of the Gates Scholarship this past year and is excited to attend her dream school with no financial burdens. 

Like many prospective Gates applicants, Sedonia filled out the application entirely on her own, but she wants to emphasize that you should “not let it scare you!” She believes that the application was fairly easy. She also wants to emphasize that “If you feel that you do not have much to discuss for these [phase II essay] questions, sincerity can go a long way.” In other words, be as sincere as possible within your application to show who you truly are, and that will show to the scholarship committee. In addition to sincerity, she believes that you should not “be afraid to be personal” due to the fact that the scholarship committee wants to see how you have persevered through hardship. She also wants to encourage you to “apply as early as you can.”

Sedonia says that her interview “was virtual and only about 10 minutes, but you have to really sell yourself!” Because you only have a short amount of time to show who you are and make the interviewer believe that you should be a recipient of the scholarship, you need to be very impressive from the get-go. However, the less nervous you are, the better. It is okay to be nervous, but it is also important to push those nerves aside so that you can “wow” the interviewer! Sedonia’s advice is to “read over” your essays before your interview, because her interviewer asked her questions related to the essays that she had written in phase II. She states that “your interviewers are not meant to scare you and make the experience stressful. The interview overall is really casual!” But, she still emphasizes that you should “dress presentably.” 

If you are a future applicant worried about your test scores, it is important to note that a single test score does not mean everything. Sedonia states that although her test scores did not match up to her expectations, she was still selected, and she wants that to go to show “that things like scores definitely do not define you” and wants future applicants to know to not “let your lower scores deter you” from applying.  

Sedonia is most excited for the “supportive network” that she knows she will find from being a Gates scholar, due to how “crucial” that network can be. She says that she knows that it will “not only be there during your undergraduate years but also beyond!… Knowing that I have several connections to help me with anything I need, it is comforting to be able to get through life without feeling alone.” She is also excited “about not having to take out loans” and to fully fund her education. 

Quynh-Thuong (pronounced similar to WinToo) is a rising first year student at Harvard University. She is currently undecided on her major, but is interested in exploring the concentrations of History and Literature, Ethnicity, Migration and Rights, or Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. After college, she plans to go into law school to become a human rights lawyer. In her free time, she enjoys reading, listening to musical theater, learning languages, and sleeping!

Some of her advice is to not “procrastinate” on your essays during phase II because they occur at the same time as your college regular decision deadlines, which could get hectic. As for phase III, her advice is to “be genuine” during your interview, and try to make the interview feel like a “conversation.” She also states that you should not “stress about this. Be genuine and show your passions in your essays and your interviews.” 

Like Sedonia, she is most excited about “the community” that she finds within being a Gates scholar, describing it as “uplifting and inspiring.” She states that “the fact that we are all from relatively the same background and share the same goals for the future only strengthens the bond. Especially with the pandemic and the weird dorming situation this year, the tight knit community of Gates Scholars at each university will serve as a wonderful support network for us during this tumultuous time.” In addition to the money and the community, the Gates scholarship provides mentoring, career services, and internships. Quynh-Thuong states that “as a FGLI [first-generation, low income] student, sometimes it feels like getting into college is a lot easier than thriving there. Thus, knowing that I have the support of the staff makes navigating college feel a lot less intimidating.”

Like always, I wish you the best of luck in your scholarship applications. Take this student advice to heart and make your application stand out!

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