It is far too easy to review the Truman or Rhodes criteria and browse through Marshall Scholar profiles, only to conclude that you are not scholarship "material." Many ultimately successful candidates devalue their exceptional intellect, superior research, and outstanding community involvement.
Certain attitudes, both positive and negative, affect and afflict the application process. First, the negative attitudes you must banish:
- I can't possibly win.
You don't know that. True, certain universities seem to dominate these competitions. But every year a student who attends a university where no one has ever won a major fellowship (or not in a very long time) wins.
- I'm not scholarship material.
You may not be, but you are not the best judge. Until you thoroughly investigate the criteria and talk to those who know--advisors, faculty-you won't know whether it makes sense for you to apply. Let us help!
- I must and will win a Rhodes/Marshall/Truman.
Instead of writing openly and honestly about your opinions and goals, you over-strategize, attempting to guess what a hypothetical committee might want to know. As a result, your application sounds insincere and unconvincing.
Second, positive attitudes to cultivate:
- Even if I don't win, I'll learn so much about myself in the process that it's worth my time, energy, and hard work.
- I might as well. What do I have to lose? Just some free time.
- The work I do on this application will make it easier for me to craft successful graduate school or job applications, and to make better choices about where to apply.
- Just getting to the interview would be an accomplishment. The other finalists are equally talented and deserving.
Finally, some words of advice: Focus on both the process and the goal. Winning a Rhodes or a Marshall (or a Truman, etc.) is not your reward for a job well done; it is a sometimes dubious privilege, somewhat arbitrarily bestowed, where your selection depends partly on your performance in a 20 minute interview, which can provide you with an incredible, incomparable experience of study, and will open many doors, but it does not guarantee you long life, success, or happiness. Hundreds apply each year and do not win; most go on to accomplish their goals and live productive, happy lives. Don't stake your identity on the outcome of the scholarship process.