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Prestige Scholarships for College A Guide to Earning the Most Coveted Financial Aid Awards for School

An estimated $46 billion in college grants and scholarships are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education and different academic institutions every year. But there are a handful of top-tier awards for high-performing, standout students known as Prestige Scholarships. Qualification standards are much higher than typical financial aid options, and finalists must be both outstanding academically and highly involved as community advocates or leaders. So, what exactly do these highly-touted awards get you? Take a closer look at some of the country’s most coveted Prestige Scholarship programs and learn how to earn them here.

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Paying for College with Prestige Scholarships

Many highly competitive Prestige Scholarship and fellowship programs provide exclusive benefits, like stipends, access to specialized training and even professional placement to secure a job after graduation. Because of the perks, outstanding candidates with extreme intellect, leadership ability, commitment to community and strong character are sought for the scholarships below, no matter what their educational background is. Take a look at the list of Prestige Scholarships below.

Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation Amount

Up to $7,500 per year (two years)

What it covers

Undergraduate tuition, fees, books, room and board

Eligibility

Students interested in pursuing a research career can earn one of 300 undergraduate scholarships. Scholarship awards may be used only for a student’s Junior and Senior years.

Nomination Required?

Yes. Students should contact their Goldwater Campus Representative (CR) and fill out their campus-specific pre-application information. The CR will conduct a pre-application review and nominate students to move forward in the application process from there.

Elie Wiesel Foundation Prize in Ethics Amount

$500 to $5,000

What it covers

No specified stipulations

Eligibility

Full-time students in their junior or senior year of an undergraduate degree program at an accredited four-year school in the U.S. are eligible.

Nomination Required?

No. This essay-based award challenges students to explore ethical issues or concerns and drive for ethical dimension and humanitarian action.

National Merit Scholarship Amount

A $2,500 primary, single payment scholarship; varying corporate-sponsored and college-sponsored awards; varying special scholarships

Eligibility

High school students who earn high scores on the PSAT / National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) can qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program and achieve Finalist standing by meeting high academic standards in their high school courses. A set number of semifinalists must be chosen per state, and approximately 7,500 students win a primary scholarship per year.

Nomination Required?

No. The application does require a high school official’s written recommendation, but anyone with eligible PSAT/NMSQT score reports can enter.

Udall Undergraduate Scholarship Amount

Up to $7,000

What it covers

Undergraduate academic expenses

Eligibility

The Udall Scholarship program awards college sophomores and juniors who demonstrate leadership, public service and a commitment to supporting Native American nations and stewardship of public lands.

Nomination Required?

No. To apply, students must reach out to their school’s Udall Faculty Representative to receive an application. Application deadlines vary by school.

Beinecke Scholarship Amount

$34,000; $4,000 before entering graduate school plus $30,000 while completing program

What it covers

Up to five years of graduate school funding

Eligibility

Designed for students interested in graduate studies in the arts, humanities and social sciences. College juniors at the approximately 125 invited universities are eligible. Criteria include an assessment of student need.

Nomination Required?

Yes. Each school is allowed one nominee per year.

Churchill Scholarship Amount

$50,000 to $60,000 value

What it covers

One year of graduate study at University of Cambridge, Churchill College, including living allowance, travel to and from the U.S., visas and other fees

Eligibility

One of the most academically challenging scholarships to obtain, this scholarship is designed for students pursuing master’s degrees in science, engineering and mathematics. Students go on to study at the University of Cambridge at Churchill College, and must attend one of the 110 participating institutions to apply.

Nomination Required?

Yes. Students are required to submit letters of recommendation to their school’s scholarship office along with their application. From there, the schools make nominations.

The Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Program Amount

Up to $37,500 annual educational support, plus up to $20,000 summer internship support

What it covers

Two years of graduate study including room, board, books, fees, an academic stipend and monetary support for two summer internships

Eligibility

Students interested in a career in Foreign Service can earn a spot in this fellowship program. Approximately 30 fellowships are granted, and include both graduate level education funding and monetary support for two summer internships in Washington, D.C. and abroad.

Nomination Required?

No. Applications must include two letters of recommendation, but any student graduating from a bachelor’s program with a 3.2 GPA or higher interested in Foreign Service may apply.

Gates Cambridge Scholarships Amount

$50,000 to $60,000 value

What it covers

Full-time post-graduate study in any subject and discretionary funding for academic development, family allowance for students with children, fieldwork allowance, hardship funding, maternity/paternity support upon request

Eligibility

Designed to support future leaders, is open to all students internationally (outside the United Kingdom) who are applying for a full-time residential post-graduate study program at the University of Cambridge. Current Cambridge students may also apply if moving on to a new post-graduate program.

Nomination Required?

No. Applicants are required to submit a non-academic reference that can speak to how well they fit the Gates Cambridge criteria, in addition to two academic references.

Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program Amount

Unspecified

What it covers

Standard graduate education funding (typically up to three years, five to six years in certain programs) and on-campus housing

Eligibility

Open to students applying for a full-time graduate degree program at Stanford University within four years of earning a bachelor’s degree. Up to 100 high-achieving students are awarded from around the world each year.

Nomination Required?

No. Interested students must apply for both the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program and their specific Stanford graduate degree program separately to be considered.

Marshall Scholarships Amount

Varies

What it covers

Graduate degree study at a university in the United Kingdom, one- or two-year programs available

Eligibility

Students must be from the U.S. and cannot already have a degree or certification from a British school. They must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year college and have a 3.7 GPA or higher. The application process includes submitting a proposal for study, and preference is given to requests for universities other than Oxford and Cambridge.

Nomination Required?

No. Selections are made based on academic merit, leadership potential and dedication to improved understanding between the U.S. and U.K.

Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans Amount

$90,000

What it covers

Up to $20,000 yearly (up to two years) for advanced degree program tuition and a $25,000 stipend

Eligibility

Students who are American immigrants or children of immigrants and who demonstrate strong leadership skills and a commitment to the U.S. Constitution are eligible. The fund provides 30 fellowships each year to U.S. citizens, Green Card holders, naturalized citizens, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, asylum seekers and their children. Learn more during an online fellowship information session.

Nomination Required?

No. Applicants who aren’t successful are encouraged to re-apply for as long as they are eligible.

Harry S. Truman Scholarship Amount

Up to $30,000

What it covers

Graduate or professional school costs

Eligibility

Students who are planning to go to graduate or professional school can apply beginning in their junior year of undergrad. Both U.S. Citizens and U.S. Nationals who are preparing for careers in government, non-profits or advocacy industries are eligible. The program grants 55 to 65 awards yearly, and some schools offer matching awards up to $30,000 for their students.

Nomination Required?

Yes. The nomination process varies by campus, and nomination deadline and dates also differ. Students should contact their campus Truman Scholarship Faculty Representative for details. The Foundation provides a Faculty Rep Locator directory here.

The Rhodes Scholarship Program Amount

Varies

What it covers

A degree program at the University of Oxford

Eligibility

32 students in the United States are selected for their scholarly achievements, character and leadership potential. Students must be between age 18 and 24

Nomination Required?

No. However college endorsement is required as part of the application process.

Fulbright U.S. Student Program Amount

Varies

What it covers

Study or research project funding or English Teaching Assistant Programs abroad

Eligibility

Eligible students can be graduating seniors and recent bachelor’s degree holders with experience in research or English teaching, graduate-level students with foreign study or research experience and young professionals with up to five years of work or study experience abroad. Students who already have very extensive foreign experience (more than five years) are not typically considered.

Nomination Required?

No. Fulbright program recipients may also earn this award more than once, although priority is given to first-time candidates.

Henry Luce Scholars Program Amount

Varies

What it covers

Living stipends, language training and professional placement in Asia

Eligibility

Accepting college seniors to graduate students and young professionals, Luce Scholars must be U.S. citizens under age 30. The program requires a 13-month commitment and applicants may have a background in nearly any field or industry.

Nomination Required?

Yes. There are 75 U.S. eligible colleges and universities that can nominate up to three students each year. Find the campus liaison at these various nominating institutions for details.

James C. Gaither Junior Fellows Program Amount

Varies

What it covers

Work as a research assistant to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Senior Scholars

Eligibility

Designed for graduating seniors or students who have graduated in the last year from a participating college or university. Application procedures and nomination processes vary by campus.

Nomination Required?

Yes. Students should contact their campus nominating official for full details.

“How Do I Become a Rhodes Scholar?” The Realities of Earning a Prestigious Scholarship

Earning a prestigious scholarship is no easy feat and many exclusive scholarship programs have a rigorous application process to screen out candidates. While it’s important to review all eligibly requirements and the application process closely to keep track of deadlines for submission of application materials, there are some basic realities to know before applying. Get answers to a few common questions about Prestige Scholarships below.

Reality

Not always. Some scholarships are only awarded for one or two years while others are renewed based on academic performance and other conditions. For example, the Rhodes Scholarship is awarded for two years only, there is no third year of funding regardless of the program. The Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program offers up to six years of funding for programs that require a longer commitment.

Tips and Resources to Help:
  • Scholarship Renewal Guides like this one from Arizona State University are often available on your school’s website. Check here for tips and information about maintaining and renewing scholarships.
Reality

Most likely. Most Prestige Scholars are not selected without an in-person interview with a selection committee. The committees are usually made up of former scholarship or fellowship winners working in a variety of fields and industries.

Tips and Resources to Help:
Reality

Most likely. A personal statement, an essay or educational proposal outlining your ideal program of study or research is usually a primary component of prestigious scholarship applications.

Tips and Resources to Help:
Reality

Now. Preparation for the application process often begins in high school or during freshman year of undergraduate study. For example, Rhodes applicants need between five and eight recommendations, so it’s important to begin cultivating those key relationships early. Some awards have experience requirements that require planning for, such as working or studying abroad.

Tips and Resources to Help:
Reality

Be honest with yourself. Do you believe the designated University is the right place for you to study? Are you prepared for the commitments required after you receive the award? Can you achieve a similar outcome another way? In some instances, particularly for graduate-level study, Oxford or Cambridge might not be the best options, no matter how highly-coveted they seem.

Breakdown of Awards vs. Applicants in 2016
Scholarship Number of Applicants Number of Awards
Goldwater 1,150 252
Fulbright (all student programs) 9,845 1,966
Marshall 916 32
Mitchell 284 12
Rhodes 869 32
Truman 775 65
Gates Cambridge 3,730 55
Udall 464 50

Source: University of Wyoming Office of Academic Affairs 2016

Tips and Resources to Help

Snapshot: The Top Prestige Scholarships in Practice

Winning certain national fellowships or prestigious scholarships means students will spend a year or more of their lives studying abroad at one particular university. Others offer students a choice of institutions. Here are a few accounts of what life is like after winning a scholarship to select universities.

Churchill Scholars Where Students Go to School

University of Cambridge

What Academic Life is Like

Students account for about one-fifth of the population of Cambridge. “I was given the opportunity to attend the University of Cambridge as a Churchill Scholar,” a past scholarship recipient writes. “It was an unforgettably adventurous year: total immersion in the unique academic environment of Cambridge, blessed with the chance to pursue my research of interest in a world-class lab.”

What Campus Life is Like

Students work hard, but they also play hard. There are hundreds of clubs to join, formal college balls, more than 80 sports, and the town is steeped in college tradition. American student Deanie Vallone says, “picture massive candlelit dining halls, billowing black gowns, glamorous balls, boat races, and Latin prayers. Elements such as these made Cambridge a home.”

Source: Churchill Scholarship “What They Say”, “What it’s Like Being at Cambridge as an American Student”, 2013
Henry Luce Foundation Scholars Where Students Go

Luce Scholars receive placements in Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

What Professional Life is Like

Placements are intended as learning opportunities in Asian countries, so students may find themselves in a very structured, or unstructured environment. “Our experiences vary wildly in geography, work setting, and cultural norms,” says Annie Peyton, a Luce Scholar in Bangkok.

What Personal Life is Like

Scholars do not typically work together or near one another, but scheduled Assessment Meetings offer opportunities for them to come together and get to know one another more informally. Peyton says, “I think we all benefited from hearing each other’s frustrations and uncertainties, embarrassments, and triumphs.”

Source: “Growing on the Happiness Graph: My Fellowship Highs and Lows”, 2016
Knight-hennessy Scholars Where Students Go

Stanford University

What Academic Life is Like

With a four to one student to teacher ratio and world-class faculty, students describe the academic experience as engaging, diverse, and flexible enough to allow students to craft their own academic experience. The school provides a Graduate Gateway and other details on the Stanford Experience for Knight-Hennessy students to explore.

What Campus Life is Like

At Stanford, more than 97 percent of undergrads live on campus all four years, which may be a testament to the campus culture. A perk for Knight-Hennessy scholars is exclusive use of the Denning House, a lake-view hub and central meeting place for students in the program.

Source: Knight-Hennessy Scholar Stanford Experience, 2017
Rhodes Scholars Where Students Go

Oxford University in England

What Academic Life is Like

The Rhodes can be an incredible experience; however, going to Oxford can dramatically “change your life” says Emma Pierson, a Rhodes Scholar recipient. “I estimate that two-thirds of American Rhodes Scholars in long-distance relationships at the beginning of my year were not in relationships at the end,” Pierson says.

What Campus Life is Like

For many, life at Oxford is a mix of intense education, frenetic social events, competitive athletics, and partaking in many curious and odd traditions and rituals with new friends. The university provides a look into a week in the life of a student for those who are curious.

Source: “Advice on Sample Essays for Prospective Rhodes, Marshall, NSF, NDSEG and Hertz Applicants“, 2015

Expert Advice: Is a Prestige Scholarship the Best Way to Pay for School?

Crystal Olivarria is the founder and CEO of Career Conversationalist. As a student she raised more than $70,000 in grants and scholarships to pay for her education at The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco and Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif. She now helps students get into their top chosen college and find ways to generate money for tuition through grants and scholarships.

What do you say to students who are considering applying for a Prestige Scholarship?

I would say that many students who apply for prestigious scholarships lack the qualifications. Whether or not a student should apply depends largely on how active they have been in volunteering, extra-curricular activities or with internships. Also, for students who can clearly articulate their future plans, it makes sense to apply.

What type of students should pursue these highly prized and competitive scholarships?

Students whose activities resulted in academic, professional and personal growth have the best chance of winning prestigious scholarships. It’s not the activity itself that is noteworthy; it’s how it transformed a student’s life. What lessons were learned, and how will a student use these lessons going forward? Students who can communicate that transformative growth the best (both in written format and orally during scholarship interviews) stand the best chance.

What do you think winning one of these scholarships can mean to student’s academic careers?

Winning a prestigious scholarship primarily funds a student’s education, but the scholarship award also can be mentioned when applying to internships. Being awarded a large amount of money adds credibility and is impressive. Therefore, winning a prestigious scholarship can help students get noticed and improve their odds of being selected.