A Guide to Some of the Most Coveted Scholarships in America

Prestigious Scholarships for Graduate Students

ByMoneyGeek Team

Updated: November 27, 2022

ByMoneyGeek Team

Updated: November 27, 2022

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Scholarships are a great resource to reduce the cost of graduate school, but those who are able to qualify for some of the world's most prestigious scholarships, get more than just money. These highly competitive scholarships can help you network with the world's brightest thinkers and help lock in future employment prospects. They are major coups on your resume.

Successful applicants require a strong strategy and understanding of each program's priorities. Below you will find a detailed explanation of what you need to know to apply for prestigious scholarships such as The Rhodes, Fulbright, Churchill, Marshall and Harry S. Truman.

Rhodes Scholarship

Each year, the Rhodes Scholarship program selects 32 Americans to study at the University of Oxford; as many as 89 additional scholarships are given globally.

The Rhodes Scholars program was established in 1902 by Cecil Rhodes to identify future leaders who would make major contributions during their lifetimes. Candidates are evaluated on academic success, participation in activities such as sports, commitment to public service, and leadership potential.

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It's great if there are well-known people willing to recommend an applicant — but only to the extent that they actually know him or her and can say something particular and useful. A generic, boilerplate letter from a university president or former Cabinet secretary is a waste.

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The interview is fast-moving and wide-ranging. The questions are creative, sometimes off-the-wall, and in many cases, lines of inquiry that finalists simply can't prepare for. The selectors want to see finalists think on their feet. They want to see them take interesting, thoughtful positions and defend them. Sometimes they're trying to ensure that there's a real human being behind the great grades and impossible achievements.

Famous Rhodes Scholars
  • Bill Clinton
    U.S. President, 1968
  • Rachel Maddow
    Television host and author, 1995
  • Peter Beinart
    Editor of The New Republic, 1993
  • Susan Rice
    National Security Advisor, 1986
  • Edwin Hubble
    Astronomer, 1910

Marshall Scholarship

The Marshall Scholarship was established after WWII by the UK Parliament as thanks to the U.S. for the success of the Marshall Plan. It provides funding for exceptional college seniors to pursue two years of graduate studies in any academic area at a college or university in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The goal is that with an enduring understanding of British culture, Marshall Scholars will facilitate ongoing positive relations between the U.S. and U.K.

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The Marshall selects for candidates who are truly accomplished in their chosen field of expertise but who also have a deep abiding interest in other fields and are generally well-rounded. Having spent a lot of time with current and alumni Marshalls and Rhodes, I would say the committee seems to select for these "T-shaped" candidates — the ones who possess both depth and breadth. Especially for science applicants, the interviewers usually rely on recommendations to determine your depth of experience in your chosen field and use the interview to gauge your breadth of interest.

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You can apply for a Marshall in either your home's or school's consular district. Due to the density of Ivy League institutions in the Northeast, many candidates attending school there choose to apply from their home districts, which are perceived to be less competitive.

Famous Marshall Scholars
  • Robert Lane Greene
    Journalist, 1997
  • Thomas Friedman
    Pulitzer Prize-winning author, 1975
  • Roger Tsien
    Nobel Prize-winning chemist, 1972
  • Nicole Krauss
    Novelist, 2000

Fulbright Scholar Program

The Fulbright Scholar Program gives merit-based grants for students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists and artists. For U.S. citizens, it provides the opportunity to gain international exposure and develop personal projects, while citizens from other countries can earn the chance to do the same but in the United States.

There are several programs and awards available in the Fulbright Scholar Program that enable college and university faculty members with a Ph.D. (or equivalent terminal degree), artists and professionals to teach or conduct research. More than 8,000 grants are offered annually, with a small number available to U.S. international education administrators. For a full list of these programs, visit the Fulbright website.

There also is a Fulbright Student Program, which enables graduating college seniors, graduate students, young professionals, and artists to study, teach or conduct research.

Under the student program, approximately 900 grants have been given annually, using funds dedicated by Congress. Applicants can be recent graduates, current graduate students, professionals, and artists. Programs supported range from coursework to artistic and research projects. There's often a language requirement, depending on the destination.


Marie Myung-Ok Lee was a Fulbright Scholar in 1997 for Creative Writing and Women's Studies in Korea. Today, she is an author and professor at Columbia University's Creative Writing program.

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I visited Brown's career office where they had a binder of successful Fulbright essays and I spent the whole day looking through them and seeing commonalities: focused project, a project that was do-able in 9 months, infrastructure set up." Here are some sample personal statements and essays.

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An important piece of advice: I was told by the IIE that my chances of getting one for a creative field in Korea were probably zero. And I didn't listen. Everyone else did do a STEM type Fulbright (e.g. currency or the car industry) but I met a photographer who'd gotten one my year, and he had been rejected earlier. So we were the first people to get creative ones. So don't be afraid to reapply!

Famous Fulbright Scholars
  • Muhammad Yunus
    Nobel Peace Prize winner, 1965

  • John Hope Franklin
    American historian and author, 1954

  • Ashraf Ghani
    President of Afghanistan, 1985

  • Elizabeth Kolbert
    Pulitzer Prize-winning Author, 1985

  • Renee Fleming
    Soprano, 1984

Harry S. Truman Scholarship

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship provides support to college juniors who plan careers in public service. The scholarship looks for a strong history of civic engagement, volunteer work and public service throughout high school and college. It supports graduate studies that will enable students to be more effective in careers in public service. There's a strong emphasis throughout the application process in showing both an established history of service and demonstrating that future educational plans support a student's ability to be a change agent. Sample application materials provide deeper insight into the process.


Jessica Ullrich advised a range of students on graduate scholarship opportunities in her position in the Tufts University Provost Office.

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The Truman Scholarship is anchored around public service. It's important to develop a clear evidence-base showing your long-term commitment to civic, volunteer, and government causes. When possible, find an organizing theme.

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The interview is an important part of the process. It's been said the scholarship is won and lost at district interviews. Mock interviews can be organized with advisors, a career services office, or even professors.

Famous Harry S. Truman Scholars
  • Bill De Blasio
    New York City Mayor, 1981

  • George Stephanopoulos
    Presidential Advisor and ABC news anchor, 1981

  • Michele Gavin
    US Ambassador and Senior Presidential Advisor, 1995

Churchill Scholarship

The Churchill Scholarship, set up by Sir Winston Churchill, is a specialized program fostering graduate studies in science, math, and engineering. Started in 1963, the Churchill Scholarship provides at least 14 scholarships for American students to pursue a one-year master's degree at the University of Cambridge, based at Churchill College. The program aims to strengthen U.S. - U.K. ties around science and technology, to foster innovation, prosperity, and security.


Mackenzie Simper is a recently named 2016 Churchill Scholar from the University of Utah.

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The Churchill puts a large emphasis on research. I think it is important to show how your research experiences have motivated you, as well as connect past research to your future plans.

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It is important to really know the program that you are applying for. My program is the MASt in math at Cambridge, which is formatted very differently than an American master's program. In my interview, I was asked questions to make sure I understood the differences and would be able to adapt. I had spoken to many people who had previously completed the MASt at Cambridge, and so I really knew what I was getting in to and was able to articulate that in my interview.

A Word About Letters of Recommendation

In the world of elite scholarships, recommendation letters are a critical part of the process. Think strategically about your choice of recommender. Select people who can tie in examples, observations and comments from your work to the project you're proposing and the mission of the overall scholarship program. For example, if you're applying for a Fulbright, your linguistic preparation and your ability to adapt to a new culture are important.

Ineffective letters tend to be generic or fail to make a real connection to the mission of the program. It's helpful to ensure each of your recommenders understands the scholarship's mission, the academics or project you're proposing, and some specific elements that might be helpful as they're crafting their letters. Create packets for each of your recommenders with information and reference documents to help them quickly craft relevant letters.

Finally, a word about timelines: Professors and academic advisors tend to be inundated with recommendation requests. Create a timeline for your application. Choose recommenders early and provide them with plenty of time to fulfill your request. Ensure all waivers or other documents have been signed, and include submission instructions or stamped envelopes as required. Remove all logistical barriers for the creation of a powerful letter and a timely submission.

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