January 12, 2007

Scholarship committees overlook Chicago

For the first time since 2002, no U of C student has won either the British Marshall or Rhodes scholarships, a significant disappointment to many after years of remarkable success.

Four students were granted interviews in the 2006 awards cycle; each was eventually granted a scholarship. This year, U of C students were granted eight interviews, yet no student won a scholarship.

“The College was very disappointed,” said Mary Daniels, an adviser in the College who works closely with prospective applicants for the scholarships. “We were really proud of the students who got interviews.”

On average, the U of C has between 10 and 15 applicants for the scholarships each year, Daniels said.

The Rhodes Trust grants 32 scholarships to American students each year, while the Marshall Commission grants at least 40.

Daniels said this year’s candidates were no less qualified than last year’s winners. “I don’t think it reflects on the quality of our students,” she said. “It’s the law of small numbers.”

“We work really hard with students to get interviews,” Daniels said. “We see it as our job to prepare students for these interviews, but once you get to the interview stage, everyone is universally qualified. You can’t control for the subjective aspects.”

Among the resources available to applicants are faculty advisers, as well as simulated cocktail parties and interviews.

Some of the candidates worked with advisers up to four times per week, Daniels said.

Due to the intense nature of the competition and the time commitment required, fewer students apply for the British scholarships than for other, less competitive programs.

The College has embarked on an aggressive campaign to encourage students to apply for awards like the U.S. Fulbright Scholarship. In recent years, the U of C has had increasing success with Fulbrights, as well as higher numbers of applicants.

Applications more than doubled from 24 in 2006 to 57 for the current cycle.

The number of students awarded the scholarship has also steadily increased in the past six years; nine students won the scholarship last year.

The key to getting students to apply is demystifying the process, said David Comp, an adviser in the College.

“A lot of students think that they have to have a 3.8 GPA, and they don’t have to. A 3.0 is going to get [the scholarship] over a 3.8 if it’s a good proposal,” Comp said.

In contrast, U of C College advisers recruit applicants to the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships based on their GPAs, as well as on recommendations elicited from faculty members and other advisers.

Advisers will continue to review the process by which the U of C recommends and prepares students, said Susan Art, dean of students in the College.

“We don’t think that there’s anything wrong with the process, but there is constantly a review, and the process is always changing,” Art said. “I think we’ve done very well. We get calls {from other universities} all the time asking how we organize the process.”

Art said she does not think this year’s results will have a negative impact on the University in terms of rankings or otherwise.

As a ratio of applications to successful candidates, Art points out, the U of C has had much greater success than peer institutions which frequently have 50–60 applicants but similar yields.

The Rhodes Scholarships grant two years of study at Oxford University in any field of study. Marshall Scholarships grant two years of study at any British university.