How to Become a Rhodes Scholar

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In our society, certain distinctions and honors can raise our perceptions of an individual to a higher level of trustworthiness and competence. For example, someone with a doctoral degree is often automatically regarded as an expert in a field.

Although the media often refer to Rhodes Scholars, few people know what this distinction means. Read on to learn a brief history of the Rhodes Scholarship, the requirements to become a Rhodes Scholar, and a list of famous and prominent people who hold this distinction.

Cecil Rhodes

The Rhodes Scholarship is named after Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), an English businessman and politician living in South Africa. Known for founding the De Beers diamond mining and refining company, this prominent figure of the 19th century also founded of the state of Rhodesia.

A larger than life character in the early industrial period of the Western world, Rhodes developed and funded with his estate the requirements of awarding the Rhodes Scholarship to worthy individuals. The scholarship gave these individuals an opportunity to study at the University of Oxford in England. At the time, only individuals under Great Britain’s rule, from territories formerly ruled by Great Britain, and candidates from Germany could be awarded this great honor. This, of course, included the United States even though the U.S. once fought Great Britain for independence over a century earlier.

Rhodes Scholarship Requirements

Awarded by the Rhodes Trust, Rhodes Scholarships are offered to individual who have shown excellence in four areas. These areas include:

  1. Scholastic achievement
  2. Athletic excellence
  3. Leadership
  4. Devotion to unselfishness and truth

These requirements are quite subjective and no real hard measures exist to clearly tell who does and who does not deserve the honor. In the late 1970s, Parliamentary law required that Rhodes Scholarship be opened to women as well as men. This made this distinction that much harder to receive because the pool of potential appointments virtually doubled over night.

Prominent Rhodes Scholars

A number of prominent people in politics, university, and theology hold the honor of being called a Rhodes Scholar. For example, former U.S. president Bill Clinton was awarded the distinction in 1968. James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly became a Rhodes Scholar in 1970.

In more recent times, Rachel Maddow (1995) of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Jared Cohen (2004), a member of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff, are both Rhodes Scholars. One of the latest members to join this list of prestigious individuals is Myron Rolle (2009), defensive back for the Florida State Seminoles.


Becoming a Rhodes Scholar is no easy task. First, you must excel in a number of scholastic, athletic, and leadership roles. In addition, you must be chosen and accept the nomination of the Rhodes Trust. It is no wonder that so few people are chosen to be Rhodes Scholars and why this distinction is often considered to be the most prestigious award an individual can receive.