The Gates Scholarship is a program with a huge impact. Launched in 2017, the program's mission is to give opportunities to outstanding minority students to reach their highest potential.
In this guide, I'll go through all the details of the scholarship and the application protocols. After that, I'll give you expert tips and strategies for putting together the strongest Gates Scholarship application possible. Read on to learn more!
Note: The Gates Scholarship was established in 2017 as a replacement for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, which reached its goal of 20,000 scholars in 2016.
What Is the Gates Scholarship?
The primary mission of the Gates Scholarship is to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in all majors. By offering outstanding scholars better educational opportunities, the program aims to develop a diversified group of future leaders for America.
Each year, 300 student leaders are selected for the Gates Scholarship, with each winner receiving funding for the full Cost of Attendance to an accredited four-year US university or college.
Compared with other impressive corporate scholarships, the Gates Scholarship is especially comprehensive and generous. In addition to funding, it offers a wide structure of support, guidance, and mentoring.
Overall, the Gates Scholarship provides the following:
- Renewable educational funding: The scholarship covers any unmet need and self-help aid (in other words, instead of having to take out loans and do a work-study job, the scholarship would cover those Cost of Attendance expenses) for up to five years.
- Online support services: Services offered to scholarship winners include academic support, mentoring, professional advice and guidance, and help with financial literacy.
The total amount of aid you're eligible to get will depend on your amount of unmet need. Unmet need is the difference between your school's Cost of Attendance (room, board, tuition, fees, books, and personal expenses) and the amount you’ve received in grants and/or scholarships. The larger your unmet need is, the larger your scholarship award will be.
Your total amount of aid will also depend on how long you’re able to renew the scholarship. As long as you meet renewal qualifications every year, you can continue to receive funds for up to five years for a bachelor's degree program.
Are You Eligible for the Gates Scholarship?
To be considered for the Gates Scholarship, you must meet all the following criteria:
- Be a high school senior
Be African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian American/Pacific Islander, and/or Hispanic American
Be a US citizen, legal permanent resident, or national
Have a cumulative 3.3 GPA on an unweighted 4.0 scale
Meet federal Pell Grant eligibility criteria (this means that you must demonstrate significant financial need—check out our Pell Grant eligibility guide to learn more)
- Plan to enroll full-time in a four-year (bachelor's) degree program at an accredited, not-for-profit US college or university
Ideal applicants will also have the following traits, per the Gates Scholarship website:
An ideal candidate will demonstrate:
- Outstanding academic performance (Students in the top 10% of his/her graduating class)
- Leadership ability (e.g., as shown through participation in community service, extracurricular, or other activities)
- Exceptional personal success skills (e.g., emotional maturity, motivation, perseverance, etc.)
If you meet all the above eligibility criteria, you're on the right track to getting a Gates Scholarship.
What Do You Need to Apply for the Gates Scholarship?
Before you get to work on your Gates Scholarship application, you'll need to gather some important information.
From your guidance counselor, you'll need to get the following:
- Your full academic record
- Your cumulative GPA
- Your class rank
- Your Enrollment Verification
From the college/university you plan to attend, you'll need the following:
- Your college acceptance letter (again, this must be a four-year, accredited, not-for-profit US college or university)
- Your Financial Aid Award letter
You'll also need some family financial information, including the following:
- Your status as either a dependent or independent student
- Your personal gross annual income from the past year
Next, you'll need to prepare names, dates, and descriptions of participation for the following:
- A list of your leadership roles and experiences
- A list of community service experiences
- A list of employment experiences
Finally, you'll need to have your SAT/ACT scores handy.
All applicants must make a MyTGS Profile and apply through their online account.
Note that the Gates Scholarship application process consists of two phases, with each phase having its own application and selection process.
The Phase 1 application consists of a questionnaire—that's it! If you get to Phase 2, you'll need to submit another application that's a bit denser and will take more time; this one includes another questionnaire, essays, updated transcripts, and letters of recommendation.
What Is the Gates Scholarship Application Timeline?
This year, the Gates Scholarship application opened on July 15, 2019; the deadline for submission is September 15, 2019. Selections will be made in April 2020, with awards given out from July to September.
Below is the annual timeline for the Gates Scholarship:
- July: Phase 1 application opens
- September: Phase 1 application deadline
- December: Semi-finalists announced
- December: Phase 2 application opens
- January: Phase 2 application deadline
- March: Finalists announced; interviews for finalists
- April: New class of scholars announced
- Fall: Scholarships disbursed to winners
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It's time to get tactical.
Strategies: How to Increase Your Odds of Winning the Gates Scholarship
Every year 300 scholarships are awarded through this program, but that doesn’t mean the Gates Scholarship isn’t competitive.
If you want a chance at winning this prestigious scholarship, you’ll have to dedicate yourself 100% to the application process. Winners come from all over the country, with many scholarship recipients ending up at prestigious colleges.
The strategies I'll present here won't just help you strengthen your application for the Gates Scholarship but will also help you more generally with your college applications.
The best candidates for the Gates Scholarship will be motivated, high-achieving students with strong resumes, transcripts, and test scores—basically, the students who prepare themselves well for college.
As you might expect, the best way to effectively implement the strategies below will be to start the scholarship application process as early as possible. We've divided the strategies into two sections depending on where you're at in school and the application process.
Scenario 1: You're in Your Early Years of High School
If you're still just a freshman or sophomore and want to get a head start on looking good for the Gates Scholarship, here are four important tips to keep in mind.
#1: Demonstrate Academic Excellence
Competition for the Gates scholarship is stiff. In order to be a strong applicant, you should strive for more than the minimum GPA (3.3). Be sure to take advanced, honors, and AP classes when available, and actively seek out extra help from your teachers in any weaker subjects. Take those opportunities to develop strong relationships with teachers, tutors, and/or mentors.
#2: Cultivate Leadership Skills
Many scholarships, including the Gates Scholarship, want to invest in future leaders and innovative pioneers. One of the best ways to prove you have leadership potential is to actively develop your leadership skills as a student.
Here are some ways you can do this:
- Actively participate in your classes. Volunteer to lead discussions or group projects. Help out other classmates who might be struggling with a particular problem or concept.
- Join clubs or extracurricular activities that ignite your passions and interests. Focus on quality over quantity; invest in fewer activities but stick with them. If the opportunity presents itself, move up to team captain or a club officer role. The more your instructors, coaches, and peers respect you, the easier it will be to assume a leadership role.
#3: Commit to Community Service
The Gates Scholarship isn't just for helping individuals achieve their own personal goals; it's also for aiding in the betterment of whole communities. An ideal Gates Scholarship applicant will use opportunities they'll get through the scholarship to give back to their communities.
You can demonstrate your commitment to service by choosing (and sticking with) a community service or volunteer position. Ideally, this should be something you participate in regularly, on a weekly or so basis.
If you’re thoughtful about choosing where you volunteer and spend time doing something you’re passionate about, it’ll definitely pay off when you submit your scholarship application.
#4: Develop Relationships With Educators and Mentors
It's important to have wise people around you who can offer you trusted guidance and advice. It's also important to have good relationships with people who can serve as recommendation writers for any scholarships you apply to.
If you have respect for a particular class or activity, your teacher or mentor will come to respect you—that’s Step 1.
To work on further developing these relationships, you can do the following:
- Go to office hours to ask for extra help on tricky problems or concepts
- Actively participate in class, practice, or club meetings
- Go to your teachers, coaches, or mentors with questions that might be outside the scope of your regular curriculum; this demonstrates intellectual curiosity
Scenario 2: You've Made It to Phase 2 of the Gates Scholarship
The following three tips are for high school seniors who've made it past the Phase 1 questionnaire and are ready to get started on the much heavier Phase 2 application for the Gates Scholarship.
#1: Plan Ahead
Recall that you'll need letters of recommendation for this part of the application. It’s important to give your recommendation writers as much time to write their letters as possible.
And since you'll only have about a month after you move to Phase 2 before your application is due, it's imperative that you find and secure a recommender as soon as you are told you're a semi-finalist.
#2: Invest in Your Essays
If the Gates Scholarship evaluators only cared about your grades and resume, they wouldn’t ask you to write essays. So how can you ensure that your essays are great?
First off, make sure you’re answering every part of the essay prompt in your response. Most essay questions have multiple parts!
You also want to elaborate—don’t just provide a list as a response or give a yes/no answer. The evaluators want to see that you’re thoughtful and have put time into your application.
Another tip to keep in mind is to make your goals clear. Why do you want the Gates Scholarship? You don’t want to worry about paying for college, sure, but how will winning the scholarship affect your long-term and short-term academic and/or career goals? Most importantly, how will it enable you to be the person you want to be?
You’ll get brownie points if your future goals include pursuing an underrepresented field (i.e., computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health, or science) or serving others in some capacity.
The more thoughtful and clear you are in describing your goals in your essays, the more impressed the scholarship evaluators will be.
You should also craft a narrative with your essays. Make sure that all your essays work together to tell a single unified, logical story.
Before you start writing, come up with two to three points you want to get across about who you are. Maybe you want evaluators to know that you’re empathetic, hardworking, and interested in mental health. Or maybe you want them to know that you’re focused, ambitious, and passionate about social justice issues. The point is that all of your essays should ultimately serve to elucidate these points.
On that same note, don't be afraid to brag (to an extent). You're allowed to bring up any honors, awards, accolades, promotions, or fancy titles you've received. You earned them—talk about them! It’s helpful to make a comprehensive of all these things before you start writing your essays so that you don’t forget anything important.
That said, you should also be humble in your essays. Very few people can attribute their success solely to their own hard work. Did your family, friends, teachers, coaches, and/or mentors support you or offer guidance? Don’t be afraid to partially attribute your accomplishments to them, as well as to your own efforts. Evaluators won’t see this as a weakness but as insightful self-awareness.
Finally, remember to stay positive. Be honest about any struggles you've had but maintain a matter-of-fact tone. It's a smart idea to express optimism and a positive viewpoint about future outcomes and goals after you discuss any difficulties or disappointments.
#3: Choose Your Recommenders Wisely
Your recommenders will be expected to include detailed, glowing anecdotes and accounts of your personal relationships with others in addition to your academic and extracurricular performances.
Therefore, it'd be ideal if you could ask someone who knows you in multiple contexts (e.g., a teacher who serves as a club head, coach, or personal mentor). This should also be an individual with whom you feel very comfortable.
One of the best ways to make yourself a strong Gates Scholarship applicant is to set your goals high by being a strong college applicant. Check out our expert guides to getting perfect SAT scores and ACT scores, and learn how to get into your top-choice colleges.
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Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.