Rhodes Scholarship Winning Essays For Contests

Each year, 32 Rhodes Scholarships are awarded to US students, supporting two years of graduate study at Oxford University in any field. In addition to educational costs, Rhodes Scholars receive a maintenance allowance for term-time and vacation expenses. The scholarships are viewed as long-term investments in individuals with “excellence in qualities of mind and qualities of person,” measured by their academic superiority and devotion to humankind. Selectors who compose Rhodes Scholarship committees come from fields including academia, law, government, medicine, and journalism.

The Rhodes Scholarship Selection Criteria

Standards by which Rhodes Scholars are judged include:

  • exceptional literary and scholastic achievements;
  • demonstrated devotion to service, moral character, and leadership.

An additional criterion that can weigh in a candidate’s favor is success in athletics or another demonstration of physical vigor.

The Rhodes Personal Statement

Given the prestige of the Rhodes Scholarship and the staggering competition, many applicants struggle with the fact that they are limited to two fairly short writings in their applications. Candidates provide a list, not longer than two pages and in a font size no smaller than 10 points, of activities and honors in college, and a 1000-word essay setting forth personal aspirations and detailing a specific plan of study for their proposed academic work at Oxford. Needless to say, these documents are scrutinized with great care by selection committees.

The list of activities and honors should be selective and grouped logically into categories, as in a resume or curriculum vitae, and some very brief description could be used amidst this list to give context as necessary. Most important, though—in that the writer has the opportunity to interpret and persuade—is the writing of the personal statement. Excellent Rhodes personal statements are infused with concrete examples, a self-reflective tone, a showcasing of priorities and service, and an overall picture of yourself as a person of accomplishment and character. Some applicants make the mistake of seeing the essay as an academic mini-thesis or a narrative resume, while others treat it as an exercise in purple prose. Some even seem to make a demand for the scholarship or grovel at the feet of the selectors. Such poor visions of what a personal statement should be explain why the Rhodes application calls for the essay to be “written in as simple and direct a manner as possible.” Meanwhile, remember the bottom line about the goal of the personal statement in the eyes of the readers: describing your specific area of proposed study and reasons for wishing to study at Oxford.

Evaluation of Two Sample Rhodes Personal Statements

The two sample Rhodes statements provided in the pdf below are interesting to contrast with each other, in that the first student aims to study health, disease, and culture and the second to study British literature. Also, one writer links herself directly to Oxford only in the final paragraph, while the other links herself throughout.

One of the most striking features of the first sample is its introduction, in which the writer places herself soaked in sweat and deep in thought on a mound of rock in northern Kenya, contemplating the fate of a Homo erectus woman who died 1.7 million years ago. This narrative leads the writer to an extensive explanation, including service-based examples, of the marriage between her degrees in Women’s Studies and Anthropology. Her second page is devoted to her research, including work at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History. We also find details evidencing physical rigor and athletic competition.

In the second sample, the writer opens with the simple phrase “I have found my mentor,” then describes the very person she wishes to study with at Oxford, making further references to this professor in five of the essay’s eight paragraphs. Amidst various literary references, we find examples of the student presenting a paper on Chaucer at a conference as a junior, and finally describing herself as one like Sir Gawain—an adventurer seeking a deeper understanding of self.

Though neither of these candidates received a Rhodes (which punctuates the keenness of competition), both were put forth as candidates by their schools and made it to the interview stage.

Click here to download a pdf of two sets of Rhodes Scholarship personal statements by former students.


Applying for the Rhodes Scholarship involves six steps and an extensive time investment. Begin the process and download the application at the rhodescholar.org website.

Visit the Rhodes Scholarship website.

Essay Contest


For many years the Arts One Program invited its current students to enter the Annual Arts One Essay Contest (the essay contest was replaced, in 2015-2016, with inviting students to submit to our journal entitled ONE). Winning such a competition is an excellent item for a resume or application to a Major or Honours program or for a graduate or professional program. Here are some of our recent winners.

  • 2013/14, Group A: Meredith Shaw (LA5), “The Island of Doctor Moreau: Beast-People and the Beast within People”; Beatrice Lew (LA3), “Immanent Identity: Masculinity as a Function of Imperialism in Kipling’s Kim.”; Simon Sierra (LA5), “The Communist Manifesto: Robinson Crusoe – A Communist?”.
  • 2013/14, Group B: Rebecca Peng (LB2), “The Art of Describing What Never Happened: Personal Fictions in Northanger Abbey”; Joshua Gabert-Doyon (LB5), “Order and the Public Body: Defining the Role of the Chorus in a Freudian reading of Antigone“.
  • 2012/13, Group A: Elizabeth Leung (LA3), “Queens in their Community: The Role of Female Leaders in Classical Literature.”; Mab Coates-Davies (LA3), “The Monster in the Mirror: Individuality in Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe”.
  • 2012/13, Group B: Hannah Goddard-Rebstein (LB4), “Community: the Odyssean Trap and the Oedipal Victim”; Yi Le Lu (LB2), “Individualism: The Community’s Biggest Lie”.
  • 2011/12, Group A: Sylvanna Baugh (LA3), “The Origin of the Fiend”; Ivan Liu (LA2), “What perspectives might Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality bring to our reading of Freud’s case history of Dora?”; Veronique West (LA5), “Vivisection of the Soul: Freud as Nietzsche’s Ascetic Priest”
  • 2011/12, Group B, First Prize: James Donnici (LB3), “Camus’ Crucial Fiction: Meursault’s Metamorphosis and the Meaning of Life”; Group B, Second Prize: Rebecca Borthwick (LB4), “Narrative Reliability in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • 2010/11, Group A: Elise Buckley (LA1), “The History of Sexuality: A Category All To Himself”; Carolyn Nakagawa (LA5), “Shadows and the Things they Shade”; Jane Shi (LA1), “Awakening to the Sea”
  • 2010/11, Group B, First Prize: Rob Patterson (LB2), “A Savage Darkness: The Interplay of Civilization’s Light and the Dark Shadow of Man’s Primal Nature in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness“; Group B, Second Prize: Catherine Read (LB5), “Trace and analyze a motif in Orlando
  • 2009/10, Group A, First Prize: Sara Shayan (LA3), “The Plain and the Perplexing: Exploring the Characterization of Ordinary and Extraordinary Women in the Short Stories of Edgar Allen Poe”; Group A, Second Prize: Jennifer Lin (LA4), “Taming the Human Animal: Sex and Cruelty”
  • 2009/10, Group B, First Prize: Rebecca Hasenauer (LB1), “Is Medea’s Otherness the Primary Source of her Predicament?”; Group B, Second Prize: Paula Zelaya Cervantes (LB3), “‘The Dangers of Broken Binoculars’: Compare and contrast the theme of colonialism in Heart of Darkness and A Passage to India
  • 2008/09, Group A, First Prize: Karol Boschung (LA3), “Weber’s Double Helix”; Group A, Second Prize: Emma Middleton (LA3), “Charles Darwin: Not Just a Naturalist”
  • 2008/09, Group B, First Prize: Chelsea Pratt (LB1), “India’s Hundred Mouths”; Group B, Second Prize: Kyle Robertson (LB4), “Based on your reading of On Liberty, choose a contemporary issue which Mill would address with the ideas in this text”
  • 2007/08, Group A, First Prize: Christine Quintana (LA3), “The Hands that Formed You: Frankenstein’s Monster as Rousseau’s Natural Man”; Group A, Second Prize: Rachel Pacione (LA1), “Fragment of an Analysis of Hysteria (Penelope): Erecting a Freudian Argument for Neurosis in Homeric Epic”
  • 2007/08, Group B, First Prize: Gabriel Quigley (LB5), “Asceticism and Androgyny in ‘Speaking of Shiva’ and Eliot’s ‘the Fire Sermon’”; Group A, Second Prize: Emily Cooley (LB4), “The Infinite Universe and the Finite Soul: Opposing Forces of Genesis
  • 2006/07, Group A, First Prize: Chelsea Birks (LA3), “The Carib and the Minister: A discussion of Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality in relation to the character of Caliban from Shakespeare’s Tempest“; Group A, Second Prize: Sarah-Nelle Jackson (LA4), “Women’s Mythical Mystique a Mistake: Reading T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ with Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex
  • 2006/07, Group B, First Prize: Lauren Weatherdon (LB4), “Reality is the position of commonsense. Does Midnight’s Children change your understanding?”; Group B, Second Prize: Allison Mills (LB1), “The Fisher King: Sexuality in Eliot’s The Waste Land and ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'”
  • 2005/06, Group A, First Prize: Emily Keller, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting… a Kappa”; Group A, Second Prize: John Brennan, “Power Struggle: Claims of Rightful Power in The Tempest
  • 2005/06, Group B, First Prize: Alia Dharssi, “Weapons and Trash: The Transformation of Banal Objects in ‘The Metamorphosis'”; Group B, Second Prize: Christine Prehn, “Rousseau and Genesis on Mankind’s First State”
  • 2004/05, Group A, First Prize: Valerie Freeland (LA1), “Let My Machine Talk To Me: Morality and Language In Hobbes’ Leviathan“; Group A, Second Prize: Nadya Van Dijk (LA3), “Find Yourself Twice Blessed”
  • 2004/05, Group B, First Prize: Kaitlin Blanchard (LB4), “The Alienation of the Female Poet: Dickinson and Plath On Society”; Group B, Second Prize: Rowan Melling (LB1), “Apollo is the Source of Dionysus: Aschenbach and Germany”


Stephen Straker Bursary and Prize


Stephen Straker (1942-2004)

“He challenged all of us to question what we knew and how we knew it, always following his own unquestionable bedrock of values,” writes Francesca Marzari of her father, Dr Stephen Straker, who passed away in July 2004.

A professor of History, Dr Straker was a long-standing member of the Arts One Program. In memory of his pioneering work, the Stephen Straker Arts One Memorial Fund was established to provide financial assistance for students entering the Arts One Program.

Read “The Needle’s Eye” (pdf), a tribute to Stephen Straker by his friend and colleague, Jack Maze.

NOTE: There is a difference between the Straker Bursary and the Straker Prize.

The Straker Bursary
The bursary is confidential. Details are managed through the UBC Bursaries office and recipients are not announced.

The Straker Prize

Terms of reference for this prize:

Two prizes are offered by an anonymous couple in honour of their long-time friend and colleague, Dr. Stephen Straker (1942-2004).  Stephen was a passionate teacher of the history of science, supporter of the Arts One Program, and founder of the Science and Society Group at UBC, where he inspired generations of students for over thirty years to question what they knew and how they knew it.  The prizes are awarded to students graduating from the Arts One Program with high academic standing and with promise and distinction. They are made on the recommendation of the Arts One Program, with one prize normally being awarded in each of the Program’s two study groups.

The Straker Prize is awarded to two Arts One students each year who excel by the end of the year in many aspects of the program. Winners are announced after final exams in April (usually in May or June).

  • 2016/17: Brandon Forys and Lea Anderson
  • 2015/16: Elliott Cheung and Jastej Luddu
  • 2014/15: Linnea Ritland and Timothy Wong
  • 2013/14: Beatrice Lew and Rebecca Peng
  • 2012/13: Marika Stanger and Kevin Sun
  • 2011/12: James Donnici and Daniel Munro
  • 2010/11: Frank Hong and Amy Spence
  • 2009/10: Russell Hirsch and Lauren Tustin


Rhodes Scholars


The Rhodes Scholarships, established in the will of Cecil Rhodes in 1902, were designed to bring outstanding students from across the world to study at Oxford University, in the interests of promoting international understanding and public service. One student from every Canadian province is chosen each year.

The scholarships require a high level of literacy and scholastic achievement, success in sports, strong qualities of leadership and character, and evidence of public service. (Information from the UBC Library)

We are thrilled that there have been three Arts One Rhodes Scholarship Recipients:

  • 2003 Winner Yaa-Hemaa Obiri-Yeboah was in Arts One 1999/2000, GrpB LB1. She attended St. John’s College.
  • 1994 Winner Laurel Baig was in Arts One 2001/02, GrpA LA1. She attended St. John’s College.
  • 1973 Winner Michael Robinson was in Arts One 1972/73, Grp3. He attended University College.


Killam Teaching Prize


UBC’s Killam Teaching Prize has been given annually since 1990. The following Arts One faculty have been recognized for their teaching excellence.


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