The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation established the Gates Cambridge Scholarships in 2000 with a $210 million donation to support outstanding graduate students’ study at the University of Cambridge. The scholarship is one of the most competitive and prestigious in the world, with around 1.3% of applicants receiving an award in recent years.
The gift is the largest single donation to a British university and the University’s most prestigious programme for postgraduate students. Each scholarship covers the cost of a postgraduate degree at the University of Cambridge and includes funding for academic and professional development. More than 1,800 students from more than 110 countries have received the scholarship and more than 200 Gates Cambridge Scholars are studying at any time.
Eligibility and selection criteria
Applicants from any country other than the United Kingdom are eligible to apply for the Gates Cambridge Scholarships. Candidates must apply to pursue one of the following full-time residential degrees at the University of Cambridge:
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Master of Science (MSc), Master of Letters (MLitt), Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
Another one-year postgraduate course (e.g. LLM, MRes, MASt)
Applicants concurrently apply to a course, college and department and the offer of a Gates Cambridge Scholarship are conditional on the student gaining full placement in each.
The Gates Cambridge Trustees use four criteria to choose Scholars:
Academic excellence: Competitiveness is evaluated through academic transcripts, references, experience and the potential to succeed on the chosen course. A departmental nomination is crucial for demonstrating this criterion;
Choice of course: The Trust seeks Scholars who will have an academically transformative experience at Cambridge. Candidates must demonstrate intellectual superiority and the necessary skills and expertise to complete the course which they have chosen;
A commitment to improving the lives of others: A defining characteristic of Scholars is their deep devotion to improving lives of others as evident by their past, current and future commitment to the societies in which they will live and work;
A capacity for leadership: Candidates must show exceptional leadership elements and a pledge to ‘take others with them’ as future leaders of their fields and communities.
Generally, each class of Gates Cambridge Scholars is composed of 2⁄3 PhD and 1⁄3 one-year Scholars. The Gates Cambridge Trust uses a three-stage selection process to select its Scholars. The application process begins with prospective students applying to study for an eligible degree at the University of Cambridge, either during the U.S. or the global round. Following the initial application, each academic department at the University of Cambridge ranks and nominates eligible applicants for the scholarship. Departmental nominees are the most academically outstanding applicants for postgraduate studies in the department.
The list of departmental nominees is then forwarded to the Gates Cambridge Trust, where it is divided into broad subject areas and passed to the Shortlisting Committees. Each Committee reviews the entirety of a departmental nominee and applies the Gates Cambridge selection criteria to shortlist applicants for interview. All shortlisted candidates are interviewed to assess how they meet all Gates Cambridge criteria and Scholars-Elect are selected only after the interview. In 2018, 92 Scholars were selected from a pool of more than 5,500 applicants.