One of the biggest and best scholarships available for students is the Gates Scholarship. In this post, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about the Gates Scholarship, including how to make yourself the strongest candidate possible for winning it. 

As a reminder, the Gates Scholarship is one of more than twenty thousand private scholarships available to students every year. If your interested in winning more than just the Gates Scholarship, consider signing up for the #1 rated scholarship app in the world, Scholly Search.

Without further ado, let’s look at how to win the Gates Scholarship! 

What is the Gates Scholarship?

The Gates Scholarship is awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whose mission is to “ensure more children and young people survive and thrive.” The foundation seeks to eradicate poverty through access to high-quality healthcare and education. 

Prior to 2017, the Gates Scholarship was the Gates Millennium Scholars program, which served 20,000 students up to that point. 

The new Gates Scholarship funds the education of 300 Pell grant eligible, minority students a year with the aim of helping underserved students reach their maximum potential in life. The program will run 10 years (until 2027), and fully fund the education of 3,000 students total!

You can find more information about the Gates Scholarship here.  You can also check out the Gates Scholarship student FAQ page.  And read on for everything you need to know about applying for and winning it! 

What the Gates Scholarship Provides

So, what does a Gates scholarship winner actually win

The Gates scholarship awards full funding for the winner’s education (that is not already covered by other scholarships or grants). This funding is fully renewable for up to five years, which means your entire undergraduate education will be covered, providing you can finish it in that time.

Furthermore, the Gates Scholarship offers all kinds of other online support systems including mentorship, career counseling, a network of other Gates scholars, etc.

Pretty great deal, huh?

And by the way, the cost of education includes tuition, fees, room and board, textbooks, transportation, and (potentially) other costs associated with college. 

In other words: the Gates Scholarship is a HUGE win.

Eligibility for the Gates Scholarship

Okay, but you may be asking yourself, “Am I eligible for the Gates Scholarship?” Good question. 

According to the newest eligibility guidelines, you’ll need to be:

  • A high school senior
  • A minority student, which is this case refers to being one of the following ethnicities: African American, American Indian/Native Alaskan, Asian/Pacific Islander American, and/or Hispanic American
  • Eligible for a Pell grant, which are awarded to undergraduate students who qualify for financial aid 
  • A US citizen, national, or permanent resident
  • In good academic standing with a GPA of 3.3 out of 4.0 on a cumulative, weighted scale

Here are a few more key facts about eligibility:

  • If you received your GED instead of a high school diploma you are not eligible to apply.
  • You must be attending an accredited, 4-year college or university in the United States or Puerto Rico. Community colleges are included, but you must be able to prove you’re enrolling as a freshman in a 4-year program.
  • If you’re seeking an Associate’s Degree from a 2-year college before transferring to a 4-year university, you are not eligible to apply.

Sound like you? Read on! 

Application Steps for the Gates Scholarship

If you’re eligible for the Gates scholarship, hooray! Now let’s take a look at what you’ll actually need to apply and the necessary steps to take.

#1 Gather the following information:

  • Your current academic information: your high school name and address, your transcripts, GPA, class rank, and SAT and/or ACT scores
  • Your college information: your acceptance letter and your financial aid award letter (btw: in order to receive financial aid you will need to fill out a FAFSA. Check out our complete guide to filling out your FAFSA for help). Note that if you haven’t been accepted anywhere yet, that’s okay. But by the final stage of the application process, you’ll need to provide this verification.
  • You family’s financial information: your dependent or independent status and your parents’ or guardians’ personal gross income for the previous year
  • You extracurricular information: this includes employment, sports or clubs, community service, leadership roles, etc. Make sure to have as much information on hand about these activities as possible, including names, dates, and descriptions associated with each.

#2 Create a TGS profile 

In order to log in and apply, you’ll need to create a TGS account and start a personal profile. Everything you submit for the Gates Scholarship will be through this portal.

It may seem obvious, but on the first page, select “student” from the drop down menu and then select and confirm a password of your choice. It’s a super simple process, but necessary for proceeding with your application. You will not be able to apply through any other sites or by mail.

#3 Familiarize yourself with the application phases

  • In phase one of the application—which you’ll automatically be directed to upon signing up—all you’ll need to do is fill out a questionnaire about yourself. This step is also very simple, and if you’ve gathered the information mentioned above it won’t take long at all to enter it. 
  • If you are selected to advance to phase 2 of the application as a semi-finalist, congrats! (FYI: 2,000 students will be chosen to move on at this juncture). You’ll be notified and provided an additional application to complete. This portion of the application will require you to: complete another, more in-depth questionnaire, submit your updated transcripts, provide letters of recommendation (typically 2), and complete several short essays. Unfortunately, essay questions change annually and are not released until you make it to this step, but we’ll provide you more advice about scholarship essays shortly!
  • If you’re one of the lucky 600 students who make it round 3, BIG congrats! This means you’re a finalist and will be given an interview with the selection committee.

The Gates Scholarship Timeline

The exact dates vary year to year, but here’s the general timeline:

July: The Gates Scholarship application opens! 

September: Application deadline for phase 1

December: Semi-finalists are announced and the phase 2 application opens for all those who are progressing as semi-finalists

January: Application deadline for phase 2

March: Finalists are announced and interviews are scheduled

April: Scholarship winners are announced! 

August/September: Fall scholarship money is disbursed to all winners

For reference, the most recent Gates Scholarship opened July 15 and the first deadline was September 15. You can refer back to the previous timeline here.

Even if it seems far off, now would be an excellent time to start preparing for the next open application season! 

Tips and Strategies for Winning the Gates Scholarship

Following the Gates “Ideal Candidate” Guidelines

The Gates Scholarship board explains exactly what they consider an ideal candidate, which is a student who:

  • Possesses an outstanding high school record, including a high GPA and class ranking in the top 10% of their graduating class
  • Consistently demonstrates strong leadership through community service and/or extracurricular activities 
  • Exudes “exceptional personal success skills” like emotional maturity, motivation, motivation and perseverance despite challenges and setbacks, etc.

Get a Jumpstart on Everything

Winning the Gates Scholarship is truly a life-changing event, and because of that, it’s a super competitive pool. This means if you want a fighting chance of winning, you’ll want to be a strong applicant with high grades… and you’ll want to get on this early in your high school career. 

Because here’s the thing about GPAs: they are actually quite hard to change substantially after your sophomore year. So you’ll want to get a jump start on getting good grades as early as freshman year so that your cumulative GPA for all four years is high when you apply. 

The early bird also gets the worm when it comes to the actual application process. At Scholly, we’re big fans of starting an application as soon as it becomes available. This gives you enough time to gather the necessary information, reflect a bit, make any changes, and get tech support if necessary. 

This is especially important if you make it to phase 2 of the competition and have to write essay responses. Start brainstorming and drafting as early as possible to give yourself ample time to edit and upload them.

Give Back and Demonstrate Leadership

The Gates Scholarship committee really wants to see that you are a person of service—an individual genuinely and whole-heartedly concerned with the wellbeing of others and in taking action to make change in the world.

It’s one thing to have a list of extracurricular and volunteer activities listed on your resume and it’s another to actually live into these passions. Remember that if you advance to rounds 2 and 3, you’ll likely have to write and talk in depth about the causes that are important to you and why. 

So we encourage you to get curious and adventurous (again, as early on as possible). Try to find a type of community service that actually speaks to you, not just one that looks good on paper. Are you passionate about animal rights? The environment? LGBTQ+ progress? Look for groups in your school and your community where you get involved. If you don’t know where to start, talk to a teacher, college counselor, or guidance counselor about your interests and they’ll help point you in the right direction.

Trying a lot of different things is okay, but you’ll also want to show that you can consistently dedicate yourself to the things you care most about. Try to find at least one or two activities or causes and stick to them over the course of your high school career.

Whenever possible, work up to leadership roles at any jobs, activities, or volunteer projects. Are you captain of your speech team? A shift leader at a local restaurant? A tutor who helps others? Your ability to demonstrate leadership and mentorship will help your application stand out. 

Emphasize What Makes You Unique

300 students a year win the Gates Scholarship, which is pretty amazing. But the application pool is still… BIG. While there’s no definite number released on how many applicants apply each year, the semi-finalist pool alone is made up of 20,000 students. That means 1.5% of students who make it as far as the semifinalist phase will win. 

So long story short, you’ll need to stand out. In your questionnaire (and later, in your essays), you’ll want to focus on the things that make you uniquely you. You can include and discuss attributes such as your cultural background, your gender identity, your passions (the more unique, the better), and your values. 

If you move on to become a semifinalist or finalist, you’ll want to spend some time really reflecting on your future aspirations and goals, especially those in service of creating a better world for all. The more specific, the better. Will you use your law degree to advocate for equal pay for all? Will you become a nurse to help bring adequate healthcare to communities in struggle?

Let’s be clear: you won’t have to elaborate too much on these subjects during your initial application process. But we highly suggest you’ve given them some thought so that you’re better prepared if you advance!  

Get Strong Letters of Recommendation

If you become a semifinalist, you’ll need to supply letters of recommendation from teachers or guidance counselors. 

We can’t emphasize this enough: ask for your letters of recommendation early—as soon as you submit your initial application. If you don’t advance as a semifinalist, that’s ok! These letters can be re-purposed and used for other scholarship applications or similar. This is important because you’ll want to give your recommenders time to write thoughtful, reflective essays that paint a vivid picture of who you are and why you should win.

Also, make sure to ask people who know you well and and can genuinely speak to your ability, your potential, and your personal growth over a period of time. The better your recommenders know you, the more personal and captivating their letters will be, which will increase your chances of winning! 

Check out this guide on how to ask for a letter of recommendation that will help you receive the best letter possible in a timely fashion. You can also send your teacher or guidance counselor this guide on how to write a recommendation letter for scholarship applications

Slay the Essays

If you make it to the semi-finalist round, your essays are, without a doubt, THE most crucial part of your application. It’s through your essays that you’ll be able to create a complex and compelling portrait of who you are and what you stand for. 

We strongly recommend that you take a look at this piece on how to write a scholarship essay that will help you win big for tons of tips and strategies for scholarship essay writing. 

Here are a few “golden nugget” tips from it:

  • Reach each question thoroughly and make sure you understand exactly what is being asked. It may sound silly, but we’re huge fans of reading out loud so you don’t miss anything. Break down each question into parts: are there sub-questions? It can help to print the questions and underline each idea you have to respond to.
  • Trim the fat. That means you’ll want to keep your essay as tailored as possible, cutting out all redundant words and phrases as well as any ideas or thoughts that don’t directly apply to the prompt. 
  • Be YOU. Communicate passion for the topic at hand. You’ll want to be as professional as possible, but don’t be afraid to speak in your own voice and tone. Think: the way you’d talk to a teacher you know very well and respect.
  • Proofread your essay! More than once. And ideally, have someone else proofread it as well. You can also use a tool like Grammarly that checks and improves your spelling, grammar, word choice, sentence structure, and more! 

While the Gates scholarship essays change yearly and aren’t shared with you until you become a semi-finalist, most scholarship essays center around common themes like:

  • Your goals for the future
  • How you intend you make your dreams a reality 
  • Your strongest qualities and how they serve you and others
  • What winning the scholarship would mean to you and how it would change your life
  • Your strongest values 
  • Aspects of your identity (e.g. your race, class, gender, etc.) that have shaped your life
  • How you’ve overcome certain hardships in your life
  • An event or circumstance that has had significant impact on your life and shaped who you are

Reflecting and taking some notes on some or all of these topics will be incredibly helpful if you become a semi-finalist!

Prepare for an interview…even if getting one is a long-shot

Have you ever heard the saying, “Dress for the job you want”? This piece of advice is sort of like that. 

You’ll want to look forward and start preparing for an interview (which are offered in person and via video chat) months in advance, even before you know if you’ll get one

Why? Because this way you’ll be beyond prepared if and when you do get an interview! And if you don’t, we guarantee that your interview prep will benefit you in some other way (for example, for another scholarship, college acceptance, or a job you want). 

There’s no exact formula to nailing an interview, but these are some good scholarship interview tips to keep in mind. 

According to one Gates Scholarship winner, he was asked about his extracurricular activities in depth and was also asked “Is there anything you’d like to add that was not reflected in your application?”

That applicant says he believes his overall passion about his interests and focus on his innovative nature is what landed him the scholarship. In his recounting of his interview, he shares that he explained in detail to the interviewer how he improved the design of the school newspaper and built out the school’s tennis team substantially. 

Beyond the Gates Scholarship: Want Even MORE Scholarship Opportunities?!

So now you know how to win the Gates Scholarship. If you’re eligible, we really hope you apply! But also keep in mind that there are hundreds of thousands of other scholarships out there for you!

To easily find them, download Scholly Search, the #1 scholarship app in the world that instantly matches you with hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in scholarships based on your interests, accomplishments, and traits! 

You can also check out the rest of our blog where we share tips on how to graduate debt free and win other scholarships like the National Merit Scholarship and the Dell Scholarship.

Good luck!