FAQS – Why Apply and Making Yourself Competitive for a Goldwater Scholarship

Why should I apply for a Goldwater Scholarship?

Clearly, thinking through how one gets from an undergraduate program to a research career and completing a Goldwater application will take some time and effort. Is putting in this time and effort worth it? After all, the scholarship program is competitive and you may not be awarded a scholarship.

Time-after-time, Goldwater Campus Representatives (CRs) tell us how valuable it has been for their students to go through the Goldwater scholarship application process, regardless of whether their students receive a scholarship, an Honorable Mention or neither (Of course CRs do like it when one of their students wins a scholarship or receives an Honorable Mention). CRs tell us about sophomores who do not win a scholarship or Honorable Mention who realize that engaging in additional research or taking a greater leadership role in their research will strengthen their applications. Often, these students subsequently go on to win a Goldwater Scholarship or Honorable Mention in their junior year.

Preparing for the Goldwater application by engaging in research and by completing the application is also a good way to prepare for other important scholarship applications, like the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship. Scholarships like the NSF’s look for students who have been engaged in research and require students to explain their career ambitions in much the same way students did when they applied for a Goldwater scholarship. In short, if you apply for a Goldwater scholarship in your sophomore year, you can apply again in your junior with more knowledge of what you need to submit for a more competitive application and with more experience. You are also better prepared to compete for other scholarships.

What can I do that will make me more competitive for a Goldwater Scholarship?

To answer this question, it is important that you have a basic understanding of the mission of the Goldwater Foundation’s program and what our reviewers will be trying to do when they read your nomination materials.

The mission of the Goldwater program is straightforward – we seek to identify and support college sophomores and juniors who show exceptional promise of becoming this Nation’s next generation of natural sciences, mathematics and engineering research leaders. When reviewing nomination packets, Goldwater reviewers are attempting to determine who these individuals are among the nominees. Goldwater reviewers seek to identify undergraduates who demonstrate a passion for doing research and who exhibit the creative spark that will make them leaders in their fields.

Is there one way to achieve or to demonstrate these characteristics? Unfortunately, there is not. Application materials will be as varied as the students who submit them. There are, nevertheless, some characteristics among applications that are worth noting.

One of the best ways you can demonstrate a passion for doing research is by doing research. Can you really “know” you have a passion for doing research if you have not had to stand next to a lab bench for 16 hours, spent days working through a difficult set of mathematical equations, faced the research failures that will routinely occur, or had to deal with the mundane side of science (yes, someone has to order the supplies)? When you tell your research story, specifically relating to the reader what you contributed to an experiment and what you got out of the experience, the reviewer can evaluate your interest in and passion for doing research.

Doing research, from which I would exclude routine laboratory or lecture experiments that are part of a structured course, can take on many different forms. Experimentalists will often engage in a faculty member’s larger, ongoing projects. A theoretically-inclined student may work more independently. In some instances, prior research experiences in more theoretically-slanted projects may primarily involve reading the literature, possibly talking with a faculty member, and developing an idea. Our reviewers report excellent examples of this kind of work in mathematics, for example. In all cases, however, it is important that you demonstrate ownership of the project, or some part of the project. Another important point applies to experimental work. You do not have to be involved in a research project that occurs on the world’s largest particle accelerator. You can demonstrate sophisticated and elegant thinking and analysis doing research on the ecosystem of the pond behind your dorm.

Your take away should be “get involved in research and get involved in research as early in your undergraduate experience as possible!” If you are going to be nominated as a sophomore for a Goldwater scholarship, the above discussion clearly suggests that you should start engaging in research during your freshman year of college (or even in high school).

FAQS – Goldwater Eligibility

I intend to pursue a Medical Degree. Can I receive a Goldwater Scholarship?

The Goldwater Foundation has supported students who intend to go into medicine IF there is clear evidence that they intend to conduct medical RESEARCH. This is made clearer if you indicate that you intend to pursue an MD/PhD, DO/PhD, or DVM/PhD as a PhD is a research degree. You will be expected, as part of the application, to explain why obtaining the medical or veterinary degree as part of an MD/PhD or DVM/PhD will be an asset to you.

Given that the majority of students who obtain a medical (MD and DO) or veterinary degree (DVM) plan to become practicing physicians or veterinarians with no intention of doing research, it is fair to say that this nomination will be reviewed with more skepticism by our reviewers than other nominations. The burden of proof of intent to conduct research as a medical doctor rests with you. It certainly can be and has been done by many notable medical researchers. You will need to clearly explain why you are proceeding down this path. There is little doubt that the “bar” will be set higher for one who pursues an MD, DO or DVM than for other degrees.

I am in a 5-year BS/MS degree program in engineering? Am I eligible for Goldwater support in my 5th year?

The Goldwater Foundation Scholarships support undergraduate study. As the fifth year of a 5-year BS/MS program is made up entirely of graduate level courses, you would not be eligible for scholarship support in the fifth year of a 5-year BS/MS program. If you are in such a program, you should treat your 4th year as your undergraduate senior year, the year in which you would “normally” receive your bachelor’s degree. Students in a 5-year BS/MS program should consider being nominated for a Goldwater in their sophomore year (year 2) or junior year (year 3) of college. If selected for a scholarship, a sophomore would receive two years of financial support (junior and senior year, no support in the 5th year) and juniors would receive one year of financial support (senior year, no support in the 5th year). The fact that the bachelor’s degree is not actually awarded at the end of the fourth year is not an issue for the Goldwater Foundation.

I am in a 3/2 bachelor’s degree program. I am spending three years at my current college and will transfer in my fourth year to finish my bachelor’s degree at the university that is participating in the 3/2 program. When can I apply for a Goldwater Scholarship?

The Goldwater Foundation supports undergraduates in the last two years of their bachelor’s degree program. You, therefore, can be nominated in year 3 of your five-year bachelor’s program (for Goldwater purposes, this would be your sophomore year) and in year 4 of your five-year program (your junior year according to the Goldwater definition). The college you are attending for three years can nominate you in year 3. The institution you will be attending after you transfer can also nomination you for a Goldwater scholarship. In both cases, you will receive funding when you are at the second institution so the amount you will receive from the Goldwater Foundation will be determined by the costs and financial support on the second institution you attend. Finally, there is an important point to be made. The Goldwater Scholarship is an honor that is bestowed once. You cannot, for example, be nominated by the first institution you attend and win a two-year award and then be nominated by the school you transfer to for an additional year of support.

FAQs – Advice on Preparing a Goldwater Scholarship Pre-application and Application

The pre-application asks me to list the names of three individuals who might write letters of recommendation on my behalf. Should I ask these individuals if they are willing to write letters for me before I submit the pre-application?

No. When filling out the Goldwater Pre-application, you should not ask potential letter writers whether they would be willing to write a recommendation letter on your behalf. The individuals listed on your Goldwater Pre-application are intended to “start” a conversation between you and your Goldwater Campus Representative (CR) that helps you determine who your strongest recommendation letter writers might be. Please start this conversation about those who will write your letters of recommendation with your CR as early in the process as possible.

When should I talk with those individuals my CR and I have identified to write my letters of recommendation?

Once you and your CR have agreed upon your recommendation letter writers, you should then ask these individuals if they are willing to write letters on your behalf. Schedule a time to meet with each letter writer. Explain to them what you are planning to do. Ask them what materials they will need to write a letter for you, offering to provide them with the materials found in the “For Recommender” tab on the Goldwater web site, your CV, research essay and other materials associated with the Goldwater application. If they are willing to write letters, you should also let them know that they will receive an email from the Goldwater CR with additional instructions and with additional information regarding when the letters are needed.

If one of your references does not feel that he/she knows you well enough or is simply too busy to write a letter for you, immediately convey this information to your CR so that you can identify another letter writer. If a recommender declines to write a letter on your behalf (and this does happen), do not be disappointed or discouraged. It is much better for someone to decline to write a letter for you rather than write you a weak letter or not turn in a letter at all. Please see FAQ “One of my recommenders needs to be replaced. How do I make this change?” to determine how to replace a letter writer in the online application.

What questions are asked on the on the student’s on-line application?

For screen shots of the on-line application, CLICK HERE.

What’s the best strategy for writing the research essay?

Goldwater reviewers find the most compelling research essays to be ones based on research an applicant has actually performed. For the reviewers, it does not matter whether the physics research was done on the Large Hadron Collider in CERN, Switzerland, the chemistry research was done on the duck pond behind the science building, or the mathematical constructs were written out on a yellow legal pad. All can provide meaningful experiences upon which good research is done.

Space in a research essay should be used judiciously. Balance the various elements of the essay so that no one section dominates the essay. Rather than opening your essay with a discussion of the experimental techniques you used, reviewers find a short opening paragraph that sets the context for the research and provides a “broader picture” of why the research is interesting/important to be helpful. When describing the project, you should be certain to talk about your specific contributions to the work and what skills you acquired while doing the work. It is also helpful to the reader for you to demonstrate that you “think like a scientist.” Consider describing additional work that might be done on the project or, if the entire project has been completed, describe a new work that might be undertaken. In the latter case, you might describe how the skills you learned while doing your project will enable you to successfully complete the new work.

There are, of course, students who have never been involved in research. If you are one of these students, develop a research proposal in an area of research that interests you. The essay should put forward a question, present the relevant literature, present a hypothesis, outline the research methodology and discuss anticipated results. Just as with those students who are presenting research they have done, you should work to convey your interest in and ability to carry out the project.

Regardless of the type of research essay that is presented, include a bibliography that uses up-to-date, refereed journal articles. Use diagrams and figures, as appropriate, but not at the expense of quality narrative. Always anticipate the need to write multiple drafts, each reviewed by your faculty mentor. Write, rewrite, and then rewrite again the research essay. Your readers have a limited time to read the essay so you want to make certain your essay makes your points clearly and succinctly.

FAQs – Application Process Questions/Using the On-Line Application

One of my recommenders needs to be replaced. How do I make this change?

As a student, you cannot change or delete a recommender from your side of the on-line application. A new recommender must be added by your CR from his/her on-line dashboard. Your CR will have to open the “Recommenders” tile under your name, reject the recommender that needs to be changed by clicking on the reject button next to the recommender’s name, add the name and email address of the new recommender in the pop-up box that will appear, and then immediately approve the new recommender before leaving the screen on the CR’s dashboard.

As seen in the screenshot below, when your CR rejects a recommender, the recommender’s information is crossed off the list and “rejected” appears in the Status Column. As stated previously, a box will open for your CR to enter the new recommender’s name and email address. If the pop-up box disappears, your CR should click on the reject button in the Action Column again and the box will reopen. The CR MUST approve the new recommender’s information before leaving the screen or the information will not be saved.

How do I remove an uploaded Research Essay?

If you need to edit an essay that you’ve already uploaded, follow the steps below:

1. If you have not submitted your application, you can remove any uploaded document by clicking on the trash can for the document you would like to remove.

2. If you have submitted your application, you must first contact your Goldwater Campus Representative so they can “unsubmit” your application before you can remove a file.

Removing documents screen shot

How do I remove a Research Project, Research Skill, Other Activity, or Recognition?

Removal of a Research Project, Research Skill, Other Activity or Recognition is accomplished by clicking on the trash can next to the item in the menu bar. Removal can only be done sequentially from the end of the list. For example, if you list 5 research projects and you decide you want to eliminate research project #3, you will have to delete research projects #4 and #5 first. Once you have removed project #3, you will need to re-enter projects #4 and #5. Alternatively, if you have another activity you can add, you can type over what was initially in activity #3 and resave it. You can never delete the first element (#1) on any of the lists. You can always add new information to #1 but you cannot delete it. As you can see, removing a deeply embedded project, skill, activity or recognition is a laborious process. Before creating any of the above lists in your application, carefully think about what you want to include in the list and the order in which you want to present the elements in the list.

As the Campus Representative, how do I know for certain that I have successfully nominated a student?

After you click the “LOCK AND SUBMIT NOMINATIONS” button. A pop-up window will open. You will be given an opportunity to review your nomination list one more time prior to the actual submission of your nominees. Once you are satisfied that everything is correct, click the “SUBMIT” button. At this point, you have nominated your students. You cannot make any additional changes to the nomination materials. Please note that ALL nominees must be nominated at the same time. Students are NOT nominated separately!

In addition to a statement on the pop-up screen that says you have successfully nominated your students, you will receive an email notification. If you do not receive an email notification, first check you spam folder. If no email notification is found, please contact Scholarship America at (507) 931-8335 or at

For the 2020 Goldwater competition, can I nominate my students one at a time?

No! All students must be nominated at the same time.

FAQs – Scholarship Recipient Questions

I have an opportunity to work for an internationally renowned laboratory for a year and will be taking a year sabbatical from school. Am I still eligible for my Goldwater Award when I return to my campus?

All extensions, whether for opportunities such as sabbaticals or medical issues, are reviewed by the Foundation and granted on an individual basis. Requests must be made in writing and include relevant supporting documentation.

I won a Goldwater Scholarship and did not use all the funds from my junior year. Can these funds be transferred to a subsequent term?

No. Scholarship monies not used during one academic year are not transferable to a succeeding term.