Writing Personal Statements Online

The Goldwater Scholarship


The Goldwater Scholarship (honoring Senator Barry M. Goldwater) awards sophomore and junior students up to a maximum of $7500 annually for tuition, books, fees, and room and board. Its aim is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scholars to work as scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. Students are chosen based on their commitment and potential to make significant future contributions in their fields, and it is expected that Goldwater Scholars will pursue graduate degrees.

The Goldwater Scholarship Selection Criteria

Goldwater applications are reviewed by an independent committee appointed by the Goldwater Foundation, and the committee’s selection criteria include:

  • potential for a commitment to a career in the sciences, engineering, or mathematics, as demonstrated by the student’s overall application;
  • excellence in academic performance.

As with many other national scholarships, candidates for the Goldwater are nominated by their institutions, and final selection of Goldwater Scholars is made by the Goldwater Board of Trustees, which reviews the assessment made by both the nominating institution and the independent selection committee.

Answering the Goldwater Essay Questions and Writing the Nominee’s Essay

The last few questions of the Goldwater application invite narrative responses, with approximate length dictated by the size of the space available to answer the questions. These three questions involve the applicant’s professional aspirations, personal motivations, and diversity (broadly defined). Clearly, a lot of flexibility is built into answering such questions, and students tend to approach these questions accordingly, narrating personal anecdotes and information about their families to let the selectors know what kind of people they are. While still emphasizing science and research, past applicants have shared information about a childhood or other formative experience, the desire to become a professor or write a textbook, their ethnic background, and even information about hardships of their parents. In answering these questions—especially the question inviting comments on diversity—it is important to be genuine and sound natural in your examples. Readers tend to sniff out and suspect aspirations that reach too high, or motivations that are insincere, or diversity that is forced.

For the nominee’s essay (limited to two pages), you must describe an issue or problem associated with your field and describe any related ongoing or intended research. Most writers document any sources cited in APA Style (click here to visit the University of Wisconsin-Madison pages on APA Style), and they are especially careful to credit sources of information and graphics as well as clarify their exact role in the research project. Your aim is to show how you can excel in a research environment, or work as part of a design team, or contribute to the understanding of a technical problem. Remember, too, that members of the selection panel will have the expertise to understand a complex problem in your field, and be certain to present detail accordingly.

Evaluation of Two Sample Sets of Goldwater Application Essays

In the pdf link below, two sample Goldwater essay sets are provided. Note how both writers show a facility with presenting themselves as budding scientists.

In answering the narrative questions, the first writer stresses his aspiration to lead a team of researchers studying pollution control in industrial chemical processes, and cites specific problems he has encountered in his current research on bacteria growth. His tone is almost philosophical at times, discussing the rewards of both achievement and failure in the sciences, and he notes that he is the first in his family to pursue a technical degree. His nominee’s essay stresses the long-term goal of his research in bacterial adhesion, and he carefully describes his team’s use of video microscopy to record particles as they adhere to bacteria.

The second writer addresses the narrative questions by outlining her participation in programs related to women in science and her personal aspirations, ranging from serving as part of a NASA research team to working as a glass blower at a Renaissance Faire. Her diversity background is grounded in her hailing from a highly rural area (even her influential father is a “senior bank auditor but country man at heart”). Finally, her nominee’s essay, addressing the goal to improve the durability of window glass, offers precisely detailed information even to the extent of giving exact nanometer depths that yielded different data points. Such an approach closely resembles a technical abstract that would appear in a journal. Significantly, this student did receive a Goldwater Scholarship.

Click here to download a pdf of two sets of Goldwater Scholarship application essays by former students.


When you apply for the Goldwater Scholarship program, the process begins at the Goldwater website, which includes a transcript request form for your secondary school, a supporting documents checklist, and candidacy information and instructions.

Visit the Goldwater Scholarship website.