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Personal Reference

As well as submitting two academic references for admission, applicants for Gates Cambridge Scholarships are asked to submit a Personal Reference as part of their application pack. It is used in the same way as the Personal Statement - to reduce the large number of well-qualified applicants to those who match the Gates Cambridge criteria.

The question

Please give your assessment of the applicant’s suitability for a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. These are awarded on the following criteria: intellectual ability, leadership capacity, a commitment to improving the lives of others, and a good fit between the abilities and aspirations of the applicant and what the University of Cambridge can offer in its graduate programme.

Referees are also asked how they rate the applicant for the scholarship: exceptional, strong, not strong, weak.

Referees may paste/type up to 4,000 characters into the on-line reference or upload a separate letter.

Who should write the Personal Reference?

This is a common question. You should definitely not ask friends or family, or someone who is unable to comment on your suitability for a Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

You should ask someone of appropriate standing who is able to answer the question with authority and who understands what type of person Gates Cambridge is looking for and how competitive the Scholarship is.

Many applicants ask a current or former academic advisor who is aware of their personal attributes, others ask a current or former employer, while others ask senior staff in an organisation they may have volunteered with. These are all sensible choices, although this is by no means an exhaustive list. Some applicants ask one of their two academic referees to write the personal reference. This is fine as long as that person has a good understanding of your personal qualities. The important point to remember is that the Personal Referee must understand what the Scholarship is about and must be able to write authoritatively about your leadership potential and commitment to improving the lives of others.

Points to consider

Many points in the section about the Personal Statement also apply to the Personal Reference. Further points to consider are:

  • It is essential that the Personal Referee is fully briefed about the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, especially its selection criteria
  • It is useful when referees use specific examples of how you meet the Scholarship's criteria
  • While your referees are likely to be busy, you will need to ensure they understand the need to keep the reference focused on the Gates Cambridge criteria and not, for example, rehash a standard or previous reference. We see a number of references which are generic and these do not do help the applicant stand out as a potential Gates Cambridge Scholar.

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