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Goldwater Application Essay

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.


UW-Madison deadline: November 20, 2017
Foundation deadline: January 26, 2018 (5:00 p.m. CT)

*Candidates must be nominated by UW–Madison and may not apply directly. Students interested in applying should contact the Undergraduate Academic Awards Office for more information about the application process. Contact: 608-265-2428,


Established by Congress in 1986 to honor the career of Senator Barry Goldwater, the scholarships recognize promising undergraduates who plan to pursue a PhD or MD/PhD followed by a research career in engineering, mathematics or the natural sciences. Up to 300 scholarships are awarded annually.


The scholarships provide $7,500/year toward undergraduate expenses junior and/or senior year, including tuition, required books and living expenses. Junior level recipients may receive a maximum of two years of support. Senior level recipients will receive a maximum of one year of support.


  • Full-time sophomore or junior during academic year of application (defined as two years or one year of undergraduate study remaining after application year)
  • Planning to pursue a PhD and research career in mathematics, natural sciences or engineering research (MD alone does not qualify, but MD/PhD does)
  • Outstanding undergraduate academic record (GPA >3.8)
  • Engaged in undergraduate research
  • U.S. citizen, national or permanent resident


  • Academic achievement (grades, level of courses, awards, scholarships)
  • Progress toward research goals (research activities, career goals, course work)
  • Research essay (technical content, bibliography, organization/grammar)
  • Letters of recommendation (commitment to research, intellectual curiosity, potential for research contributions)Equal weight is given to the four evaluation criteria.


To be considered for nomination, students must submit a completed application by the campus deadline (see section below). In November/December, the UW–Madison campus nominating committee reviews applications and endorses up to four nominees. Nominees will have the opportunity to revise their applications based on feedback from the campus committee. The Foundation deadline is late January. In March the Goldwater Scholars and alternates are selected; in April nominees are notified of their final status in the competition.


Please submit the following materials electronically or in hard copy by 11:59 p.m. on the campus deadline to the Undergraduate Academic Awards Office,, 6 Ingraham Hall, 1155 Observatory Dr., Madison, WI 53706.

  1. Student Profile and Pre-Application form. After reviewing your Goldwater pre-application, the UAA Office will provide you with access to the Goldwater online application. Please complete and submit the full application by the campus deadline.
  2. Letters of recommendation from three professors who have supervised your undergraduate research and/or your undergraduate coursework in the sciences, engineering or mathematics. Please ask your recommenders to send a hard copy of their letter to the Undergraduate Academic Awards Office or an electronic copy to It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure that all letters of recommendation are received by the campus deadline. We cannot guarantee that the committee will review late letters.
  3. Transcripts from all colleges attended.  For campus purposes, an unofficial transcript or a copy of your UW-Madison student record is fine, as are photocopies of transcripts from other institutions.  Submit via email attachment to or in hard copy.
  4. Research Essay, typed, three pages, font size no smaller than 12 point, uploaded to your online application (this is the ‘backpack’ in the Goldwater application). (The UAA Office will download submitted applications from the Goldwater portal.) Please include your name and your academic institution at the top of each page.  Sample research essays available for viewing in the UAA Office.  Please make an appointment.


For official information on the Goldwater Scholarship (which supersedes any information provided here), please see


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