Jalnidh Kaur from St. Stephen’s College recently received the Rhodes scholarship, one of the most prestigious international graduate scholarships in the world. The recipient not only gets to study any subject of her choice at the University of Oxford on full scholarship, but is also paid a stipend to cover living expenses. Exclusive rights are also given for entry into the Rhodes Mansion in the University Campus.
Q) Hi Jalnidh, you recently received the Rhodes scholarship. I’m sure that must be really exciting! Tell us more about what motivated you to apply?
I heard about the Rhodes scholarship when I was in Class 7 or 8. I knew about Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Sagarika Ghosh being Rhodes scholars – but it was only in my second year that I heard about the Rhodes scholarship from my seniors. When I researched, I realised that the deadline for the applications was 31st July, and I quickly applied! I realise what a prestige it is to be admitted to this programme. I know that I cannot afford an education abroad myself – and this is such a good opportunity!
Q) What was the procedure? How did you prepare for it?
I realised that I had to apply online and the deadline was on the 31st of July. I had to send in my resume and a detailed essay about my goals, interests, and activities. There was a preliminary interview. It was very technical – based on the discipline (economics) that I am studying. A panel of economists conducted the interview – it included the ISI game theorist Arunav Sen.
Q) How was the interview? Who was it conducted by?
The final interview was a general one. Only 18-20 people made it until there. It was held in Bombay. The panel comprised of 13 or 14 past Rhodes scholars. They just wanted to see whether a candidate possessed the three necessities of Rhodes’ will: academic excellence, performance in sports and community action.
Q) How much importance is given to academic achievements in the application?
The preliminary interview was based on our academic quotient. A group of economists interviewed us. If you had to get through that round, you had to be excited about your discipline.
Q) What all extra-curricular activities were you a part of?
When I was in 12th grade, I used to live in Ludhiana, and I saw the children of construction workers and marginal workers out on the roads. I got them all into a classroom and just taught them the English alphabet. After about one month, they were very excited about going to school, so I got them enrolled in a public school. When I came to Delhi, I started a learning centre for street children called Eclair in Roop Nagar. I also took part in various Business Plan competitions- along with two of my classmates. I initiated a B-Plan called ‘EurekaWow’, which helped spread better learning about topics in Economics. I used to debate as well.
Q) What do you think gave you an edge over the other contestants?
Quite honestly, I thought the rest of the candidates were over-qualified as compared to me. I was the youngest of the lot. My peers belonged to IITs, IIMs or were pursuing PhDs. I think it was my enthusiasm that got me through. I was so excited about my discipline, because I love Economics. I was also very honest. During my preliminary interview, if they asked me a question and I did not know the answer, I told them so; I never pretended to be someone who I am not. I think that was very important.
Q) Now that you have this brilliant opportunity, how do you plan ahead? Which courses are you planning to study?
I plan to do an M. Phil in Economics. I have heard that it is quite a technical course. My professor has told me that I would have to work very hard to be at par with the rest of my classmates. Most people who have gone to Oxford have gotten into policymaking, which seems like an attractive field. If I get an appropriate job in this field, I would be very keen to take it up, but my first preference would be to do a D. Phil after my M. Phil.