TED2010 Bill Gates ©Suzie Katz #9064_R” by Suzie Katz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Bill Gates Scholarship– Introduction

In this article, we will discuss a highly competitive merit-based scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This merit-based scholarship is called “The Gates Scholarship” (you will also hear us refer to this as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship or the Bill Gates Scholarship).  

In this guide on “How to win the Gates Scholarship”, we will cover:

  • An overview of the Bill Gates Scholarship
  • What is a merit-based scholarship?
  • Eligibility requirements for the Bill Gates Scholarship
  • The Gates Scholarship acceptance rate
  • Top tips on how to apply to and win the Bill Gates Scholarship
  • A look at more Bill Gates Scholarships and other merit-based scholarships to help lower your cost of college

Looking for more resources on merit-based scholarships from CollegeAdvisor? Read our merit-based scholarship guides on:

Without further ado, let’s dive into our guide on one of the most sought-after merit-based scholarships in the world: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship. 

Understanding Merit Scholarships: What is a merit-based scholarship?

Wondering how to lower the cost of college? You’ve undoubtedly already heard about scholarships for college. However, many students have misconceptions about what it takes to win these awards. For example, you may have heard that unless you demonstrate dire financial need, you don’t have a hope of winning a scholarship. That’s not the case!

In fact, there’s a whole category of scholarships for college that are awarded primarily based on merit or ability, as opposed to financial need. If you’re worried about qualifying for need-based aid, merit-based scholarships might be a great avenue to explore.

What is a merit-based scholarship?

A merit-based scholarship is an award given to students based on their excellence in a category. The category emphasized by merit-based scholarships is specific to each one. Some merit-based scholarships emphasize GPA and academics; others award aid for a commitment to volunteering or sports or artistic ability. 

Merit-based scholarships can be awarded by universities themselves—such as USC and Vanderbilt, for example—or by private organizations. The Gates Scholarship is one of many prestigious merit-based scholarships available to students hoping to lower the cost of college. 

There are dozens of merit-based scholarships given away each year. These scholarships vary in terms of the amount they offer for the cost of college, the competition, as well as how well they promote equal access.

Top tips for winning merit-based scholarships

It’s hard to know where to start when applying to merit-based scholarships. Let’s take a look at some of the most tried-and-true tips from our team at CollegeAdvisor

gates scholarship

1. Identify the merit-based scholarships you are eligible for

The list of merit-based scholarships is long, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s simply too overwhelming to try to apply for all of them. However, each merit scholarship comes with its own unique list of eligibility requirements. For example, some are only available to certain school districts, others focus on niche abilities, and so on. 

Use resources such as the U.S. News prestigious scholarships list and other online lists of merit-based scholarships as a starting point. Then, look through the scholarships’ requirements and make a shorter list of awards you’re eligible for. This list should look a lot more manageable!

2. Make sure you understand the application requirements for merit-based scholarships.

The last thing you want is to be removed from an applicant pool on a technicality. Therefore, read each scholarship’s website thoroughly and take the time to really understand the application requirements. 

We recommend keeping a spreadsheet of application deadlines, as well as a list of corresponding application components. That way, you can be sure you have everything organized and ready to go before any deadlines. 

3. Submit a competitive application to your merit-based scholarships.

This tip sounds like an obvious one. However, you’d be surprised how many students send in half-hearted application attempts, even for awards as prestigious as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship. This can happen because students think components like essays or interviews don’t matter that much or that their odds of winning are too low to really put in the effort.

Remember — using that extra time to strengthen your applications can make all the difference in getting scholarships for college. Wondering if you should retake a test to aim for a higher score? If you think you can improve your score, do it. Wondering if you should get someone to proofread your application essay? Absolutely do it!

Apply this mindset to every part of the application process. Ask for strong recommendation letters, write powerful essays, earn high grades, and of course, submit ahead of the application deadlines. If you put in the time and effort now, you’ll reap the rewards later.

In fact, there are many similarities between applying for merit scholarships and applying to top colleges and universities. Take our quiz below to put your college admissions knowledge to the test!

Bill Gates Scholarships: What is the Gates Scholarship?

gates scholasrhip

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship was started in 2017. Since then, it has become one of the most prestigious minority scholarship and merit-based scholarships available worldwide. Each year, the Bill Gates Scholarship selects 300 high school seniors from low-income households and pays the entire cost of college for their undergraduate attendance. 

Bill and Melinda Gates, the founders of the program, have used the Bill Gates Scholarship to send over 3,000 minority students to college. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, and Melinda Gates are two of the most prolific philanthropists in the world. Their organization, the Gates Foundation, is dedicated to resolving inequities all over the world. This is what inspired them to start the Gates Scholarship program, one of the most well-known minority scholarships. Since its founding, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship has given more than a billion dollars to put Gates Scholarship winners through school.

Gates Scholarship winners are selected for their academic excellence, leadership, as well as personal successes. Scholars are typically in the top 10% of their graduating class. In addition, as the Bill Gates Scholarship is a minority scholarship, applicants must belong to a minority ethnicity. 

What are minority scholarships?

Minority scholarships are a category of merit-based scholarships for minority groups. They may select by ethnicity, first-generation, low-income, or any other criteria, and they seek to promote equal opportunity in access to higher education. 

You can read more about what the foundation looks for in Gates Scholarship winners here. Finally, find out more about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation scholarship here

What does the Gates Scholarship cover?

The Gates Scholarship is one of the most generous minority scholarships and merit-based scholarships out there. Each year, the 300 Gates Scholarship winners receive an award to cover the total cost of college, minus financial aid, other scholarships for college, and the expected family contribution. 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship award also covers room and board, books, transportation, and other personal costs associated with the cost of college. Students may also use the Gates scholarship to pay for a study abroad or off-campus housing. The funds may not, however, be applied toward graduate school tuition.

How hard is it to get the Gates Scholarship?

The path to becoming one of just 300 annual Gates Scholarship winners is not an easy one. Gates Scholarship winners all faced the Gates Scholarship acceptance rate. In fact, over 34,000 Gates Scholarship hopefuls apply each year. This makes for a Gates Scholarship acceptance rate of less than 1%. 

Curious what it takes to beat the Bill Gates Scholarship acceptance rate? Read one Gates Scholarship winner’s story to get an idea. Akayla Brown, a teen from Philadelphia, became one of the Bill Gates Scholarship winners in 2021. Brown founded a nonprofit called Dimplez 4 Dayz at the age of 13. Her nonprofit, aimed at lifting people up within Brown’s community, was the focus of her essay submission for the Bill Gates Scholarship. 

Other notable Gates Scholarship winners include NASA astronaut Kayla Barron, mathematician Melanie Wood, and journalist Juliet Lapidos. 

The Gates Scholarship – Am I eligible?

Wondering if you have what it takes to win one of the Bill Gates Scholarships? Let’s take a look at the basic eligibility requirements for those hoping to beat the Gates Scholarship acceptance rate.

Bill Gates Scholarships ask that students meet the following requirements:

  • High school senior
  • Identifying as one of the following: African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian and Pacific Islander American, and/or Hispanic American
  • Pell-eligible
  • A U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Minimum GPA of 3.3 on a 4.0 scale

In order to qualify for the Bill Gates Scholarship, students must also plan to attend a four-year degree program at a U.S. college or university.

In addition to meeting the above basic requirements for the Gates Scholarships, the ideal candidate for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship will also show:

  • Excellent academic performance, including graduating in the top 10% of your high school class. This includes GPA, test scores, and other measures of academic success.
  • Demonstration of leadership ability, perhaps through community service, school organizations, extracurricular activities, etc. 
  • Personal success skills such as maturity, motivation, and perseverance.

Pay attention to all of the characteristics listed above, as opposed to simply meeting the basic eligibility. This will give you the highest chance of making it through the <1% Gates Scholarship acceptance rate and winning the Bill Gates Scholarship. 

When can I apply for the Gates Scholarship?

Once you’re sure you’re eligible for the Bill Gates Scholarships, you can turn your attention to the application itself. With a Gates Scholarship acceptance rate of under 1%, it’s important to craft an application you’re proud of. This is the main way the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship committee assesses candidates and selects the Gates Scholarship winners.

Each year, online applications for the Bill Gates Scholarship open on or around July 15th. You’ll find the specific date on the Gates Scholarship website. The deadline for the first round of applications is September 15th. After another round of applications for semi-finalists and a round of interviews for finalists, the Gates Scholarship winners are announced in April. Then, in the autumn, scholars receive their Gates Scholarship awards.

As you can see, the process for this merit-based scholarship is drawn-out, more so than most scholarships for college. That’s because of the prestige of the Bill Gates Scholarship and the large number of applicants this merit scholarship attracts.

To save yourself any last-minute stress, gather your materials for the application as early as possible. In particular, ask your recommenders far in advance of the deadline to give them time to write the best letters possible. 

Lastly, make sure you take the application for the Bill Gates Scholarship seriously. Remember: the Gates Scholarship acceptance rate is less than 1% and you will only have one chance to beat the odds. Putting in more effort early on could make all the difference in winning this merit scholarship.

How do I apply to the Gates Scholarship?

In this section, we will go over the application materials you need to submit in order to apply to the Bill Gates Scholarship. We will also cover how to submit the application itself via the Bill Gates Scholarships’ website. 

Before you apply, you will need to create a myTGS Profile. This profile will serve as a portal throughout your application process for the Bill Gates Scholarships. You can complete the myTGS Profile before the application’s opening. 

Once the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship officially opens, you will need to submit the following documents: 

  • One copy of your most recent transcript (this will be submitted by your high school counselor)
  • A Student Aid Report (SAR), which you will attain once you complete the FAFSA
  • Financial aid award letter
  • Letter of admission to a four-year bachelor’s degree program at a not-for-profit, private or public university
  • CSS profile
  • Headshot photo
  • Resume

There are two phases to the Bill Gates Scholarship application process. Phase I opens earlier and is available to any prospective applicant who meets the basic eligibility requirements outlined above. This is where the Gates scholarship committee rejects the majority of applicants, hence the infamously low Gates Scholarship acceptance rate. Phase II of the application, open later, is available only to the semi-finalists selected from Phase I. 

Selecting finalists

After Phase II, the Gates scholarship committee selects finalists from the remaining pool and asks them to participate in Bill Gates Scholarship Finalist interviews. These happen in-person or online, depending on the location of the finalist. 

Concerned about the Gates scholarship interview process? Don’t be! Watch CollegeAdvisor’s free webinar on acing college interviews, led by an admissions officer. You can also read our guide on college interviews. The questions will be slightly different for a merit-based scholarship, compared to a college interview. However, you should apply the same techniques for interview preparation including: 

The Gates Scholarship – Application Timeline

With such a low Gates Scholarship acceptance rate, the committee for the Bill Gates Scholarships takes time to select Gates Scholarship winners. Therefore, the process for applying to this merit scholarship is longer than many scholarships for college. 

In addition, unlike many other minority scholarships and merit scholarships, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship takes several rounds to decide the Gates scholarship winners. 

gates scholarship

In 2021, the timeline for applying to the Bill Gates Scholarship was as follows: 

Gates Scholarship RoundDate
Phase I of the application opensJuly 15th 2021
Deadline for Phase ISeptember 15th 2021
Semi-finalists are announcedDecember 1st 2021
Phase II of the application opens (for semi-finalists only)December 1st 2021
Deadline for Phase IIJanuary 15th 2022
Finalists are announcedMarch 1st 2022
Finalists are interviewedMarch 1st – 31st, 2022
Scholars are announcedApril 20th 2022
Awards are disbursed to scholars’ institutionsFall 2022

Note that the exact dates change from year to year. However, the above dates give you a sense of the general timeline of the Bill Gates Scholarship application. Here are the general dates for the 2023-2024 application cycle.

Bill Gates Scholarship winners are announced in the spring. Then, the Gates Scholarship committee awards Gates scholarship winners’ schools the following autumn.

The Gates Scholarship – Frequently Asked Questions

Presently, we’ll answer your top questions about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship, and merit scholarships generally. 

1. What is a merit-based scholarship and why is it different from other scholarships for college? 

Scholarships for college can be awarded for just about anything, from athletic ability to financial need to essay competitions and more. A merit-based scholarship is simply a scholarship awarded for excellence in a given category. Each merit scholarship will specify the category. This can include academic ability, artistic prowess, extracurricular achievement, and more. 

See more CollegeAdvisor guides on top merit-based scholarships for college:

2. Can the Bill Gates Scholarship be used for any college major?

Yes! While the Bill Gates Scholarships must be applied to U.S. accredited institutions of higher learning, there is no restriction on the field of study selected by scholars.

3. Can I use the Bill Gates Scholarship at any school? 

Unfortunately no. Recipients of Bill Gates Scholarships must attend a U.S. accredited, four-year, not-for-profit, private or public college or university. However, this is far less restrictive than many other minority scholarships and scholarships for college. It still allows recipients to attend almost any institution in America.

4. Can I apply the Bill Gates Scholarship toward a four-year community college? 

Yep! As long as it is still a four-year program in which you will receive a bachelor’s degree, you are eligible for the merit scholarship. 

4. How can I retain my Bill Gates Scholarship throughout college? 

In order to remain eligible for your Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship throughout your four years, you must submit: 

  1. A completed FAFSA
  2. A renewal form with current transcripts
  3. Enrollment verification dated after the start of each new term

You must submit these documents annually. In addition, you must achieve satisfactory academic progress toward your degree. 

More Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation scholarships

Worried about the Gates Scholarship acceptance rate? Good news – the Bill Gates Scholarship is not the only Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship available.  

The Gates also fund two other scholarships for college: 

  1. Millennium Scholars
  2. Gates Cambridge

The Gates Millennium Scholars Program is another Gates minority scholarship. The program grants an average of $12,785 to 1,000 annually-selected scholars. This has amounted to a total of over $1 billion over the lifespan of this merit scholarship. 

The GMSP is open to all students of color. The Gates Scholarship assesses applicants according to academic achievement, community service, and leadership potential. Funds are distributed based on the financial need of these Gates scholarship winners. 

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is another Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation scholarship. Unlike the foundation’s other scholarships for college, this merit-based scholarship is only available to students who attend the University of Cambridge. Each year, 80 postgraduate applicants to the University of Cambridge, all from outside the UK, are selected to receive this award. 

The Gates Cambridge merit scholarship covers the full cost of tuition, in addition to discretionary funding.

You are eligible for this merit-based scholarship if you are:

  • A citizen of a country other than the United Kingdom
  • Applying to a PhD, MPhil, or MLitt residential course of Cambridge or you are applying to a one-year postgrad course

Each year, applications for the Gates Cambridge merit scholarship open in September. Offers are made to these Gates scholarship winners the following January.

The Bill Gates Scholarships are amongst the most generous and competitive scholarships for college available worldwide. If you are among one of the few Gates scholarship winners the aid will greatly reduce the rising cost of college. However, it’s not easy to overcome the Gates Scholarship acceptance rate. 

How to win the Gates Scholarship– Final Thoughts

There’s a high demand and a low supply of merit scholarships. So, it can be daunting to try to win minority scholarships, merit scholarships, or other scholarships for college. 

Bill Gates Scholarships in particular are amongst the most selective merit scholarships and minority scholarships out there. So, how do you overcome the Gates Scholarship acceptance rate? Here are our best tips for winning the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship. 

gate scholarship

1. Tell a story through your extracurricular activities

The Bill Gates Scholarship seeks both leadership qualities and personal qualities in Gates scholarship winners. In order to stand out, your extracurricular activities must be impressive. That means they should tell a story of who you are as a person and what you are passionate about. Decide what matters to you and then find a way to take it a step further through your activities. Start a non-profit, get a job, write for a local newspaper—whatever your story is, make sure your extracurriculars speak to it.

2. Challenge yourself in your classes

Bill Gates Scholarships are both minority scholarships and merit-based scholarships. In order to satisfy the former, you must meet basic eligibility for the award. For the latter, it’s vital that you achieve academic excellence. Therefore, select classes that challenge you, and then work hard to get good grades. 

Ideal candidates for the Bill Gates Scholarship will be in the top 10% of their graduating class. While this is not a strict requirement, it greatly increases your odds of beating the Gates Scholarship acceptance rate. 

3. Stand out with strong letters of recommendation

Other than your extracurriculars, your letters of recommendation are one of the only places in the application where readers will get a sense of your character. Furthermore, it’s the only place where they’ll see your personality through another person’s eyes. So, it’s crucial to have strong letters of recommendation.

How do you ensure that your letters are strong? Firstly, forge authentic, lasting connections with your prospective recommenders. The people you ask should be able to talk about what makes you unique, as well as the reasons you deserve the Bill Gates Scholarship.

4. Start early

As with most parts of the college application process, the best way to win scholarships for college is to start early. Bill Gates Scholarships don’t open until the autumn of your senior year in high school. However, by the time you apply to the Bill Gates Scholarship, it’s too late to drastically change your GPA or extracurriculars. Since both are crucial to the evaluation process, put in the work early in high school to set a strong foundation. 

5. Don’t worry if you don’t win

Finally, it is important to be honest about the odds of beating the Gates Scholarship acceptance rate. The Bill Gates Scholarships are simply too competitive to put all of your eggs into this basket. 

And if you don’t win, it’s okay! There are lots of other minority scholarships and merit-based scholarships out there; it’s just a matter of finding them. 

CollegeAdvisor has tons of resources available to help you win the best merit-based scholarships. Check out our resources and articles for articles and webinars to help you beat the odds and lower your cost of college. 

Best of luck as you apply for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship and other scholarships for college! You’re taking a hugely important step in your college journey, and we know you have what it takes to excel.

Zell Miller Scholarship

This article was written by Becky Weinstein. If you want to get help with your college applications from CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expertsregister with CollegeAdvisor.com today. Also, check out our other guides to Merit-Based Scholarships as you embark on your college application journey!