Three law students from India recently made the cut for this year’s Rhodes Scholarships. Gauri Pillai from NUJS, Kolkata, Vanshaj Jain from NLSIU Bangalore and Mary Kavita Dominic from NUALS, Kochi will fly the Indian flag at Oxford University come next year.
We interviewed two of these Rhodes scholars – Vanshaj Jain and Mary Kavita – and asked them about the selection process, the role their respective law schools played, and their future plans.
Aditya AK: What inspired you to apply?
Vanshaj Jain: I don’t think I ever actually felt I had a chance until they announced my name, you don’t really expect to receive something as prestigious as the Rhodes scholarship. I didn’t see any harm applying. The purpose of the Rhodes, which is to create leaders of the world, is a very inspiring one. To be given that opportunity would be great for anyone, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
Mary Kavita Dominic: That would be my mother. I didn’t think I could actually get it, but she always told to apply.
AK: Take us through the selection process.
VJ: You have to first submit your written application which includes a statement of purpose of 1,000 words, where you basically supposed to tell your story – what your motivation is, and how you have applied that in your life. You also need to mention what particularly you want to study at Oxford and how you are going to contribute to society.
With that, you have to submit six referrals – three academic and three non-academic – along with your marks transcript and your CV. Based on that, they shortlist twenty people from streams like law, political science etc. Then you have the technical interviews, conducted by people in that field.
Around three to four people are then shortlisted for the final round of interviews. In the final round, there’s a dinner the night before where you meet the panellists and interact with them, which is part of the selection process. The second half is the actual 20 minute interview, which you have the next day.
AK: What was the most challenging part of the application process?
MKD: One of the most difficult parts was writing the statement of purpose. The statements for other colleges are more academic in nature, but for Rhodes, you have to write about your interests as well. You have to find a way to make it appealing to whoever is reading it.
We have never had a Rhodes scholar from my University, so I couldn’t consult anyone with respect to how to do it. But you have these videos made by former Rhodes scholar available online, so I took tips on how to write the SoP from them.
AK: How did law school help?
VJ: NLSIU provides a lot of structural support to students who want to do extra-curricular activities. We are given the freedom and financial support to go for international moots and debates, which give you a lot of exposure in terms of different ideas and areas of law. That played a huge role in my final interview, where they asked me a lot of questions that are not necessarily taught in classrooms.
MKD: It helped a lot because our college stresses not only on the education aspect, but also encourages to go out and provide legal aid. What Rhodes looks at is not just whether you have good marks; they also look at the social work you do. While in college, I had gone out to undertake two surveys with respect to human rights: one for providing legal aid to tribals and another for rights of elderly people.
AK: How important is the extra-curricular aspect in the application?
VJ: It is essential. The second requirement of Cecil Rhodes’ will is the ability to use your talents to the fullest. That essentially means extra-curricular activities; not one or two, but showing interest in a wide array of different activities and doing reasonably well in them. So, in law school it is important to moot, debate, go for ADR activities, do theatre, singing etc. All of that helps.
MKD: All that they look for is the fact that you are not someone who restricts yourself to one discipline. Initially, Rhodes would only focus on your sporting achievements, but it has become more liberal over the years. I personally have no sporting achievements, but I used to debate and I have played the keyboard in the past. So those are things that helped me.
AK: Any particular field of law you are interested in?
VJ: I plan to take up International Criminal Law. My dream is to work with the ICC, in the office of the Prosecutor.
MKD: I am interested in International Humanitarian Law and Criminal Law, as well as Comparative Human Rights. I hope to work in the ICC someday, but ultimately I was planning on coming back and working in the Legal and Treaties division of the Ministry of External Affairs.
AK: Any advice for future applicants?
VJ: My advice is: Just apply. There is no harm in applying, and you never know, you just might get it.
MKD: Stick to your strengths and be honest in your application.
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