The applications go to 16 regions, either where the applicants are from or where their university is located. Regional committees selected about 200 finalists this year from about 900 applicants, and those finalists were invited to interviews last weekend. After the Friday night cocktail party, finalists have 15-minute interviews the next day, and some have follow-up interviews. At about 5:30 p.m., they are brought to the committee and told if they have been chosen or not.
Mock cocktail parties
This year, the application deadline was Oct. 3, but the midshipmen prepared during September and October by poring over Reading Lolita in Tehran, among other books and publications, and discussing certain parts of it with professors, Brennan said. The process, which can sometimes include practice questions, helps Mids prepare to speak confidently about the classics, current events and, most importantly, their futures.
FOR THE RECORD - A graphic published in Thursday's Maryland section incorrectly listed the number of Rhodes scholars winners at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. There was one winner announced in 2004, and seven total announced from 2001 to 2005.
The Sun regrets the error.
They also have a pizza party as an informal practice and then more formal get-togethers with top academy officials, Brennan said. The mock cocktail parties - which are held at most universities that prepare students for the Rhodes interviews - are frowned upon by Elliot Gerson, American secretary for the Rhodes Trust.
Allard said he didn't think such practices help.
"The committees are very good at peeling the wrapper off the packaged candidates," he said, noting that candidates from several Ivy League institutions - which he declined to name - often seem overly polished. "The candidates who are genuine and real do much better."
Brennan said he tells students that making it to the finals is a major accomplishment, reflective of a great college career and application. After that, because of a wide-open interview process, it's anyone's guess who's going to win. Several fellowship advisers said they have heard of questions as esoteric as "Beethoven or Wagner? Go."
"It's completely out of their hands," he said. "It's almost random, even a crap shoot. What we're talking about is a selection made on the basis of only 15 minutes of interviewing. There's no way a student can control that, prepare for that or have any influence at all. I just tell them to be relaxed and be as genuine as they can."
This year, Rhodes winner Paul J. Angelo, a senior midshipman from Ohio who focuses on Latin American studies at the Naval Academy, received questions about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, President Bush's visit to Argentina this month and U.S. military anti-drug efforts in Colombia, all areas in his specialty.
But senior Midshipman Nicholas M. Schmitz of Bethesda, who is majoring in political science and economics, got questions about whether torture is justified and on the merits of the Iraq war.
Schmitz said the questions were a little more focused than he expected, given his preparation.
Other academy candidates to win were Jacquelyn R. Hanna of Lisbon, N.D., and Ensign William R. Kelly of New York, who graduated in May. Two Potomac residents attending Duke University also were among the 32 winners.
Gerson said the trust discourages universities from using the fellowships to market their academic influence, because the awards are given to individuals based on their accomplishments, not to institutions.
But Schmitz, who turned down another prestigious grant to accept the Rhodes, was happy to praise the academy. Said Schmitz of the school: "Obviously, we must be doing something right."
American Rhodes scholars from selected colleges, 2001-2005
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 TOTAL
Harvard University 5 4 4 6 0 19
Yale University 2 2 1 2 3 10
Duke University 3 2 1 0 3 9
U.S. Naval Academy 1 0 0 3 4 8
Stanford University 2 0 2 1 2 7
University of Chicago 0 1 0 2 3 6
U.S. Military Academy 3 1 2 0 0 6
Princeton University 2 1 1 0 1 5
University of Virginia 0 0 0 2 0 2
[Source: American Secretary for the Rhodes Trust, based on year announced]