The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by the United States Congress in 1986 in honor of former United States Senator and 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Its goal is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue careers in these fields.
The scholarship—the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship given in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics—is awarded annually to about 300 college sophomores and juniors nationwide. The scholarship is awarded based on merit, and the actual amount given is based on financial need, up to a maximum of $7,500 per academic year.
In addition, since at least 2006, about 150 exceptional applicants not awarded the Scholarship have been recognized with official Honorable Mentions.
Competition for the scholarship is intense. Universities are allowed to nominate only four undergraduate students per year to receive the final scholarship, making it a premier award in the US conferred upon undergraduates studying the sciences. Through March 2006, Princeton University had the most Goldwater Scholars with 64, followed by Harvard University with (60), Duke University (58), Kansas State University (57), and the University of Chicago (53).
In awarding scholarships, the Foundation Board of Trustees considers field of study, career objectives, commitment, and potential to make a significant professional contribution. This is judged by letters of reference, student essays, and prior research experience. The number of scholarships awarded per region depends on the number and qualifications of the nominees for that region. The regions are defined as each of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and, considered as a single entity, Guam, the United States Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.