How to win a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, according to a past recipient

Gates Cambridge Scholarship
Born and raised in Jerusalem, Noa Epstein has a deep-rooted passion to build peace between Israel and Palestine. Source: Noa Epstein

Born and raised in Jerusalem, Noa Epstein has a deep-rooted passion to forge peace between Israel and Palestine. This can be seen through her work at Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET), an organisation that connects young Israelis and Palestinians through technology and entrepreneurship. 

After graduating from Hebrew University, Epstein started her career as a parliamentary assistant to Israelian-Arab Dr. Ahmad Tibi who served as a political advisor to the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat. She has also worked at NGOs to help build relationships in the Middle East.

Wanting to take her peace-building zeal to the business world, she sought an MBA at Cambridge. Although she earned a place, she could not afford the fees as an international student. That is, until she won a Gates Cambridge Scholarship (despite travelling in a campervan with no internet at that time — more on that below). 

gates cambridge scholarship

After graduating from Hebrew University, Epstein started her career as a parliamentary assistant. Source: Noa Epstein

Looking back at her long hours researching for scholarships, she discovered she had a knack for writing applications — which was how Application Shine was born. This consulting service matches suitable impact-making scholarships and programmes to outstanding candidates around the globe.

We caught up with Epstein to learn more about her Gates Cambridge Scholarship, her MBA and her career thus far:

Walk us through the application process for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

After more than half a decade in leading peace-building work in Israel, I knew I wanted to do an MBA at a top international school. This was to gain the business tools, language and mindset to enhance my impact bridging together Israelis and Palestinians through sustainable collaborations. 

I also understood that there was no way I could afford such a programme without a scholarship so I embarked on a very strategic research process. In retrospect, it was the inception of my scholarships and opportunities database at Application Shine — a competitive applications consultancy. 

I Googled words like “female,” “scholarship,” “MBA,” and “Cambridge” and believe it or not, found out about the Gates Cambridge Scholarship which I hadn’t heard of till then. The first barrier is always your internal voice telling you your chances are small. 

However, since I love writing applications and sharing my story, I went all-in and wrote everything to then move towards the interview stage. At the time of the interview, I was travelling with my boyfriend (now husband) in New Zealand in a campervan with no internet. 

In order to do the interview, we had to book a night stay somewhere with the internet which was done through Skype. I also had to apply for the Cambridge MBA programme and later on, I was informed that I won the Gates Cambridge Scholarship — I was totally thrilled that my hard work paid off. 

Why choose Darwin College to pursue your MBA?

The college was a bit of a random choice I made at the end of the application process since each student at Cambridge is assigned to one. I learned that Darwin is good for couples (in terms of housing and having older students) so I moved to Cambridge with my partner.

gates cambridge scholarship

Epstein has also worked at NGOs to help build relationships in the Middle East. Source: Noa Epstein

I wanted my MBA from a top international school to enhance my impact in bridging sustainable collaborations between Israelis and Palestinians. I realised for long-term sustainability and effectiveness, there needs to be a greater incentive for collaboration. 

Also, gaining the business network and approach to bring back to Israel was another aspect of pursuing my MBA abroad. 

Walk us through your impressive career trajectory.

When I returned from the MBA, I became the CEO of Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET) which is an amazing NGO that brings together excelling Israeli and Palestinian youth. This is done with those studying computer science and entrepreneurship in partnership with MIT. 

I landed this role thanks to my MBA under the Gates Cambridge Scholarship and my internship at Google (where I connected with the former CEO of MEET). After three incredible years at MEET, I went on a family adventure to India to teach Global Politics and History at the United World College (UWC) high school. 

I, myself, am a graduate of UWC in Norway where I studied under a full scholarship. When I returned to Israel, I decided to take my passion for application writing, copywriting and storytelling to the next level and established Application Shine. Here, I help people worldwide bring their best self forward in competitive job and uni scholarship applications. 

I also run workshops and webinars on how to write your personal statement, CV, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, and how to prepare for an interview. To further add, I have a part-time leadership role at a pioneering organisation called 8400 The Health Network (as a VP of Programmes and Marketing).

This organisation is building a HealthTech growth engine in Israel and I’m responsible for the leadership programme that weaves together a network of HealthTech ecosystem leaders who, together, turn Israel into a powerhouse. 

How do you use the knowledge and skills gained in your Gates Cambridge Scholarship experience in your current job role?

The Cambridge MBA gave me an incredible international network and effective prisms which I use to think about challenges. Through project work with peers from around the world, I have gained inspiration and tools I use in my daily work. 

The idea to found Application Shine was very much motivated by my desire to increase diversity among students to be awarded these kinds of scholarship opportunities. This is done by tackling application barriers head-on.  

Also, my decision to take the path of entrepreneurship was inspired by the kinds of people and content I was exposed to in my MBA.

Is there anything you wish you had learned more?

I would have liked to do more case studies on how to scale a business. 

What advice do you have for international students who want to apply for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship?

It’s very competitive but you must remember that someone has to get in so why shouldn’t it be you? I advise you to go for it and do it with enthusiasm and attention to detail. Successful applications required a strategic approach. 

gates cambridge scholarship

“After more than half a decade in leading peace-building work in Israel, I knew I wanted to do an MBA at a top international school,” Epstein says. Source: Noa Epstein

Make sure you plan your essay well before you start writing it and integrate all the impact-related work you’ve done and you plan to do. It’s also a good idea to have a few trusted people to give you feedback. 

Where do you envision yourself in 10 years?

I currently live in Israel with my husband and four children so I intend for this to still be the case. This, with us healthy and moving forward. I also hope my applications consulting business will continue to grow and help change people’s lives

Is there anything you missed from home while abroad? If so, how did you substitute it?

Moving to Cambridge with my husband made things much easier and my mother is from England so I had relatives there. The only thing I missed was Israeli food but this was substituted through holding student dinner parties with Israeli and Lebanese friends.