When Rhodes died, his will stipulated that the greater part of his fortune was to go towards the establishment of a sholarship fund of unprecedented scale and scope. It would be open across the English-speaking world, and reward those applicants who exhibited worthy qualities of intellect, character, and physical ability with the aim of promoting cross-cultural understanding and peace between nations.
Rhodes never intended for his Scholarship to provide educational opportunities for the needy or deserving. Rather, it was to be an investment in promising individuals and future leaders.
With such lofty aims in mind, the requirements for applicants are equally lofty. Rhodes' will specified four standards by which applicants were to be judged:
Rhodes' aim is setting these stringent standards was his hope that his Scholars would be physically, intellectually and morally capable of leadership, and that wherever their future careers might take them, they would seek to improve the lot of humanity.
In 1977, the selection criteria was extended to include women.
Rhodes chose Oxford as the site of his great experiment because he believed its residential colleges provided the ideal environment for intellectual contemplation and personal development. It was also the university he had attended.
Rhodes' will originally provided for 57 scholarships every year, of which 20 were to come from the various British colonies, 32 from the United States, and 5 from Germany. Since then, many more scholarships have been added, and the allocations to each region have varied from time to time. Twice, for example, the German scholarships have been annulled and reinstated.
Currently, the United States still presents the largest contingent with 32 scholarships awarded every year, followed by 11 from Canada, 9 each from Australia and South Africa, 4 each from Germany and India, and smaller numbers from the Commonwealth Caribbean, Hong Kong, Kenya, Jamaica, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, Zimbabwe and Zambia.