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, a Republican from Arizona. 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 is awarded to about 300 college sophomores and juniors nationwide. A maximum of $7500 per academic year is granted. The scholarship is awarded based on merit, and the actual amount given is based on financial need.
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 exceptionally intense. Universities are allowed to nominate only four undergraduate students per year to receive the final Scholarship. As a result, the Scholarship is widely considered the most prestigious award in the U.S. conferred upon undergraduates studying the sciences. Through March 2006, Princeton University has 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 the nominee's field of study and career objectives and the extent to which that individual has the commitment and potential to make a significant contribution to his or her field. 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.