GRFP Essay Insights: Application Resources for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
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Review Process

Overview of the Review Process

Each year the GRFP office solicits hundreds of volunteers to serve on review panels. Prospective reviewers complete online application forms explaining their related interests, experience and academic qualifications. The National Science Foundation then selects reviewers and assigns them to disciplinary and interdisciplinary panels. The panel information is kept confidential. Reviewers are not allowed to disclose their panel assignment or details about the review process. However, you can be assured that panel members are trained prior to the review process.


When you apply for this fellowship in Fastlane-GRFP, you will select a primary field of study (discipline) that aligns with your proposed graduate program and graduate research topic. Based on your choice, the National Science Foundation assigns your application packet to a corresponding review panel. Keep in mind that many review panels are interdisciplinary. Consult with your mentor(s) on the most appropriate field of study/studies for your GRFP application.


The GRFP panels now convene virtually and record their work in an online database. Each reviewer completes a comment form to fully address both criteria. The GRFP office analyzes the panels' findings and offers awards to the most competitive applicants. After you are notified of your status, you are granted access to the reviewers' comments like this. You can find other sample statements and reviewers' comments through Dr. Alex Lang's site.

How Do GRFP Panelists Determine IM & BI?

Panelists read your complete GRFP application: the online form, transcript(s), two statements and reference letters. They synthesize these complementary pieces to gain a holistic impression of you. Every application is read by at least two panelists. According to the solicitation, reviewers must give " full consideration" to both review criteria (intellectual merit and broader impacts) "during the review and decision-making processes; each criterion is necessary but neither, by itself, is sufficient."


IMPORTANT: The Solicitation clarifies that you must EXPLICITY address Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts as separate sections in both of your GRFP statements. This Review Criteria page also outlines which elements of your application packet reflect IM & BI.

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Advice from Fellows

An important reason to apply is that a significant part of the application is about assessing your confidence in yourself. Even if you don't receive the fellowship, applying can boost your confidence that you have the tools and ability to plan and propose research, which is essential to succeed in graduate school.

John Smeda

'11 Fellow, Plant Sci

Cornell University


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Updated March 8, 2016 | Site content and handouts created by Robin G. Walker, PhD
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