GRFP Essay Insights: Application Resources for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
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What you need to do the year you apply


  1. Study the NSF site for research priorities Think critically about how your research interests fit with the NSF's mission and direction.
  2. Tell your mentor that you intend to apply to the NSF GRFP this year. Share your ideas for a proposed research topic - listen to the feedback! The earlier you start this year, the better off you’ll be. While summer can be a bit slower for some faculty, others may be away conducting research or overseeing summer projects. If you know where you will attend graduate school, talk with your future mentor too. Plan to talk with your current and future mentors several times to discuss your proposed graduate research topic.
  3. Review the broader impacts criterion in the most recent GRFP announcement. Talk with your mentor(s) about ways you might be able to strengthen the broader impacts of your proposed research project. Be creative! Feel free to use these examples of broader impacts as part of your discussion.

Early Summer

  1. If you have not already done so, select 3-5 reference letter writers. Confirm their willingness and availability to write a strong letter for you by the fall deadline.
  2. Take time to reflect on significant life, work and academic experiences that have shaped your values, passion and aspirations. What will you tell reviewers in your Personal, Relevant Background & Future Goals Statement? Writer's block? Here are writing prompts to get you started. Begin drafting your statement. Seek feedback from others.
  3. You'll also need to identify a topic for your Graduate Research Statement. Begin by consulting with your mentor (s). Strive for innovation and a high degree of intellectual merit. This worksheet can help guide you through the process of identifying a potential research topic.

Late Summer (normally August)

  1. Watch for the official NSF GRFP Solicitation (announcement) in Fastlane because it signals that the GRFP competition is open.
  2. Download or print a copy of the solicitation. Note the submission deadline. Read the instructions carefully as they change slightly from year to year. Analyze the program description to better understand the purpose of the program.
  3. If eligible, register in Fastlane, the GRFP’s e-application system: Once inside the Fastlane system you will be able to find specific instructions for the statements and other application directions.
  4. While it's easy to apply, you must follow instructions precisely. The NSF makes no exceptions to the official guidelines or submission deadline.

For Your Consideration

In order to submit your GRFP application by the deadline, it's a good idea to plan ahead so you can maintain a balance with your studies, research, work, social life and family time. As a suggestion, you can create a simple "to do" list like this one. Set aside time each week to work on your essay drafts and complete different sections in FastLane.

Social network discussions
Advice from Fellows

…the real work lies ahead in fulfilling our research duties and advancing technology.

Sarah Smith

'12 Fellow, Biomedical Engineering

University of Missouri


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Updated August 6, 2014 | Site content and handouts created by Robin G. Walker, PhD
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