Tips for Applying

All applicants must read the current Program Solicitation before they start their GRFP application. The Program Solicitation contains important information about application terms and conditions, eligibility requirements, application instructions, and the Merit Review Criteria.

Please pay careful attention to the application preparation instructions in the FastLane module and the Program Solicitation.  You can view screenshots of the application module here.

Note your application deadline. Your application deadline will be determined by the primary field of study listed on the Proposed Field of Study section of the application. If you designate your primary field as "Chemistry - Chemistry of Life Processes", for example, you must submit your application on the Chemistry deadline, even if your graduate program is in a Life Sciences department.

Consider your primary field carefully. Not only is your application deadline determined based on the primary field you select, but also your application will be routed to an appropriate panel based on your selected field. See "Choosing a Primary Field" for a list of prospective panels with their component fields.  If you do not see a Field of Study that lists your actual subject area, please choose the primary field by your discipline, and the subfield by your major area of emphasis.  For example, if you study Agriculture or Agronomy, you would select Life Sciences, and then choose the subfield as "Biochemistry", "Genomics", "Organismal Biology", etc. depending on the area you are planning to emphasize in your graduate study.

Do not wait until the last minute to prepare and submit your application materials. Give yourself time to review your application materials and get feedback from others. Do not wait until 7:45 p.m. (EST) on the night of the deadline to start uploading required documents; if something goes wrong and you miss the 8:00 p.m. EST deadline by even a few seconds, your application will be returned without review.

Use the preview feature available in the FastLane application to make sure the uploaded documents are the ones you want to submit. Make sure you have not uploaded a draft version, and double check that you uploaded each document correctly. Once an application has been submitted, it is not possible to change the uploaded documents.

Make sure you follow the formatting instructions regarding page limits, font type and size, margins, and line spacing in your statements. Failure to follow the instructions will result in your application being returned without review.

Save a copy of your application. You can download a PDF file of the application on FastLane by selecting "View/Print Application" under the Application Package Optional Task List.

Do not underestimate the importance of reference letters. Effective references can make an applicant much more competitive. See the "Reference Writer Tips" page for more information.

Be comprehensive in your selection of reference writers. You should not simply select three people who will say the same thing. Instead, you are encouraged to select references who can comment on different aspects of your qualifications for the fellowship. For example, you might seek reference letters from your undergraduate advisor, a summer lab coordinator, your graduate advisor or mentor, a supervisor from a K-12 outreach program, or an employer who can address your professional skills.

Have at least one backup reference writer (two is better). The GRFP application allows you to list up to five reference writers; the three highest-priority reference letters that are submitted will be included in the application package for review. Seeking four or five references gives you a fallback if one of your top three references is unable to submit a letter for some reason.  If your top three reference writers have already submitted their letters, you should inform the remaining reference writers that you no longer need them to submit letters.

Ask for reference letters early, and send gentle reminders as the deadline approaches. Remember that references cannot be accepted after the deadline under any circumstance. More importantly, you will want to give your reference writers time to write compelling letters.

If you have any questions about the application process or requirements, please contact the GRF Operations Center at or (866) 673-4737.

NSF BestPractices FINALtitlesrev2 from ASEE on Vimeo.

Fellow Silvana A. Rosenfeld from StanfordUniversity analyzes llama bone remains from pre-Columbian sites in Cuzco, Peru.

Fellow Christina Richardson uses subsurface resistivity and salinity measurements, and natural groundwater tracers to decipher hydrological interactions in nearshore environments. Understanding baseline hydrological dynamics at the land-sea margin will allow researchers to better understand the implications of climate change on major coastal landforms. Christina is a 2014 Awardee at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.