National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program

General Suggestions for the GRFP application

Please pay careful attention to the application preparation instructions in the FastLane module and the Program Solicitation.

Note your application deadline. Your application deadline will be determined by the primary field of study listed on the Proposed Graduate Program section of the application. If you designate your primary field as "Engineering - Electrical", for example, you must submit your application on the Engineering deadline, even if your program is in a Computer Science department.

Do not wait until the last minute to prepare and submit your application materials. Give yourself time to review your entire application before you submit it.

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

Make sure you follow the essay formatting instructions regarding page limits, font type and size, margins, and line spacing. Failure to follow the instructions may 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.

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


Application Materials

The following material is required as part of the 2014 GRFP application.

  1. Personal Statement, Relevant Background and Future Goals
  2. Graduate Research Statement
  3. 3 Reference Letters
  4. Academic Transcripts 



Personal Statement, Relevant Background and Future Goals

Below is the prompt for the Personal Statement, Relevant Background and Future Goals statement:


Please outline your educational and professional development plans and career goals. How do you envision graduate school preparing you for a career that allows you to contribute to expanding scientific understanding as well as broadly benefit society?

Describe your personal, educational and/or professional experiences that motivate your decision to pursue advanced study in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). Include specific examples of any research and/or professional activities in which you have participated. Present a concise description of the activities, highlight the results and discuss how these activities have prepared you to seek a graduate degree. Specify your role in the activity including the extent to which you worked independently and/or as part of a team. Describe the contributions of your activity to advancing knowledge in STEM fields as well as the potential for broader societal impacts (See Solicitation, Section VI, for more information about Broader Impacts).

NSF Fellows are expected to become globally engaged knowledge experts and leaders who can contribute significantly to research, education, and innovations in science and engineering. The purpose of this statement is to demonstrate your potential to satisfy this requirement. Your ideas and examples do not have to be confined necessarily to the discipline that you have chosen to pursue.

Important questions to ask yourself before starting the essay:

  1. Why are you fascinated by your research area?
  2. What examples of leadership skills and unique characteristics do you bring to your chosen field?
  3. What personal and individual strengths do you have that make you a qualified applicant?
  4. How will receiving the fellowship contribute to your career goals?
  5. What are all of your applicable experiences?
  6. For each experience, what were the key questions, methodology, findings, and conclusions?
  7. Did you work in a team and/or independently?
  8. How did you assist in the analysis of results?
  9. How did your activities address the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts criteria?


 Back to Top



Graduate Research Statement

Below is the prompt for the Graduate Research Statement:

Present an original research topic that you would like to pursue in graduate school. Describe the research idea, your general approach, as well as any unique resources that may be needed for accomplishing the research goal (i.e., access to national facilities or collections, collaborations, overseas work, etc.) You may choose to include important literature citations. Address the potential of the research to advance knowledge and understanding within science as well as the potential for broader impacts on society. The research discussed must be in a field listed in the Solicitation (Section X, Fields of Study).

Important questions to ask yourself before starting the essay:

  1. What issues in the scientific community are you most passionate about?
  2. Do you possess the technical knowledge and skills necessary for conducting this work, or will you have sufficient mentoring and training to complete the study?  
  3. Is this plan feasible for the allotted time and institutional resources?
  4. How will your research contribute to the "big picture" outside the academic context?
  5. How can you draft a plan using the guidelines presented in the essay instructions?
  6. How does your proposed research address the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts criteria?
 Back to Top



Reference Letters

Applicants are required to submit three reference letters. Reference writers should use letterhead, if possible, and include the following information: Name and Title of reference writer, Department, and Institution or Organization.

The reference letter should provide details explaining the nature of the relationship to the applicant, comments on the applicant's potential and prior research experiences, statements about the applicant's academic potential and prior research experiences, statements about the applicant's proposed research, and any other information to enable review panels to evaluate the application according to the NSF Merit Review Criteria of Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts.

Applicants can improve their chances of obtaining strong reference letters by doing the following:

  1. Choose your references carefully; choose people that can speak to your abilities and potential, rather than someone with a prominent title.
  2. Provide referees sufficient time to write a strong letter.
  3. Discuss the application and share your essays with them.
  4. Inform them that reference letters should reflect both your “intellectual merit” and “broader impacts.”
  5. Track submission of letters using your status page in the FastLane application module - if necessary, remind reference writers about deadline. No late letters will be accepted under any circumstances.
  6. Have a backup reference in case one of your other reference writers cannot submit their letter.
Back to Top



Academic Transcripts

Your academic transcript is the evaluators' opportunity to view the courses you have taken, allowing them to determine your level of preparation for your proposed plan of research.  Thus, it is a significant component of a complete application.

An academic transcript is required for every institution you have listed in the application module.  However, if the same transcript applies to more than one listing in the Education and Work Experience section of your application, you will be able to indicate on the 2015 GRFP application that the transcript information for one institution is contained on another transcript that you uploaded.


Back to Top


A droplet of clotted human blood plasma flows through a winding microfluidic channel, surrounded by an inert carrier fluid.  This system was used to demonstrate that small quantities of activators initiate blood clotting only in plasma that is mixed slowly or not at all, and that rapid mixing slows or prevents blood clotting.  This finding may explain some of the variability seen in clinical clotting assays used in hospitals to diagnose diseases, and suggests such assays may be improved by controlling the rate of mixing.

Image is courtesy of Fellow Rebecca Pompano from the University of Chicago.


National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program
Operations Center Administered by: American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)
1818 N Street NW, Suite 600 Washington, DC 20036 | 866-NSF-GRFP, 866-673-4737
(toll-free from the US and Canada) or 202-331-3542 (international) |