Frequently Asked Questions

Please click here for the full list of 2021 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Please click here for the 2021 GRFP Application Technical (FAQs).

Below are some of the most frequently asked 2021 application questions.

The eligibility requirements for the NSF GRFP competition are contained in Section IV of the NSF GRF Program Solicitation.

You can apply both before you begin your graduate studies and as an early graduate student.

Individuals applying while enrolled in a joint bachelor’s-master’s degree program are considered graduate students who: i) must have completed three years in the joint program, and; ii) are limited to one application to GRFP; they cannot apply again as doctoral students. Individuals holding joint bachelor’s-master’s degrees, currently enrolled as first-year doctoral students, who have not previously applied as graduate students and enrolled in the doctoral program the semester following award of the joint degree, may only apply in the first year of the doctoral program. Individuals holding joint bachelor’s-master’s degrees who did not progress directly to a doctoral program the semester following award of the joint degree must apply as a returning graduate student.

Possibly. Individuals who have completed more than one academic year in a degree-granting program, who have earned a previous master’s degree of any kind (including bachelor’s-master’s degree), or who have earned a professional degree (e.g., law, medicine), are eligible only if they have had a continuous interruption in graduate study of at least two consecutive years immediately prior to the application deadline, and are not enrolled in a degree-granting graduate program at the application deadline. This means that you cannot already be enrolled in graduate school at the time of the application deadline. You must address the reasons for the interruption in graduate study in your Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement. See the GRF Program Solicitation for detailed eligibility requirements.

Having a master’s degree makes you ineligible to apply to GRFP unless it was followed by a continuous interruption in graduate study of at least two consecutive years immediately prior to the application deadline; in this case, you would not be eligible because you are already enrolled again in graduate school.

The GRF Program Solicitation contains the official guidance regarding eligible fields and programs of study; see Section IV.3. Field of Study.

  • Individuals who are not a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or permanent resident at the time of application are not eligible.
  • Foreign nationals who are in the U.S. on a student visa and those awaiting green cards are not eligible.
  • Individuals who do not intend to enroll or be enrolled in a research-based graduate degree program accredited in, and having a campus located in, the United States, its territories, or possessions, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, in an eligible Field of Study in STEM or STEM education (see Appendix and Section IV.3 in the GRF Program Solicitation for eligible Fields of Study) are not eligible.
  • Individuals who have previously accepted a GRFP award are not eligible.
  • Individuals who were awarded the Fellowship and did not notify NSF of their intention to accept or decline the fellowship by the published deadline for accepting the fellowship are not eligible.
  • Individuals who have previously applied while enrolled in a degree-granting graduate program are not eligible.
  • Individuals who have earned a doctoral or terminal degree in any field are not eligible.
  • Individuals who are a current NSF employee are not eligible.
  • Individuals who plan to pursue a joint science-professional degree program (such as an MD/Ph.D. or JD/Ph.D.), are ineligible for the GRFP, even if they are proposing to use the GRFP only for the Ph.D. part of their program.
  • Additionally, applicants who are enrolled, or plan to enroll, in a graduate degree program while on a leave of absence from a professional degree program or professional degree-graduate degree joint program are ineligible.

Applicants are advised to select the Major Field of Study and Subfield in the GRFP Application Module (see Fields of Study in the Appendix of the Program Solicitation) that is most closely aligned with the proposed graduate program of study and research plan. The “Other” subfield category should be selected only if the proposed subfield is not covered by one of the listed subfields, and should not be used to designate a subfield that is more specific than the subfields listed. If the proposed subfield is not listed in the Appendix, it may not be eligible for Fellowship support.

Fellows must enroll in a graduate degree program consistent with the Major Field of Study proposed in their application in the first year of the Fellowship.

The statements must be written using standard 8.5″x 11″ page size, Times New Roman font for all text, no smaller than 11-point, except text that is part of an image, 1″ margins on all sides, and no less than single spacing (approximately 6 lines per inch). Compliance with these requirements will be automatically checked by the GRFP Application Module. Documents that are not compliant will not be accepted by the GRFP Application Module. Applicants are strongly encouraged to upload their documents early to ensure they are format-compliant, and that non-compliant documents do not delay upload of the complete application for receipt by the deadline.

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program applicants will be notified of the outcomes of their applications by early April of the competition year. The NSF publishes lists of Fellowship and Honorable Mention recipients on the GRFP website at https://www.research.gov/grfp/Login.do in early April.

GRFP Application Technical FAQs

The following application files must be uploaded in PDF format:

  • Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement
  • Graduate Research Plan Statement
  • Reference Letters

Transcripts are accepted in multiple source file formats and available to be converted into a PDF within the application module. The acceptable source file formats are as follows:

Extension – File Type

  • docx , doc – Microsoft Word for Office 365 MSO or older version .
  • xlsx, .xls – Microsoft Excel for Office 365 MSO or older version workbook (single worksheet only).
  • pptx, .ppt – Microsoft PowerPoint for Office 365 MSO or older version presentation
  • pdf – Fastlane supports and uses Adobe Acrobat Distiller Version 9.0
  • eps – Encapsulated PostScript file ‘
  • ps – PostScript file
  • rtf – Rich Text Format
  • txt – Text file

The Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement and the Graduate Research Plan Statement must conform to the following requirements:

  • Times New Roman font for all text, Cambria Math font for equations, and Symbol font for non-alphabetic characters (it is recommended that equations and symbols be inserted as an image)
  • Font size no smaller than 11-pt
  • No less than single spacing (approximately six lines of text within a vertical space of one inch)
  • 1″ margins on all sides, no text inside 1″ margins (no header, footer, or page number)
  • Standard letter paper size (8.5″ by 11”)
  • File cannot be a scanned image
  • File size cannot exceed 10 MB
  • File cannot be password protected
  • File cannot be empty
  • Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement cannot exceed 3 pages
  • Graduate Research Plan Statement cannot exceed two pages

Reference letters and transcripts must conform to the following requirements:

  • File size cannot exceed 10 MB
  • File cannot be password protected
  • File cannot be empty
  • Reference letter cannot exceed two pages Failure to comply with the above rules will result in one or more error messages. You will be required to correct the error(s) and upload the PDF again.

Some potential root causes may be:

Remove page numbers: Be sure that the document has no text in the header or footer including page numbers.

Review inserted images or shapes: Margins can be set to one inch, but a stray image or shape can violate the margin rule. Setting the margin rule to one inch would not automatically correct the images or shapes back within margins.

Much depends on the particular word processor used because of how word processors export files to PDF.

For Microsoft Office, “Select All” will not include inserted images, shapes, and numbered lists or bullets. Each object will have its own font and those would have to be updated to accepted fonts and sizes. Be mindful of images inserted into shapes, as each image and shape can have its own font type.

In Microsoft Office Word, double-click an image to ensure it was not inserted as an object (e.g., PowerPoint slide). If another application opens, this means a non-graphical image was inserted and the object contains invalid metadata that will make the PDF upload fail. Re-insert an image by pasting it as an image.

If your image includes text (titles, labels, captions, etc.), that text should be part of the image and not editable. Failure to make all text part of the image could result in font type and font size errors.

Cambria Math font for equations and Symbol font for special characters will be supported in the file; however, we strongly recommend that equations and special characters and symbols be inserted as a non-editable image to bypass the compliance checking altogether. This will avoid font type and font size errors.

  • OpenOffice inserts an unallowable font for superscript and subscript.
  • Google Docs may not properly export bulleted text and should not be used.
  • Certain LaTeX-generated PDF elements are not yet supported. LaTeX should not be used.
  • Microsoft Office for Macs “Save as PDF” functionality “Best for Printing” may not be supported. Instead, select the “Best for electronic distribution and accessibility (uses Microsoft online service)” option.
  • Older versions of Microsoft Word (2007 or earlier) may produce font errors.
  • For Microsoft Office, do not use “Print as PDF” to create a PDF. Instead, use “Export” and “Create PDF.”

I continue to receive an error message and I know I am using an acceptable font type.

  • Open the PDF.
  • Right click on the document content.
  • Select Document Properties from the list.
  • Select the Fonts tab (third tab) at the top.
  • Review the list of font types.
  • Only Times New Roman is accepted, except for: Cambria Math may be used for equations and Symbol font for non-alphabetic characters.

Your request could not be completed due to the following reasons:

An issue with your file upload has been encountered. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please verify your file and try your upload again. If the issue persists, you may contact the NSF Help Desk at ithelpcentral@nsf.gov or 1-800-673-6188.

a. Check if there are blank pages within the PDF. If so, complete the following steps:

  • Export the PDF to Word
  • Delete the blank page(s)
  • Re-save the Word document as a PDF
  • Upload the PDF to GRFP

b. If there are no blank pages, then complete the following steps:

  • Export the PDF to Word
  • RE-save the Word document as a PDF
  • Upload the PDF to GRFP

Your request could not be completed due to the following reasons:

An issue with your file upload has been encountered. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please verify your file and try your upload again. If the issue persists, you may contact the NSF Help Desk at ithelpcentral@nsf.gov or 1-800-673-6188.

a. Check if there are blank pages within the PDF. If so complete the following steps:

  • Export the PDF to Word
  • Delete the blank page(s)
  • Re-save the Word document as a PDF
  • Upload the PDF to GRFP