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As you start thinking about your application, be sure to read these tips from an NSF program officer!


2021 Application Cycle

visual application timeline


Stage 1: Lay the Groundwork

Ideally, your preparation to apply for a Graduate Research Fellowship should begin in the spring and summer of the year before you need funding. Around this time each year, the annual solicitation is shared by the NSF (click here to see the solicitation for the 2021 award competition). Consider the research you want to conduct and begin thinking of how you might frame your proposal. Begin to determine your primary field of study; not only will this determine your application deadline, but it will also route your application to an appropriate panel of reviewers. It is also a good time to reflect on your interest in your project as well as your scientific background and drive. Get in touch with potential letter writers early and communicate with them throughout your application process; three are required, but it is a good idea to have a backup writer or two. For more information about the value of a strong reference letter and advice to share with your writers, click here. Try to select writers who will paint a comprehensive picture of you for reviewers.

Stage 2: Prepare Materials

By the time the semester begins, you should be carving out time in your schedule to write research and personal statements for your GRFP application. Looking at examples online and reaching out to past Fellows can be a helpful way of getting a new perspective on your work. Continue keeping your advisors and letter writers involved in your progress, and ask them and friends to help you review and revise your materials.

Stage 3: Peer Review

It is almost time to submit your application! If you have followed this timeline and worked consistently on your materials, you are in a good place and hopefully are not feeling overwhelmed. The Graduate School and Materials Research Society works with current Graduate Research Fellows to host GRFP-specific peer review workshops, and you are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this resource. Use these last few weeks to proofread and perfect your application for submission. Be sure to verify formatting requirements such as page limits, font type and size, margins, and line spacing for your documents.

Stage 4: Submit Application

Your application deadline will be determined by the primary field of study listed on the Proposed Field of Study section of the application, so be sure to know your correct deadline. All applications are due at 5pm in your local timezone (Eastern Time for North Carolina mailing addresses); give yourself plenty of time to submit! The application system may be slowed down as deadlines approach, and you don’t want your application to be returned without review if it is even a few seconds late. To learn how to navigate the application system, watch the video below and/or review this application demonstration. Be sure to preview your application before you submit to ensure everything is correct and that your documents have uploaded successfully. Don’t forget to save a copy for your own records! Reference letters must be submitted by 4pm Eastern Time¬†by the Friday one week after the last application deadline.

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