Prepare a Successful Fellowship Application


At the dissertation stage of your graduate program, a fellowship can be a critical resource, especially if your research requires money for travel, equipment, supplies, and time to collect data and write.

While applying for fellowships can take considerable time and you may not always be successful, the process can provide numerous benefits. Each time you complete an application, you’ll gain valuable grant writing experience and learn from your mistakes. Once you’re successful, you’ll build a record of previous awards to make you more competitive for the next fellowship or grant. And, future program officers and proposal review committees will see that your research ideas are marketable.

It’s never too soon to seek outside support. If you’re a first-year graduate student, look for small foundations or seek funds from within your university. Although the amount of money may be small, you’ll gain grant writing practice, self-confidence, and a positive track record.

Many successful applicants begin the process at least nine months in advance. Divide the task into smaller, manageable segments and create a timeline for completing each task. Explore this sample timeline for a grant application that's due in November:


  • Refine your research focus. Key in on an essential research question.
  • Write down ideas that come to you from the classes and seminars you attend, lectures you prepare, and papers or articles you read.
  • Spend time in the library or on searchable computer databases to discover what’s already been done in your area of interest – and what hasn’t yet been done. Capture these ideas and adapt them to your own sub-discipline.
  • Eliminate topics that aren’t novel or central to your discipline.


  • Find the right fellowship.
  • The Office of Graduate Studies website ( lists some federal and privately funded organizations that provide financial support.
  • Subscribe to the Office of Research weekly email that offers a sampling of current grant funding opportunities, including fellowships. Email Tisha Gilreath Mullen to subscribe or visit the Proposal Development funding website to see previous postings.
  • The Foundation Center, a powerful grants database, can be accessed in Love Library. Contact Dr. Bob Bolin) to learn how to use the database. Spending some time searching carefully for the right opportunity may reward you with more obscure, less competitive sources of money in your discipline.
  • Gather information. Explore the sponsor’s website to determine eligibility requirements, deadlines, and the number and amount of the awards. If you’re not sure your project is eligible, contact the agency and ask. Record this information on a single spreadsheet so it’s easy to track.


  • For each application, identify the mission statement for the funding agency. Consider how your research will contribute to the mission.
  • Carefully review the criteria for each fellowship. Sponsors define the length and organization of the proposal. Follow directions to the letter! Applications are not considered when they deviate from the requirements.

June/July: Draft the narrative.

  • Clearly state the research question and why the answer is important. Make a compelling case in the first page (preferably the first paragraph) of the proposal. Provide enough background to help readers understand the research question, followed by a succinct statement of the purpose and significance of your research.
  • Include preliminary results from pilot studies (if there are any). Show that the methods you propose to use to answer the research question are valid and feasible. Be specific about methodology without becoming tediously technical.
  • Demonstrate that your project is manageable within the time frame of the grant or fellowship.


  • Get expert feedback.
  • Ask your adviser and other colleagues to read the proposal.
  • Have colleagues from outside your field make note of undefined terms and jargon.  These colleagues can tell you if you made a compelling case for doing the project.


  • Revise the draft.
  • Use reviewer comments to revise the narrative for clarity of both ideas and expression.
  • Read each section aloud to make sure it flows.
  • If you are a non-native English speaker, get an editor.
  • Have someone with an eye for detail read through your final version.
  • Review the format and organization requirements for the funding agency, and then read through your proposal once more. Remember that many proposals are disqualified simply because they didn’t follow the prescribed format or comply with the page limit.
  • Contact potential references well in advance of the application deadline and ask them to write letters of support.
  • Provide specifics about the fellowship for which you are applying (if they haven’t yet seen a copy of your proposal, make sure you give them one).
  • Suggest what you’d like each recommender to emphasize in the letter.


  • Gather collateral and supporting materials.
  • Remember: your entire application counts, not just your research plan. Don't neglect the other required essays.
    • The section on your background should justify why you are qualified to carry out the research you propose.
    • The section on career goals should show how you plan to use the skills you will develop during your schooling.
  • Most fellowship applications must also include your curriculum vitae and letters of recommendation from faculty members. Be sure your vita is up to date [link].


  • Yay! You can submit the application.