So, you’re getting ready for grad school. Your advisor has told you to apply to the NSFGRFP, because you are a really wonderful student (and he/she has a 15% chance of not having to pay you). People make a big deal about the fellowship, but I think that’s mostly because everyone applies and most of those who apply do so without any previous experience with this particular fellowship. Following is a list of suggestions that, if followed, will prevent your application from being sent immediately to the trash bin. Once you meet the minimum “great application” status, I have a feeling that it’s pretty much blind luck which applications get honorable mention or the actual award. Nevertheless, the following worked for me, and ought to increase your chances.
- Do some undergraduate research with a professor, or at the very least, ask to join a professor’s reading group, so you can get an idea of what constitutes good research in your desired area. This is an absolute must.
- Start early. By that, I mean to write a strong application as soon as you are eligible. The more times you apply, the more feedback you will get, and the better your chances will be. If you can get honorable mention during one of the iterations, then you have a high probability of getting accepted next time around (provided your application makes the improvements mentioned by your reviewers).
- Have at least one publication accepted (or at the least submitted). It can be to a low profile conference, but I think many of the reviewers will think you didn’t “communicate results” if you haven’t published your work somewhere.
- Do education-related volunteer work with women and minorities. I don’t know of any campus which does not have opportunities to do this through student organizations, clubs, or greek life. If not, local schools are always in need of extra help.
In case it’s useful, I’ve attached two iterations of my essays and the grader feedback. I strongly encourage you to choose “Open” and then download as PDF. Google Drive seriously messes up the formatting in the built-in preview.