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shadrin_andrey/istock/getty images plus Graduate school has become increasingly expensive, and while some graduate programs offer financial support through work-study, loans, scholarships and fellowships, graduate students may still need additional funds to survive. An external fellowship or grant can be that extra push toward completing a graduate degree and, aside from the financial incentives, may include a supportive community of past grantees that can serve as a resource for scholars early in their academic career.

In a recent Inside Higher Ed article , Jude Mikal counseled grad students to “avoid self-disqualification” for grants and fellowships, and I agree: if you meet the criteria, don’t count yourself out. In fact, you should keep applying, refining your proposals and throwing yourself into the pool of candidates, because you never know who on the committee might gravitate to your story and project. At the very least, if you are not selected, you leave with a more polished version of your application for the next time—and there will always be a next time.

Unfortunately, however, as Hector M. Callejas, a University of California graduate student and National Science Foundation fellow, has observed, “Fellowship applications are a literary genre that is seldom taught in class.” So how do you even begin to map a successful fellowship application? There is no one cookie-cutter approach, given that research topics and areas of interest reach far and wide. But you can, in fact, take certain specific steps to see your application through to the finish line.

Seek out successful models. The first step is to ask peers and faculty mentors if they have winning statements that they can share with you or if they can make an introduction to a student who might be willing to do so. Try to find an application aligned with your research area or design so you can see the general structure of winning applications and the kinds of information they have included. Also look for applications written particularly for the organization you’re targeting. Specific fellowships such as the Ford Foundation Fellowship and the AAUW Dissertation Fellowship ask for a detailed timeline toward completion, while others, like the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant and any of the National Institutes of Health–sponsored grants, ask for a detailed budget on how you will use allocated funds.

Review available resources. Several colleagues have recommended the Professor Is In blog and book, while others noted the Grant Writers’ Seminars and Workshops and faculty blogs and articles focused on demystifying the application process and reviewer perspectives. Those include Jennifer Ailshire’s “ Have You Heard About the NIH Dissertation Awards for Doctoral Students Studying Population Health? ” among others. Also, reach out to your department and college to see if they offer support for fellowship writing.

Create an outline. What is the fellowship or grant requiring you to complete? Is there a prompt for the statement? What paragraphs/sections will you need to include to answer their request? If there is no prompt, what paragraphs/sections do you think will […]

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