Start the process early, if possible.  It is helpful to begin the process of preparing an application for a summer grant or fellowship a few months before the deadline and a national post-graduate grant or fellowship six to nine months before the deadline.  An early start allows you to acquire necessary knowledge, make useful connections, receive feedback on your proposal, and obtain strong letters of recommendation.  If you did not start early, it can still be good to apply.

Confirm that you are eligible for the grant or fellowship by reading the requirements.

Confirm that the grant or fellowship could meet your needs.  Consider to what extent the purpose of the grant or fellowship, the time period, the amount of funds, and other factors meet your needs and also to what extent you can adapt your needs to the funding requirements.

Acquire background knowledge for your work.  Undergraduates are not expected to be experts, but do acquire knowledge about your research topic or the type of work you will do.  For a research topic, why is it important to study? To what extent has it been studied at all and in the same context?  For an internship or volunteer work, why is the work important? If you will work with an existing organization, how effective and reputable is that entity?

Uncover what the funding organization wants.  Ponder the stated purpose of the grant or fellowship.  Study the selection criteria.  Look for any tips the organization provides. Review information about winning proposals.  Talk to past winners and read their proposals, if possible.

Define your purpose.  State your research question or the purpose of your internship or volunteer work in one sentence.

Develop a checklist and timeline for preparing application materials through careful reading of the instructions.

Draft your proposal/statement. 

  • Follow any provided instructions about content and formatting.
  • Outline the structure of the proposal/statement based on the required structure or mention of necessary components. Add components that you discern are important based on selection criteria. Use that language as subheadings in your proposal/statement.  Reviewers tend to read quickly and miss information; make their work easy.
    • Introductions should provide (a) a clear statement of your research question or internship or volunteer work purpose, (b) a compelling claim for why it is important, (c) a clear link to the purpose of the grant or fellowship, and (d) a brief description of what you will actually do. Introductions are typically one paragraph for a one to four page proposal or multiple paragraphs for a longer proposal.
    • Typically you will then need an additional paragraph focused on of the first three items above (a, b, c).
    • Most of the proposal should be devoted to a description of what you will actually do. The underlying purpose of this section is to convince the reader that the project/work is feasible.
      • Develop a thoughtful structure for this section. Possible structures include chronological, by location, by type of tasks.
      • Woven throughout the structure should be evidence of feasibility. Specifically, you need to provide evidence, through logic or factual information, that
        • the time frame is sufficient to complete the project/work
        • you have received the necessary permissions/invitations to do the project/work or are in the process of doing so
        • you have the necessary research skills (language, data collection, analysis) or work skills (e.g. language, clinical training, teaching experience); if you do not have the skills, then explain how you will acquire them before the start date or compensate for the lack of them (e.g. hire an interpreter, collaborate with an experienced survey researcher)
        • you have connections in the location who will facilitate your work
        • you have arranged or are in the process of planning accommodations
        • you have arranged or are in the process of planning local transportation
        • you are knowledgeable about likely hazards and have a plan to avoid them
        • were some aspect of the project not feasible you have a back-up plan (typically a single example is sufficient)
  • Additional sections of the proposal should address other stated requirements for the specific grant or fellowship (e.g. dissemination of the research findings, sustainability of the project)
  • Draft a proposal abstract, if required. The content should be the same, but use different words than the introduction.
  • Use terms that the grant/fellowship instructions and funding organization uses.
  • Use language that a general audience would understand. Avoid jargon.
  • Minimize citations but do cite facts that are not general knowledge or that are others’ ideas.

Obtain and incorporate feedback on your proposal/statement.  Obtain feedback from a faculty member who is an expert on the topic, a faculty member who is an expert on the location, and the campus representative of the university or national funding organization.  (For national fellowships, consult with Dean Amanda McCarthy at the beginning of the process too.)  Provide them with a description of the grant/fellowship objective, selection criteria, and requirements.  Faculty and staff are eager to help; they appreciate receiving the background information in a single document and having at least two weeks to review the proposal/statement.  Incorporate only that feedback that is consistent with the grant/fellowship objective, requirements, selection criteria and the application guidelines.

Begin human subjects research review process, if applicable.  Typically, research that collects information or samples from people and will be published requires review. Familiarize yourself with the CWRU Comprehensive IRB Policy,, and then consult with a faculty advisor or mentor to determine whether review is necessary.

Revise your résumé.  If one is required, revise your résumé to highlight skills and experiences that match the grant/fellowship objective.  Seek feedback on your revised résumé from a Career Center staff person.

Request letters of recommendation, as needed.  Ask for letters from people who meet the letter-writer eligibility requirements and can provide first-hand input on how you meet the requirements and selection criteria.  Provide them with your proposal; résumé; transcript; a description of the grant/fellowship objective, selection criteria, requirements, and letter submission instructions in a single document; and, ideally four weeks to complete the letter.

Obtain/prepare remaining required items.

Review your checklist.

Read your application aloud to catch any errors.

Have a friend proof your application to catch any errors.

Submit application.

Confirm receipt of application.

Repeat.  Apply for multiple grants for a single research project or experience.