IMPORTANT: The information below applies to the 2016-17 competition. 

The NSF GRFP Program Solicitation NSF 16-588 contains the official eligibility guidelines for the upcoming competition. All applicants must read the NSF GRFP Program Solicitation and understand the eligibility guidelines.

Applicants must self-certify that they are eligible to receive the Fellowship.

GRFP Eligibility at a glance

To be eligible for the NSF GRFP, you must:

  • be a US citizen, US national, or permanent resident
  • intend to pursue a research-based Master's or Ph.D. program in a GRFP-supported field
  • be enrolled in an eligible program at an accredited United States graduate institution, with a US campus, by fall 2017
  • be at an early stage in your graduate career
  • have completed no more than twelve months of full-time graduate study (or the equivalent) as of August 1, 2016
  • Effective as of the 2017 competition (Fall 2016 dealdines), graduate students are limited to only one application to the GRFP, submitted either in the first year or in the second year of graduate school. An exception is provided for first-year graduate students who applied in Fall 2015 to the 2016 GRFP competition; these individuals may apply as second year graduate students in Fall 2016 to the 2017 GRFP competition, if they are otherwise eligible.
  • meet all other eligibility requirements as set forth in the current Program Solicitation

The "no more than twelve months" limit applies to your entire education career, not just your current program. If you have completed less than twelve months of your Ph.D. but have previously completed a Master's degree, you would not be eligible for the GRFP, unless you meet the criteria for an extenuating circumstance as described in Section IV of the Program Solicitation.

Note: In the 2017 Program Solicitation, graduate coursework required to establish or maintain credentials in a profession, such as teaching, is not included in the 12-month limit.

The complete set of GRFP eligibility guidelines is published in the Program Solicitation. All applicants should read the program solicitation carefully before applying. The program solicitation NSF 16-588 contains the official and only eligibility criteria for the 2017 GRFP competition.

The following categories are always ineligible for the GRFP:

  • Those who do not have US citizenship, US national status or permanent resident status by the application deadline.
  • Those who have earned any graduate or professional degree by August 1, 2016, except 1) applicants who have completed a joint baccalaureate-master's (BS/MS) program and have not completed any further graduate study outside the joint program or 2) applicants who have an interruption of at least two consecutive years prior to November 1, 2016 (may have earned a Master's degree) and have completed no additional graduate study by August 1, 2016.
  • Those who were previously awarded a fellowship from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program and accepted it.
  • Those who declined the offer of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and who did not notify NSF by the published deadline for accepting the Fellowship.
  • Current NSF employees.
When should I apply for the GRFP?

Applicants for the 2017 GRFP must have completed no more than 12 months of full-time graduate study or its equivalent as of August 1, 2016. You are typically eligible to apply:

  • During the senior year of your undergraduate program
  • After completing your undergraduate program but prior to entering graduate school
  • Once as an early graduate student, that is during the first year of graduate school 
  • Prior to completing the first term or quarter of the second year of your full-time graduate program, assuming that you started in the fall start date. (Applicants are limited to have completed no more than 12 months of graduate study.
  • (Important note: This one-time limit for graduate students is new, effective as of the 2017 competition (Fall 2016 deadlines).  An exception is provided if you applied as a first-year graduate student in Fall 2015 to the 2016 GRFP competition; in this case, you may apply as a second year graduate student in Fall 2016 to the 2017 GRFP competition, if you are otherwise eligible.

Students in joint BS/MS programs are typically eligible to apply in the fourth year of a four-year joint program, in the fourth or fifth year of a five-year program, and prior to completing any additional graduate study by August 1. Completion of any additional graduate study ( credit hours) after the joint program would disqualify an applicant.

Part-time students, or those who have a combination of part- and full-time graduate study, are allowed to have completed up to 24 semester credits or 36 quarter credits of graduate study.

If they applied in the past, applicants may re-apply for the GRFP as long as they meet the eligibility guidelines in the current Program Solicitation. We encourage applicants to apply to the GRFP as early in their career as possible.

I understand, that as a first year graduate student, I can apply either this year or next year, but not in both years. Should I wait until next year (and apply as late as possible)?

No, not necessarily. As it specifies in the Solicitation,  GRFP selects students early in their graduate careers based on their demonstrated potential for significant research achievements in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education.”  

You will need to be strategic about the timing of your application to a GRFP competition. You should consult with your advisor(s) to assess whether you have already demonstrated strong evidence of excellent potential compared to other first year students through achievements, activities, research experiences, and plans, or whether your evidence is anticipated to be stronger as a second year student.

Can I apply for the GRFP if I have not been accepted to a graduate program, and do not yet know where I will be attending graduate school?

Yes.Individuals do not need to be accepted into a graduate program in order to apply for the GRFP. Current undergraduate seniors who are planning to begin graduate study in an NSF-supported field in fall 2017 are strongly encouraged to apply.

I took some graduate level-courses after finishing my undergraduate program, but they were not part of a degree program. Do they count as "graduate study" for the GRFP?

Yes: post-baccalaureate, graduate-level study completed outside a degree program counts towards the limit of allowed graduate study. Individuals who completed both part-time, non-degree graduate-level coursework and full-time graduate study would be expected to have completed no more than 24 semester credits or 36 quarter credits of graduate study as of August 1, 2016However, note that post-baccalaureate study that does not involve graduate-level credit does not count toward the limit.

What if I have completed more than 12 months of graduate study?

The twelve-month limit applies to the entire graduate career. All post-baccalaureate, graduate and professional study counts towards this limit, including all Master's and Ph.D. programs, professional programs, graduate-level coursework completed outside a degree program, and both full-time and part-time study.

If you have completed more than twelve months of graduate study, you may be eligible if you had an interruption in your graduate training of at least two consecutive years prior to November 1 of the year in which you’re applying to GRFP ( and you are not currently in graduate school at the time you apply), and if you completed no additional graduate study by August 1 of that year.

For example, if you earned a Master's degree in 2011, have been out of school since then, and are currently applying to PhD programs (with a planned fall 2017 start date), you would meet the eligibility requirements. If you earned a Master's degree in 2011 and started a PhD program in fall 2015 or spring 2016, however, you would not meet the eligibility requirements, on account of having completed additional graduate study after the interruption. If you already have a Ph.D., you are not eligible as it is no longer early in your graduate career. 

What if I am currently enrolled in my graduate program, having just returned to my studies after an interruption of two years or more?

You are not eligible if you completed more than twelve months of graduate study before leaving graduate school and have already returned to your graduate studies after the interruption.

What if I applied in the final year of my joint BS/MS program? Under the new one-time rule for graduate student applicants, am I eligible to apply in the first year of my Ph.D. Program?

Yes. If you had not been awarded your BS degree yet as part of your BS/MS program when you applied previously, then you still have one more chance to apply at the beginning of the first year of your Ph.D. studies. But since you have already completed some training as first-year graduate student, for GRFP application purposes you would be considered to be in your second year of graduate study (and therefore eligible to apply only in the first year of your new program). You are not eligible to apply again if you have completed any credits of graduate study outside of your joint BS/MS program. 

What fields of study are eligible for the GRFP?

NSF supports a broad range of fields. A list of eligible fields of study can be found in the appendix of the 2017 Program Solicitation. Information about eligible and ineligible programs and fields of study can be found in the Program Solicitation, Section IV.3: Field of Study.

The following programs and areas of study are not eligible:

  • Practice-oriented, professional degree programs (MBA, MSW, MPH, ED, etc.)
  • Joint science-professional degree programs (MD/PhD, JD/PhD, etc.)
  • Business administration or management
  • Social work
  • History (except for history of science)
  • Public health programs
  • Medical programs
  • Dental programs
  • Counseling programs
  • Research with disease-related goals, including the etiology, diagnosis or treatment of physical or mental disease, abnormality or malfunction
  • Biomedical research and clinical practice areas of study (including patient-oriented research; epidemiological and medical behavioral studies; outcomes research; health services research; pharmacologic, non-pharmacologic, and behavioral interventions for disease prevention, prophylaxis, diagnosis, or therapy; and community and other population-based intervention trials)
What categories of individuals are always ineligible for the GRFP?

If you are not a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or permanent resident at the time of application you are ineligible. Foreign nationals who are in the U.S. on a student visa are not eligible to apply.

If you have received and accepted a GRFP award, you cannot apply for a second GRFP award.

If you did not notify NSF of your intention to accept/decline the fellowship by the published deadline for accepting the fellowship, you are not eligible to apply for another GRFP award.

If you  plan to pursue a joint science-professional degree program (such as an MD/Ph.D. or JD/Ph.D.) in fall 2016, you are ineligible for the GRFP, even if you are proposing to use the GRFP only for the Ph.D. part of your program. Additionally, applicants who are enrolled, or plan to enroll, in a graduate degree program while on a leave of absence from a professional degree program or professional degree-graduate degree joint program are ineligible for a Graduate Research Fellowship.

Would my application be reviewed if I submit it right after the deadline?

No. You must have submitted your GRFP application by the deadline time. NSF must receive your application by 5 p.m. local time, as determined by the applicant’s mailing address, on the Field of Study specific deadline day (see NSF 16-588). Note: You can track your reference letters submission (Deadline: first Thursday in November, 5 p.m. Eastern Time).

Additional Questions About Eligibility

The official GRFP eligibility guidelines are published in the Program Solicitation. Applicants are strongly encouraged to read them carefully.

Please call the GRF Operations Center at (866) 673-4737 or e-mail info@nsfgrfp.org if you have additional questions about the eligibility guidelines.

Fellow Carol Reiley (front) from the Johns Hopkins University explores a method to automatically assess surgical skill through developing a

Fellow Carol Reiley (front) from the Johns Hopkins University explores a method to automatically assess surgical skill through developing a "language of surgery" based on raw motions recorded by a da Vinci surgical system. Photo credits: Michael Ciesielski and Michael Anft.