Frequently Asked Questions

Please click here for the full list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Please click here for the GRFP Application Technical (FAQs).

Below are some of the most frequently asked 2021 application questions.

The eligibility requirements for the NSF GRFP competition are contained in Section IV of the NSF GRF Program Solicitation.

You can apply both before you begin your graduate studies and as an early graduate student. If you have completed more than one year in a graduate degree program, there are restrictions on your eligibility to apply. Check the Detailed Eligibility Requirements in the NSF GRFP Solicitation to be sure you’re eligible.

Individuals pursuing a master’s degree simultaneously with the bachelor’s degree (joint bachelor’s-master’s degree) are considered to be graduate students and are limited to one application to NSF GRFP. These individuals can apply EITHER while enrolled in the joint degree program OR as first-year doctoral students shortly after completion of the joint degree (see additional information below). All applicants in joint bachelor’s-master’s degree programs must have completed three years in the joint program as of the application deadline.

Possibly. Individuals who have completed more than one academic year in a degree-granting program, who have earned a previous master’s degree of any kind (including bachelor’s-master’s degree), or who have earned a professional degree (e.g., law, medicine), are eligible only if they have had a continuous interruption in graduate study of at least two consecutive years immediately prior to the application deadline, and are not enrolled in a degree-granting graduate program at the application deadline. This means that you cannot already be enrolled in graduate school at the time of the application deadline. You must address the reasons for the interruption in graduate study in your Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement. See the NSF GRF Program Solicitation for detailed eligibility requirements.

Having a master’s degree makes you ineligible to apply to GRFP unless it was followed by a continuous interruption in graduate study of at least two consecutive years immediately prior to the application deadline; in this case, you would not be eligible because you are already enrolled again in graduate school.

The NSF GRF Program Solicitation contains the official guidance regarding eligible fields and programs of study; see Section IV.3. Field of Study, Degree Programs, and Proposed Research.

  • Individuals who are not U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents are not eligible. Foreign nationals who are in the U.S. on a student visa and those awaiting green cards are not eligible.
  • Individuals who do not intend to enroll or be enrolled in a research-based graduate degree program at a non-profit institution of higher education accredited in, and having a campus located in, the United States, its territories, or possessions, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, in an eligible Field of Study in STEM or STEM education (see Appendix and Section IV.3 in the NSF GRF Program Solicitation for
    eligible Fields of Study) are not eligible.
  • Individuals who have previously accepted a NSF GRFP offer are not eligible.
  • Individuals who were awarded the Fellowship and did not notify NSF of their intention to accept or decline the fellowship by the published deadline for accepting the fellowship are not eligible.
  • Individuals who have previously applied while enrolled in a degree-granting graduate program are not eligible.
  • Individuals who have earned a doctoral or terminal degree in any field are not eligible.
  • Individuals who are current NSF employee are not eligible.
  • Individuals who will be enrolled in a practice-oriented professional degree program such as medical, dental, law, and public health degrees at any time during the fellowship are not eligible. Ineligible degree programs include, but are not limited to, MBA, MPH, MSW, JD, MD, DVM, and DDS.
  • Individuals who plan to pursue a joint science-professional degree program (such as an MD/Ph.D. or JD/Ph.D.) even if they are proposing to use the GRFP only for the Ph.D. part of their program are not eligible. 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 not eligible.

Select the Major Field of Study and the subfield that is closest to your research interests. If the subfield is not listed, it may not be eligible for NSF GRFP.
Choose your Major Field of Study carefully. Your choice determines the disciplinary knowledge of the experts who will review your application. If you are offered a Fellowship, it will be in the Major Field of Study that you chose in your application, and cannot be applied to another field or discipline for the first year of the Fellowship. The name of the degree program does not need to match the Major Field of Study exactly, but must be in the same discipline (i.e., a science discipline cannot be substituted for an engineering discipline or vice versa, e.g. chemistry for chemical engineering).

Applicants are advised to select the Major Field of Study and Subfield in the GRFP Application Module (see Fields of Study in the Appendix of the Program Solicitation) that is most closely aligned with the proposed graduate program of study and research plan. The “Other” subfield category should be selected only if the proposed subfield is not covered by one of the listed subfields, and should not be used to designate a subfield that is more specific than the subfields listed. If the proposed subfield is not listed in the Appendix, it may not be eligible for Fellowship support.

Fellows must enroll in a graduate degree program consistent with the Major Field of Study proposed in their application in the first year of the Fellowship.

The statements must be written using:

  1. Standard 8.5″ x 11″ page size
  2.  Times New Roman font for all text, Cambria Math font for equations, Symbol font for non-alphabetic characters (it is recommended that equations and symbols be inserted as an image)
  3.  11-point or higher font, except text that is part of an image
  4.  1″ margins on all sides, no text inside 1” margins (no header, footer, name, or page number)
  5. No less than single spacing (approximately 6 lines per inch). Do not use line spacing options such as “exactly 11 point,” that are less than single spaced.
  6. Compliance with these requirements will be automatically checked by the GRFP Application Module. If your documents are not compliant, they will not be accepted by the NSF GRFP Application Module.

Upload your documents early to ensure they are format-compliant. Non-compliant documents will delay upload of the complete application and may result in missing the deadline.

Reviewed applicants will be notified of the results of the competition by early April.

GRFP Application Technical FAQs

All fellowship application documents must be uploaded in PDF format. These documents include:

  1. Transcripts
  2. Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement
  3. Graduate Research Plan Statement
  4. Reference Letters
The Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement and the Graduate Research Plan Statement must conform to the following requirements:

  1. Times New Roman font for all text, Cambria Math font for equations, Symbol font for non-alphabetic characters (it is recommended that equations and symbols be inserted as an image)
  2. Font size 11-pt or higher (except text that is part of an image)
  3. No less than single spacing (approximately six lines of text within a vertical space of one inch)
  4. 1″ margins on all sides, no text inside 1″ margins (no header, footer, name, or page number)
  5. Standard letter paper size (8.5″ by 11”)
  6. File cannot be a scanned image
  7. File size cannot exceed 10 MB
  8. File cannot be password protected
  9. File cannot be empty
  10. Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement cannot exceed 3 pages
  11. Graduate Research Plan Statement cannot exceed 2 pages

Reference letters and transcripts must conform to the following requirements:

    1. File size cannot exceed 10 MB
    2. File cannot be password protected or encrypted
    3. File cannot be empty
    4. Reference letter cannot exceed 2 pages

Failure to comply with the above rules will result in one or more error messages. You will be required to correct the error(s) and upload the PDF again.

Some potential root causes may be:

Remove page numbers: Be sure that the document has no text in the header or footer including page numbers.

Review inserted images or shapes: Margins can be set to one inch, but a stray image or shape can violate the margin rule. Setting the margin rule to one inch would not automatically correct the images or shapes back within margins.

Much depends on the particular word processor used because of how word processors export files to PDF.

For Microsoft Office, “Select All” will not include inserted images, shapes, and numbered lists or bullets. Each object will have its own font and those would have to be updated to accepted fonts and sizes. Be mindful of images inserted into shapes, as each image and shape can have its own font type.

In Microsoft Office Word, double-click an image to ensure it was not inserted as an object (e.g., PowerPoint slide). If another application opens, this means a non-graphical image was inserted and the object contains invalid metadata that will make the PDF upload fail. Re-insert an image by pasting it as an image.

If your image includes text (titles, labels, captions, etc.), that text should be part of the image and not editable. Failure to make all text part of the image could result in font type and font size errors.

Cambria Math font for equations and Symbol font for special characters will be supported in the file; however, we strongly recommend that equations and special characters and symbols be inserted as a non-editable image to bypass the compliance checking altogether. This will avoid font type and font size errors.

  1. OpenOffice inserts an unallowable font for superscript and subscript.
  2. Google Docs may not properly export bulleted text and should not be used.
  3. Certain LaTeX-generated PDF elements are not yet supported. If using LaTeX, use the function to create a PDF and check to ensure that it is accepted by the GRFP Application Module in advance of the deadline.
  4. Microsoft Office for Macs “Save as PDF” functionality “Best for Printing” may not be supported. Instead, select the “Best for electronic distribution and accessibility (uses Microsoft online service)” option.
  5. Older versions of Microsoft Word (2007 or earlier) may produce font errors.
  6. For Microsoft Office, do not use “Print as PDF” to create a PDF. Instead, use “Export” and “Create PDF.”

I continue to receive an error message and I know I am using an acceptable font type.

  1. Open the PDF.
  2. Right click on the document content.
  3. Select Document Properties from the list.
  4. Select the Fonts tab (third tab) at the top.
  5. Review the list of font types.
  6. Only Times New Roman is accepted. Cambria Math and Symbol fonts may be used for equations.

Your request could not be completed due to the following reasons:

An issue with your file upload has been encountered. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please verify your file and try your upload again. If the issue persists, you may contact the NSF Help Desk at ithelpcentral@nsf.gov or 1-800-673-6188.

a. Check if there are blank pages within the PDF. If so, complete the following steps:

  • Export the PDF to Word
  • Delete the blank page(s)
  • Re-save the Word document as a PDF
  • Upload the PDF to GRFP

b. If there are no blank pages, then complete the following steps:

  • Export the PDF to Word
  • RE-save the Word document as a PDF
  • Upload the PDF to GRFP

Your request could not be completed due to the following reasons:

An issue with your file upload has been encountered. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please verify your file and try your upload again. If the issue persists, you may contact the NSF Help Desk at ithelpcentral@nsf.gov or 1-800-673-6188.

a. Check if there are blank pages within the PDF. If so complete the following steps:

  • Export the PDF to Word
  • Delete the blank page(s)
  • Re-save the Word document as a PDF
  • Upload the PDF to GRFP