Leon, a student with ambitions to advance his study of biotechnology after graduation, was eager to get additional funding to study abroad. However, the application deadline was approaching, and he didn't know how to write an effective application. So he simply searched online for sample application statements for general scholarships, edited the documents, and then added a few sentences about his background and personal information. Because he worried that the burden of paying for graduate school would fall on his shoulders and hoped to securely finance his future, he fully addressed the issue of financial need by dwelling extensively on the dire circumstances he was in. To ensure success, he even turned to an editing service for assistance, paying a large sum of money--but all his efforts were in vain.
This scenario is familiar to many grant applicants. What it illustrates is the challenge lying ahead of most potential grantees, some of whom are applying for different sources of funding at the same time. When I planned to study abroad many years ago, online grant applications were just beginning to be common. Now, with a simple click, applicants can not only find school information easily, they can also search for dozens of scholarships they qualify for. For most people, this is a monumental change that provides tangible opportunities for getting additional financial aid. Yet even with so much information available nowadays, writing a grant application is still a mystery for some recent graduates.
While it can be a painstakingly long and grueling process to prepare a grant application, here are several useful rules to follow:
1) Begin your application process early.
The announcement of fellowship and grant opportunities are often made a year or six months before the deadline, so it is preferable to start early. This will give you enough time to study the funding organizations and their expectations prior to planning and constructing your statement of application. Also, since many scholarships offered by foundations require letters of recommendation, it is wise to provide recommenders with adequate time to give you a good reference.
2) Follow the application guidelines and answer all the listed questions.
It is extremely important to carefully follow the application instructions. If there are specific questions, do your best to answer each one completely. For those questions that do not apply to you, be sure to write "Not applicable" or "N/A" in the space, rather than leave it blank. Whenever possible, polish your draft response to make it as perfect as possible.
3) Emphasize your future contributions rather than your financial needs.
Unless otherwise specified in the application guidelines, allot enough space to discuss your future direction and vision clearly and explicitly. One of the qualities funding organizations look for in a candidate is the ability to articulate your present choices and envision your future; therefore, you must do careful planning to make a strong impression on the selection committee. When financial statements are requested, you may go into detail about your financial needs there.
4) Include facts that distinguish you from the hordes of fellow competitors.
Discussing your aptitudes or leadership roles that you have performed is essential; however, framing your words in a way that sounds self-centered or arrogant is not. Along with your achievements, you can also describe setbacks you have overcome that distinguish you from others, but keep in mind that you should not go overboard or it may come across as self-pitying.
In conclusion, whether you are a recent graduate or a junior researcher, you are bound to have many funding opportunities in the course of your career development. While the selection of grant recipients is often influenced by other factors, such as grades and accomplishments, good preparation can bring the dream of being an award recipient within your reach. Ultimately, a well-written statement of application can help you towards your goal by making your funding request shine.