Tips on Grant Searches

Who is Eligible?

Graduate students at all levels of study are eligible for funding. This includes beginning master’s candidates through dissertation-level Ph.D.’s. All you need is a clear idea of where you are going and the basic skills to translate that goal into a grant application.

Information Sources

Visit the GradGrants Center (GGC) at Wells Library, Room E544. In addition to online resources, the GGC has a library of reference books listing grant sources – ask for a copy of our bibliography.


The majority of graduate student funding programs specify deadline dates for the receipt of applications. Meeting those deadlines is a prime factor in succeeding at the grants game. There are other important factors as well: whether the application is appropriate to the sponsor’s needs, whether it is well-documented and written clearly, and whether it shows a creative, innovative approach — but all of these factors are nullified by a late application. Failure to meet the deadline date is the most common reason that an application fails. Always check directly with the sponsor to confirm the deadline date and to find out if application forms must be requested within a certain time frame.

Plan Ahead

Start thinking about the grant search now! Summer is often a good time to begin a grants search, without the pressure of full-time class schedules and imminent grant deadlines. Nearly 65% of all grant deadlines fall between November and March; planning ahead allows you to gather needed information over the summer and get prepared for the crush of deadlines beginning in November. Remember, the average turnaround time (from application to acceptance) runs six to nine months.

Trading Up

Not all students are immediately ready or able to compete for large awards. There are many small grants which are ideal springboards for “trading up” to larger awards later on, particularly for new graduate students. Trading up can help you both in the long and short run. Many sponsors offer awards in the $250-$1000 range, often in the form of essay prizes, research supplements, or tuition assistance. Although small grants will not pay your tuition and living expenses or finance your research project, they are a good investment in your future nonetheless — sponsors look favorably on past grant winners, even winners of relatively small awards. When you apply for a $10,000 dissertation-level award, your track record will work in your favor. The sponsor will see that you have been through a competitive review process and have come out on top.

Identifying Appropriate Funding Sources

The first step to locating appropriate programs is to get your thoughts in order! Define yourself and your project using the following categories:

  • Type of program
  • Project location
  • Constituency affected
  • Personal characteristics of applicant
  • Duration of project
  • Amount of funds
  • Subject area
  • Purposes of project
    1. Are you looking for fellowship money (money for living expenses) or grant funds to cover a research project? Other possibilities include travel funds or summer internships that offer a living stipend.
    2. Consider personal characteristics such as sex, age, ethnic group, marital status, residence, honors, and publications.
    3. Define as completely as possible your field of interest. Make a list of general and specific keywords that apply to your topic; don’t forget geographic location and constituency!
    4. Define the project in terms of duration, financial needs, and contribution to your academic requirements. Estimate how much money you need. Sponsors want to feel that their money will be used productively; your request should be appropriate to your needs and budget, and you may need to be prepared to explain from where the balance of your support will come.

Funding programs are set up with the express purpose of giving away money and with a specific goal in mind, often to advance a particular area of research and scholarship. Sponsors welcome applications from qualified graduate students whose research and academic careers they can advance. They also hope to advance the cause to which they are dedicated. Therefore, the key to finding a grant is identifying the sponsor’s goals or needs and then helping to fulfill them through your work.

The Proposal

The proposal is your chance to present your ideas. Show what makes you stand out as an individual. Don’t be afraid to show enthusiasm about your project. If you can make your proposal interesting and present a true picture of yourself and your goals, you are ahead of the game.

Your proposal must clearly establish a link between your project and the interest of the sponsor. Program announcements usually state that one of the selection criteria is the relevance of the proposed research to the goals and interests of the organization. It is up to you to point out this relationship. For specific instructions on successful proposal writing techniques, check the GradGrants Center library; we have a number of books on this topic that may be helpful. The GradGrants Center also provides an experienced grant-writing consultant to assist you one-on-one in writing your proposal.

Success or Failure

If your application is accepted and you are awarded money, rejoice; you have made an excellent beginning. Notify your adviser and department chair, as well as Research at IU and the GradGrants Center. If your application is rejected, don’t despair! It happens to the best and most experienced researchers. Remember to look upon the grant-seeking process as an element of your education, and make use of your attempt to try to improve your chances of future success. Don’t give up!

– Adapted from “The Grant-Seeking Process,” by Risa Sodi and Andrea Leskes, in Peterson’s Grants for Graduate Study, pp. 7-28.