Applying for Grants and Fellowships as an International Student – Part One

It would not be wrong to say that my introduction to the world of external funding happened when I started my doctoral program in Anthropology at Rutgers. As an international student coming from a country that has very limited external grant and fellowship options for study and research in higher education, I was both excited and overwhelmed by this, back then, quite foreign terrain. Having successfully (and sometimes not so successfully!) navigated the external funding landscape as someone who has had limited options to work with, I would like to address four major myths in which international graduate students like myself often come to believe in their search for external funding. In this post, I’ll cover the first two myths.

Myth #1: There is no funding available for international students

My excitement about the many funding opportunities I’d been introduced to as I entered my program took a big hit when I realized that my citizenship status made me ineligible for some of these opportunities, especially early graduate study fellowships such as the NSF-GRFP and the Ford Foundation’s Predoctoral Fellowship. However, the fact that international students are not eligible for certain awards does not mean that there are no funding options available to them. In my field, for instance, even though there weren’t many options for early graduate study fellowships, I could apply for almost all of the major dissertation research grants such as the NSF-Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant, SSRC International Dissertation Research Fellowship, and the Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant. Although your options may seem limited to you from where you stand, you may still have plenty to work with. Come and talk to GradFund, reach out to fellow international students in your program, and consult your advisor! But don’t let eligibility requirements mislead you into believing that you don’t qualify for anything and don’t give up on applying for external funding.

Myth #2: Because I have fewer funding options available, I don’t have to start thinking early about planning my funding timeline

Integrating your external funding applications into your graduate career is one of the core suggestions we have for students at GradFund. Although I’m a strong proponent of this approach now, I, unfortunately, didn’t come to accept it naturally or easily. At the beginning of my graduate career, hastily deciding that there was nothing for me to apply for at that point, I decided to skip becoming a part of the GradFund summer mentoring program in my first year at Rutgers (and the year after that and the one after!). I knew that I needed to do fieldwork in my fourth year, but the reality of needing funds to do research did not sink in until the very panicky first months of my third year in the program when I needed to apply for grants.

Knowing the external funding cycle and creating your timeline is key to integrating your funding applications into your graduate career. Students usually apply for grants and fellowships a year before they will need the funds, which makes planning early even more important. For instance, if you plan to conduct fieldwork for your dissertation research in Fall 2017, you will need to start applying for funds in early Fall 2016. In a similar manner, if you want funds to help you complete your dissertation during the 2017-2018 academic year, you will need to apply for external awards in early Fall 2016. This also means that you will need to have completed your search for external funding and identified your funders much earlier than the application deadline, and have a full draft to work on revising and polishing over the summer.

I would like to underscore that the fact that you have fewer external funding options as an international student does not mean that you have lower chances of getting funded. But it does mean that you have to do your best in each application because you already have a limited number of awards to apply for. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that you start planning out your funding timeline as early as possible. Knowing what is available to you will give you a sense of direction and confidence as you are working on your initial drafts. Although the deadlines seem to be rather far away from where you stand right now, they do come quickly. So work on your funding timeline now to avoid the stress and panic later.

These are the two major myths in which international graduate students often come to believe in their search for external funding. Stay tuned for Myths 3 and 4 next time!

This entry was posted in Planning When to Apply, Proposal Writing Advice, Understanding Award Types and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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