Hard work and persistence — and for research students, an innovative idea — can help bring down the cost of getting your degree. Several experts share their strategies for winning scholarships, grants and other awards.
Do Your Homework
With so many opportunities for earning extra cash (see chart), some students might feel overwhelmed as to where to start their search. To help you narrow down the list — and ensure you're applying for awards you have a decent chance of winning — take advantage of the databases put together by APA and the Association for Psychological Science's (APS) Student Caucus. Both of these databases allow students to search by topic and application requirements. They often also include contacts for award committees — information students can use before they write their applications, says Andrew Butler, PhD, who helped develop the APS award database. Reach out to the award committee, explaining what you plan to propose to make sure it's a good fit for the award, he says.
Follow the Rules
If an application calls for a three-page summary of your research, don't submit something that's three pages and a couple of lines, says APAGS Associate Executive Director Nabil El-Ghoroury, PhD. "When you don't stick to the limits, your application is ignored," El-Ghoroury says. Butler agrees. "One mistake people make is bypassing the eligibility requirements and just applying for whatever," he says.
Demonstrate a Need
It's important when submitting an application for a research-based grant or fellowship that you document how your research is different from what's already been studied in your area of interest. Then discuss how your findings might play a role in the development of intervention and prevention efforts.
A $100 travel stipend and waived conference fees aren't as glamorous as a full ride to grad school, but such perks can add up, Butler says. "One thing students really don't realize is how few people apply for a lot of these awards — particularly the smaller ones," Butler says. "You really do have a pretty good chance if you just take a bit of time to apply for them." Plus, once you have won a few smaller awards, bigger prize committees may find you more appealing, Butler says.
Recycle Your Ideas
Students often find themselves writing up their research or summarizing their clinical experience — for internship applications, publication purposes or conference presentations. Repurpose those summaries in your scholarship and grant applications rather than start from scratch every time, says Butler. But make sure you make the application relevant to the awarding organization, rather than just reusing old information wholesale. For example, submissions to NIH must include how the research is relevant to public health. An application to NSF must mention the project's intellectual merit and broader impact.
State Your Qualifications
Students don't always make it clear why they're qualified for a certain grant or award, El-Ghoroury says. "If it's an award for Latino graduate students, be sure to say that you're Latino somewhere in your cover letter," he says. "That way, you're almost doing the work for the reviewer."
In addition to reading through your application several times to check for grammatical errors, typos and missed words, have someone else review it, El-Ghoroury says. "Often, we get so intimately attached to our research that we don't see errors or places where things aren't clear," he says.
If you aren't chosen as an award recipient, ask the prize committee why. Send them an email thanking them for their consideration, and then note that you'd like to improve your chance for similar awards in the future and that you'd like additional feedback on your weaknesses. You can use that information to reapply for the same award next year or for other awards, says Butler. "Even if you get a rejection, what you learn may come in handy when you're writing up your research for publication in a journal or talking about it at a conference or out in the real world," Butler says. "These skills are going to pay off in the long run."
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