Office of Graduate Student External Grants and Fellowships | GradFund

Eligibility vs. Competitiveness: Understanding the Difference and Why It Matters

by | Dec 18, 2017 | Proposal Writing 101, Proposal Writing Advice

Eligibility is one of the most important factors an applicant should look into as they are searching for funding options. After all, if they don’t fit within the criteria specified by the funder, applicants will be disqualified from the competition even if they submit the perfect application. But there is another very important application criterion often overlooked by applicants, and that is competitiveness.

Understanding the difference between the two is crucial. While eligibility is what opens the doors of the funder to the applicant, it is competitiveness that makes an applicant qualify for success. Therefore, as you are working towards building a compelling project narrative, always keep in mind and reflect on the questions below to make sure that you’re bringing your application one step closer to being recognized in the competition.

How do your goals align with those of your funder?

One of the key strategies to help you create a compelling application is to know your funder. Each funder has a different mission and goal regarding why they fund a particular award and particular kinds of research. You can easily find out more about your funder by perusing their website. Some funders even publish abstracts of successful applications, which will give you a sense of what kind of research projects and fields stand out in previous award cycles and what language applicants have used to describe their research. Do you see yourself among those awardees? Doing your homework and familiarizing yourself with the award you’re interested in applying for will help you better elaborate how your goals align with those of your funder.

Why are you the best fit for this award?

After you’ve done some research on your funder, the next step is to think about how you can make your application stand out in the competition. In other words, why should the reviewers pick your application as the one that should be selected to win from among many others? Crafting your narrative with this question in mind, it is important to demonstrate how you best fit with your funder’s selection criteria. As you are preparing your personal statement, show your reviewers what makes you special. While writing your research proposal, highlight a unique contribution your research will make to your field and demonstrate to your reviewers how well you are prepared to carry out what you proposed to do.

How will this award help you get where you want to be?

A well-crafted funding application should provide your readers with a glimpse into three different versions of yourself: past, present, and future. In your application, you should articulate how your prior work has allowed you to get where you are and how your current efforts will help you successfully carry out what you have proposed to do. Remember, however, that your story should also provide your reviewers with an idea of your future self as a researcher and scholar. In other words, how will this opportunity help you get where you want to be? What does that future look like and how do you envision yourself in it? Don’t be afraid to dream big, and let your readers see that.

It’s easy to forget about the questions above as you are deep into drafting and finalizing your application. However, reflecting on these points carefully and revising your application with an eye towards making your narrative speak to your reviewers will ensure that you are not only eligible, but also competitive for an award.

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