The GRFP fellowship application requires three letters of recommendation, two essays, and university transcripts.
So which of these is the most important?
Trick question. There is no “most important component.” Applications are reviewed holistically. This means that the reviewers are supposed to look at the entire application as a whole. Based on that holistic impression, they’ll decide whether you qualify or not.
If they decide you qualify, there might be one element that makes the difference between an honorable mention and winning. And that element might be in either essay or any of the letters.
How can you tip them in your favor?
All components should be mutually reinforcing
Everything you write and everything that’s written about you should be mutually reinforcing. Your broader impact activities should relate to your motivation for choosing your field and your career goals; your preparation should be related to your proposed research project.
Of course, the proposed research essay is important, and you'll surely lose if you can’t pick an important problem, frame a good question, or use appropriate methods that keep the project scope manageable. Bad research always loses.
But great research doesn’t always win. Winning comes when reviewers decide that you - personally - deserve the award. So how do you do that?
Make them love you by answering these questions:
- How will my research impact the broader community?
- How have I demonstrated a commitment to that community?
- What are the social goals of my research?
- How will receiving this fellowship contribute to my career goals?
- Where do I see this research going in 10 years?
These questions will frame your research, as they will help you to understand why you really want to win.