How to Apply for External Support

Professor and students

"Faculty scholarship is the lifeblood of innovation in the curriculum... Essential to excellence in scholarship is engagement with the external audiences that define each of the disciplines that faculty are engaged in. Our academic reputation - our ability to recruit faculty and, in some ways, our ability to recruit students - depends on retaining our prominence with those external communities."

— Thomas Stephenson
Provost and James H. Hammons Professor of Chemistry



Proposal writing can help you become a better scholar, teacher, and researcher. Even when a research proposal isn't funded, you will benefit from arguing its merit and getting reviewer feedback. In fact, some programs prefer to award grants to resubmissions. 

Process Overview

Plan Ahead

  • Preparing your application may take weeks or months, and receiving a response could take six months to a year, so get started well in advance of the application deadline.
  • Think about how your proposed research project fits into your long-range professional plans.
  • Read agency guidelines and program announcement fully.
  • Strategize about what steps or resources will better position you to be funded (for example, collecting preliminary data, finding collaborators with complementary expertise, leveraging experience with smaller grants to secure funding from large agencies, etc.)
  • If your research will involve human subjects and/or identifiable private information about them, consult Swarthmore's Institutional Review Board.
  • If your research will involve animals, consult Swarthmore's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).
  • If applying online to a government agency, see the office of Sponsored Programs Guide to Preparing Electronic Proposals.


  • Draft a brief project description and, if required by grantor, a rough budget.
  • Email these, along with the name and url of your selected grant program, to a member of the Sponsored Programs Office and Senior Accountant Denise Risoli ( Let us know if you need an institutional letter of support; we will draft one for the Provost's signature. If you need external letters of support from colleagues or collaborators, request them early.
  • Draft your full proposal narrative (Key Proposal Components) and budget justification (see Information Frequently Required by Grantors).
  • Ask a colleague (ideally, one who has received the same sort of grant) to read your draft and give you feedback. Sponsored Programs office staff are available to proofread and/or make editorial suggestions and can provide targeted information about various aspects of the College to enhance your proposal.


  • Fill out the office of Sponsored Programs Grant Proposal Review Form and forward to the Sponsored Programs office to circulate for institutional signatures, at least two weeks before the deadline.
  • If applying to NSF or NIH, there are additional forms that you need to fill out and send to us.
  • Once the office of Sponsored Programs has obtained institutional approvals, you may submit your proposal or (if required by grantor) have us submit it on your behalf.
  • Please notify the office of Sponsored Programs regarding your proposal outcome, so that we can help establish a restricted fund for your grant, track your grant's reporting requirements, consult about proposal revision and re-submission, and/or make other funding suggestions.

Additional Resources

The Art of Writing Proposals (published by the Social Science Research Council)

Proposal Writing Short Course (a resource of the Foundation Center)

Evaluation Tooklit (a resource of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation)

Writing Your Application (for proposals to the National Institutes of Health)