Get Started

The process of finding and applying for funding can be complex and challenging. Jumping right in by searching through Google or diving into funding databases can often prove a bit overwhelming and the best place to start the process is actually to reflect upon your own project and needs. There is a wide range of funding types and opportunities out there and starting by clearly articulating the types of funding that would best support your work and laying out the parameters of the project or projects that you undertake can make the process of locating funding opportunities to apply for a bit more straightforward. The Grad Success team has developed a short resource for outlining your project, the resources that you will need to complete it, and some of the features of the project that will help you to both to find and apply for funding opportunities. It only takes a few minutes to complete and it's generally the best place to start the funding search process.

Once you've laid out your project and needs, it's important to identify whether you are going to be looking for grants, fellowships, or both. Grants fund projects. Though the requirements for grants and the kinds of things that they can be spent on vary considerably, grants are generally used to support project expenses such as equipment, travel to archives or conferences, compensating participants, and other costs that arise as a direct result of completing or disseminating the results of your work. Fellowships fund people. The main purpose of fellowships is to buy time and space for your work. Though the specific costs allowable under fellowships also vary, they are generally designed to support you for specific periods of time such as a year or a semester and cover expenses like rent and food.

Begin the Search

Once you've identified your specific project needs, it's time to start the process of actually looking for funding opportunities. For most students the best place to begin the search is actually by looking at internal opportunities here at Iowa. There are a number of grant and fellowship opportunities available through the Graduate College, and many colleges and departments also have funding opportunities available for their students. One of the most effective strategies for finding funding is often to talk with your advisor, Director of Graduate Studies, or more senior graduate students in your program. They may well be aware of funding opportunities available through the university that can provide the support that you need for your project.

After searching for internal funding opportunities, the next step is to turn your attention to funding opportunities that are external to UI. Here also it will likely be helpful to chat with folks in your department about the kinds of opportunities that students in your discipline or research area apply to, but it's also a good idea to take a look through some of the funding databases that are available to you.

UCLA GRAPES: Created with the support of the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), the GRAPES database is filled with opportunities specific to graduate students. It also has graduate-specific search criteria, allowing you to search for opportunities like dissertation fellowships or postdocs. This often makes it the best external database to start with and it's usually best to start with a somewhat broader search as the database itself is quite focused.

Pivot: The Pivot database is a national database of funding opportunities for graduate students, faculty, and institutions. Because it has such a range of funding opportunities, it's generally a good idea to start with a fairly focused search. Fortunately the Division of Sponsored Programs (DSP) has developed a helpful user guide for navigating Pivot and ProQuest has created a Pivot YouTube channel filled with how-to videos for narrowing your search.

Search Smart

The process of searching for funding opportunities can be frustrating, but there are some important strategies that can help make the process a little easier and maximize your changes of success:

  • Utilize Search Tools: Most funding databases offer a range of search tools and advanced search options and have a lot in common with the databases that you likely utilize for your research. Review these search essentials from the UI Libraries to refresh your memory about the range of tools available for navigating the databases. 
  • Try all Angles: It's easy to really focus in on one articulation of your research and its importance, but the best search strategy is often to think of all of the difference facets of your research and all of the topics or areas where it might have implications. Framing your project from as many angles as possible can help to open up a much wider range of funding opportunities.
  • Follow Through: Though the search databases offer great summaries and overviews, it's important to follow the links that they offer to the funder's website itself. Sometimes deadlines or criteria change and it's always best to get your final information directly from the source.
  • Keep Track: As you search through the databases, you will likely find a number of opportunities that you can't apply for yet. There may be a dissertation fellowship that would be a perfect fit in a few years or a postdoctoral fellowship that looks really exciting. Make sure to start tracking these so that you can revisit them later or, better yet, integrate them into your individual development plan (IDP).

Finally, don't hesitate to ask for help. If you have questions or get stuck, don't hesitate to reach out to our team ( or schedule a funding consultation.

Check Out Our Fellowships Communities

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) supports students in the sciences and related disciplines

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Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation fellowships support students from a range of disciplines and at different stages with the goal of diversifying the professoriate.

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The American Association of University Women (AAUW) offers fellowships for both domestic and international students from a range of disciplines.

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Humanities Fellowships

Our humanities fellowship community supports students applying to a range of humanities fellowship opportunities.

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