NSF season is upon us! The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP) was the only fellowship I applied to in '13 (although there are many great ones!), so I'll try to give some insight into the application process.
One of the most useful webpages I used while applying was a blog post by Alex Lang. He outlines the process (with updated dates), provides links to many tips and has collected examples essays from successful applicants.
To Alex's collection I will add my own essays, hosted here and here.
I didn't keep my reviewer feedback sheets, but my biggest critique was that I did not have a first author paper by the time I applied. That being said, you do not need to have published to win the NSF or to enter graduate school. As long as your show passion and creativity, you should be fine!
Now, a few pieces of concrete advice:
1. Start early: I'm sure you've heard this many, many times by now. But it really helps! Starting early can help you get a clear idea of your research proposal and allow for many people to review your drafts.
2. Show and Tell: Or rather - tell and show. While writing your personal statement, state positive facts about yourself ("Tell") and immediately follow them with an example ("Show"). This is an extremely basic organizational pattern that will keep you on track throughout.
3. Bold stuff: Bold key phrases or accomplishments. The reviewers will love you. Also, don't be afraid of using bulleted or numbered lists!
4. Have an "Accountability Buddy": There is a lot going on fall of senior year. I had an "accountability buddy" to help me keep track of all that needed to be done. Find someone who is also applying to graduate school/fellowships (not necessarily in the same field). Help each other with essays, timelines and GRE prep. This will help you stay on track, and you get to celebrate twice when you both get into grad school!
Good luck to everyone!
by Ashley Villar