Grants are an often overlooked source of funding for projects undergraduates would otherwise pay out of pocket, and absolutely vital for graduate students. Unlike student loans, grants do not have to be repaid, although they must be used for their intended purpose.
Two of the most common types of grants are research and travel grants. Research grants can be used to fund student research, most commonly in the sciences, but also in other areas. Travel grants may be used for travel related to research, but travel-specific grants usually fund student attendance at professional conferences.
Undergraduate research is becoming more common, and provides an important competitive edge in applying to graduate school. Research isn't just for science majors - social science, history, literature, and other majors can all benefit from conducting original research as undergraduates.
But research can be expensive. Expenses can include materials, lab processing fees, travel, fees for reprints, journal submission fees, and more. Since undergraduate research is usually relatively small in scope, small research grants can go a long way towards funding your project.
Research grants are offered by professional societies, hobby groups, nonprofits, and other organizations. Universities often offer a small grant program for undergraduate projects, and your department may also have some research money available to students. Your academic advisor can help you find grants for your project.
Student travel grants are typically offered by professional organizations to fund student attendance at professional conferences. Colleges and universities - or your department - may also offer some funding opportunities for students to attend conferences.
For some travel grants, preference is given to students who are presenting research. Others provide partial funding on a first-come, first-served basis, or provide funding for minority or low-income students.
In most cases, your chances are improved by applying as early as possible, since travel grants are often awarded on a rolling basis.
A grant application will typically require a resume or curriculum vitae (CV) from you, as well as letters of recommendation and an application form and/or proposal.
Proposal format varies by discipline and organization, but usually includes a summary of previous work on the topic, a plan for what you want to do, the broader implications of your project, a detailed budget, and a bibliography.
For a successful grant, it's important to be focused and professional. Be specific about your research goals, but choose a project where any outcome is interesting, not one that can “succeed" or “fail. " Even small grants are competitive; don't assume that because a grant is only $500 that you don't have to work hard on your proposal.
After you've completed your research or attended a conference, you have a new entry for your resume. But don't stop there - a section for “Grants and Awards" is a great addition to a resume or CV, particularly if you will be applying to graduate school or jobs with nonprofits.
The ability to write successful grants is an extremely valuable skill in both the academic and professional worlds. It demonstrates your ability to both write persuasively and raise money for projects.
Mark B. Allen is an accomplished college financial aid advisor who is an editorial contributor to Financial Aid Finder. He maintains a free student financial aid blog on which he shares tips for getting college scholarships , grants - including research and travel grants for undergrads, and college student loans . The website is designed for college and high school students as well as parents seeking information on financial aid applications such as the FAFSA, where to find student financial aid, and how to utilize the financial aid office.