I am a masters student and will get my degree this December having spent 1 summer, 2 spring, and 3 fall semesters to get it. I switched from non-thesis to thesis late in this process which is why I am making up for lost time in the lab and taking so long.

My question is related to my search for PhD funding. Many fellowships I come across (the NSF GRFP for example) require no more than 1 year of graduate studies completed at the time of application, despite offering ~4 years of funding for PhD. This is very frustrating because it seems like I am unable to get PhD funding just because I am applying late in my masters, so I wonder:

What is the purpose of this eligibility requirement which stops students like me (who's doctoral candidacy/experience would be effectively identical to an eligible student's) from applying?

Is there any way I can waive this requirement?

  • 1
    This document suggests that you can be eligible if you have a gap of at least two years between master's and PhD. (But I am not sure).
    – GoodDeeds
    Jul 21, 2021 at 16:35
  • For a definitive answer, you'll either need to find NSF documentation or reach out to an NSF program answer. Also, consider slitting your two questions into separate questions. Jul 21, 2021 at 17:41

2 Answers 2


I believe NSF is expecting top students that will get the few NSF scholarships available are going to go directly from a bachelor's to a PhD or MS+PhD program, rather than doing a masters in between. Presumably they get plenty of qualified applications from this applicant pool so there isn't any need to expand the pool. They're not looking to add-on funding for someone taking a longer time in graduate school or who has already had funding for their first few years.

Seems they do have some allowances for people returning to school, but I have no idea how likely it is that people applying in that situation actually get funding. I'd direct you to the FAQs on the page you linked, a couple are possibly relevant to you:

Individuals who have completed more than one academic year in a degree-granting program, who have earned a previous master’s degree of any kind (including bachelor’s-master’s degree), or who have earned a professional degree (e.g., law, medicine), are eligible only if they have had a continuous interruption in graduate study of at least two consecutive years immediately prior to the application deadline, and are not enrolled in a degree-granting graduate program at the application deadline. This means that you cannot already be enrolled in graduate school at the time of the application deadline.

Having a master’s degree makes you ineligible to apply to GRFP unless it was followed by a continuous interruption in graduate study of at least two consecutive years immediately prior to the application deadline; in this case, you would not be eligible because you are already enrolled again in graduate school.

  • I think the intention was actually to level the applicant pool, so that people from strong undergraduate backgrounds don't get multiple opportunities to apply while people from weak backgrounds only get one. Jul 21, 2021 at 18:38
  • @ElizabethHenning I don't quite follow that logic.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 21, 2021 at 18:43
  • There's historically a huge problem with GRFP applicants, and hence GRFP recipients, coming overwhelmingly from a handful of schools. This problem is made worse if a "strong" applicant gets three chances to apply competitively--as was formerly the case--whereas a "weak" applicant isn't ready to make a competitive application until the second year of grad school. I don't know whether this new policy is helping, but I believe that was the reasoning behind it. Jul 21, 2021 at 18:47
  • @ElizabethHenning There seems to be a separate restriction on multiple applications from the same person that makes sense based on that reasoning. In the situation you describe, it seems like it would be worse to use the current policy, because in your scenario the strong applicant still gets their chance to apply in their first year, while the weak applicant doesn't get a chance to apply at all if they aren't ready to make a competitive application until they become ineligible.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 21, 2021 at 19:34

You need to pick up the phone and call the NSF. And then they will probably tell you that in a grey area such as yours, you need to submit a completed application and they will determine your eligibility after they receive it.

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