Initiatives For Women How to Prepare a Competitive Application-
Frequently Asked Questions:
This web page is intended for potential applicants for Initiatives For Women awards. For the past several years Initiatives For Women (IFW) has offered face-to-face workshops on how to prepare competitive applications. This web page summarizes the information offered in those workshops. Each section is formatted in the form of questions and answers. If you have a question not answered here, please send e-mail to Carol Anne Germain at firstname.lastname@example.org. This document consists of several sections. You may scroll through the entire document, or access the specific sections you need by following these links:
- Introduction: General Questions You May Have About IFW
- The IFW Selection Process
- Your Application Process
- What's Needed to Apply
- Criteria for a Good Application
- Letters of Recommendation
- The Eligibility Form (only one copy)
- The Cover Sheet
- Goals and Plan Letter
- Project Statement (optional)
- Project Budget
- Résumé or Vita
- Don't Let This Happen To You!
- Where Do I Send My Application?
- Further Questions?
Q: What is Initiatives For Women (IFW)?
A: Initiatives For Women is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to supporting the educational and professional goals of women at the University at Albany. To that end, IFW participates in a variety of activities each year to raise money to support recipients chosen through an annual round of applications. Most of the award money comes from individuals who have made donations to support campus women.
Q: What are all these named funds? It seems like there are a lot of different awards and each one of them has different qualifications.
A: IFW grants awards from its general funds and also grants special awards from specific named (or, endowed) funds, such as the Karen R. Hitchcock New Frontier Fund for doctoral-level female students who show great promise of making a positive, transformational difference in our society. An endowed fund means that a donor or group of donors has contributed a significant amount of money to IFW and named the specific IFW award they established. The gift money is invested and the interest proceeds fund an award every year. So, it is not a one-time award. Generally, when donors do this, they have very specific ideas about who should qualify for their awards. IFW must honor these qualifications. Out of our entire pool of applicants, we find those who best match the intentions of the donor of these funds.
Q: What is IFW's goal in giving away these funds?
A: IFW wants to make a difference in your life. We realize that there are key times in a woman's life when she just needs a little "boost" to get to the next step-whatever that step might be. The IFW motto is "Support Her Dream." This is a key concept to keep in mind as you prepare your application. You need to show how IFW can make a difference for you. Remember that most of our award funds come from individuals who wanted to make a difference for women. Show how we can do that for you.
Q: Who is eligible to apply for an award?
A: Any woman who is a University employee (faculty or staff) or registered student (undergraduate or graduate) at the University is eligible to apply. In addition, University at Albany campus groups may apply for funds for programs that support women's concerns or the needs of women on campus.
Q: What do you mean by "How to Prepare a Competitive Application"?
A: Essentially this means "Learning to Write a Good Application." Certain key elements are found in ideal application:
- compelling cover letter
- excellent project description
- clearly demonstrated need
- appropriate and strong references
- solid budget
- strong academics (GPA, transcript) - if applicable
- general benefit to women
A strong application with no general benefit to women is fundable, as is one with some weakness in one of the above elements. However, weakness in two or more elements likely will not be fundable. In addition, you can avoid certain fatal flaws if you pay attention to the hints on this web site.
Q: Is there any place I can see who IFW has funded in the past and what they were funded for?
A: Yes, all the previous recipients are listed in the IFW web pages.
Q: How often does IFW accept applications and give out awards?
A: Once a year in our annual application process.
Q: When is the next round of applications due?
A: Friday, March 6, 2015.
Q: When do I find out if I received an award?
A: Early May 2015, before the end of the semester.
Q: If successful when would I get the award money?
A: Checks will be issued in July 2015 . There is a summer celebration in mid-July (July 16, 2015) at which the recipients who can be present receive their checks or financial aid notice in person (Standish Room). Recipients are stongly encouraged to attend this event. It povides and opportunity for them to met donors and vice versa.
Q: If I can't attend the summer celebration, how will I receive my award?
A: IFW can mail your award after the ceremony if you provide a written request in a letter or via email email@example.com. Please do remember that our donors like to meet the recipients, so try to make every effort to attend the Summer Celebration.
Q: How does IFW make its selections? How many people actually read my application?
A: Essentially, we select by committee consensus. At least five committee members will read your application. It is initially rated by three individuals who compare their ratings and come to agreement on a "team rating" for your application. The team ratings from all four or five teams are compared and collated. At least two other individuals read all the applications to make sure that each group is fairly represented in the overall selection process.
Q: Could you fund everyone who applies?
A: IFW never has enough award money to fund all applications. Hence, the strong applications compete for a finite amount of money. Since we can't fund every request, we fund the strongest and most distinct.
Q: What percentage do you usually fund?
A: Usually we can fund only about 35-40% of the incoming applications. The percentage varies from year to year.
For the purposes of these hints, the reason you are applying is your "project." Your "project" could be professional travel, dissertation expenses, conference attendance, tuition to complete courses, or any of hundreds of other things. Identify your project.
Remember that IFW wants to make a difference for you, and you need to show us how an award will make a difference for you no matter what your project is or how much it costs.
Your Application ProcessQ: What is required to apply?
A: You must submit BOTH an IFW Award Eligibility Form (1) copy and six (6) copies of your application packet (the original and five copies).
Q: What's the most important first step in applying?
A: First, think about why you are applying. (We know you want some money, but why?) What will you use the money for? What is your "project"? Remember that IFW wants to help you further your educational or professional goals. Do you have a special goal that the money will help you achieve? Think about this carefully before putting the time and effort into your application.
A: You can read about the application process in other parts of the IFW web site, but the way to get started is to download the application packet. The application packet is available in MS Word. To download the application packet click here.
Q: What if I have difficulty downloading the file?
A: Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Once I have the packet, then what?
A: We recommend that applicants read through the entire packet before they start writing anything.
Q: How much are the awards?
A: Awards generally range from $500 to $1500.
Q: May I apply for less than $500?
A: Yes, if that's what you need.
Q: May I apply for more than $2,500? If my project is more than $2,500 should I bother to apply?
A: The IFW award limit is $2,500. Be realistic in your expectations. No matter how deserving you are or how much you need more, don't ask for more than what IFW is likely to fund. However, it is perfectly reasonable to ask IFW to fund one piece of your project and show how other parts of your project will be funded from other sources. Your project budget is an important piece of your application.
Q: Okay. I know how much money I want to apply for, and I have the application packet, what should I do first?
A: Immediately start thinking about the various components you need for your application including your goals and plan letter, your budget, your resume, and most immediately, who you will ask to write your letters of recommendation. Remember that you need to give your letter writers time to compose a good reference for you. Ask early.
Q: So what exactly will I be submitting for my application?
A: You need to submit (1) a full application and (2) the eligibility form. Fill out the eligibility form (include one print copy with your packet).
Read your application packet carefully and you will see that you need six collated copies of your application. Each copy will contain your cover sheet, goals and plan letter, project statement (optional), project description, two letters of recommendation, a budget, and your vita or resume. Follow the directions exactly. Put everything in exactly the order requested. Start gathering materials and writing early! Ask for your letters of recommendation as soon as you can.
Make sure your application is complete! Don't be late! It is due Friday, March 6, 2015.
Q: What does Initiatives For Women look for when judging an application?
A: IFW is interested in who you are, what your goal is, and how IFW can help you reach your goal. In addition, IFW applies its standards for a good application (not just an application which is "better than" the others). Criteria may include:
- Academic merit and outstanding scholarship.
- Need. How will the award make a difference or help overcome obstacles?
- Advancement of women in general. Examples of this include applicants:
- in a non-traditional field
- who are non-traditional (students, faculty, or group)
- doing interesting research on or for women
- creating/entering training programs for women.
- Final selections represent the diversity of our applicants and the University.
Q: Are some people better to ask than others for my letters of recommendation? I know lots of people who could write me good letters of support.
A: Pick someone very appropriate for your project. You do not want just friends or relatives to write these letters; you want professional people who know about you, your goals, and, most importantly, your project. UAlbany faculty are the preferred letter writers for student applicants. For dissertation assistance, you'd want to pick your dissertation chair or at least someone on your committee. For an art project, you'd want an art teacher. Professionals would choose colleagues or supervisors familiar with their work and project. Faculty might pick their department chair or colleagues familiar with their project. Everyone can find two people who will say nice things about them, but you want people who can speak about your project and its importance for you.
Q: Are these confidential letters? What if my letter writer insists he/she only submits confidential letters?
A: The letters are not confidential: You will get the original letter and make five additional copies of it to submit in your applications packet. We realize some faculty write only confidential letters of recommendation. Ask if he/she is willing to put six copies of the letter in separate envelopes (give them the envelopes) for you. They will need to give you the letters to submit each sealed envelope with each copy of your application. Please do not send them separately.
Q: The perfect person for me to ask to write a letter is out of the country! Can s/he send a letter via e-mail?
A: With special permission only from the 2015 IFW Award Selection Committee Co-Chair Carol Anne Germain, an emailed letter of recommendation will be accepted. If, indeed, this is the perfect letter writer (e.g., your dissertation advisor or project director) who is out of the area, you may have them send the letter via e-mail to Carol Anne Germain at: email@example.com. (Please note: IFW will not accept local e-mail letters sent just to make the time deadline.)
Q: How do I make sure my letter writers really do write me good letters?
A: Do everything you can to make sure the writer knows about you, your project, and IFW. Don't just ask them to write a letter blindly. Put in writing for them what you are applying for and why. Give them a copy of your IFW application and your resume/curriculum vitae. You might even offer (depending on who you ask) what types of things you would like in your letter.
Q: I don't really know any of my professors that well. How do I get good letters?
A: Reread the preceding question and answer because it would be really helpful in your situation! When you ask a teacher, try to make a connection to that faculty member. Remind them that you were the one in the front row of a certain course last semester or the one who received an excellent grade or wrote a particular paper. Follow up in writing with information to make it easier for the faculty member. Attaching your résumé (presuming it is up-to-date!) is another way for the faculty member to know who you are.
Q: To whom should the letters be addressed?
A: Address letters to the "Members of the IFW Award Selection Committee".
Q: Anything more about letters I should remember?
A: Ask early! Give your letter writers enough time to write you a thoughtful letter. A month should be enough time.
Q: What is the purpose of the Eligibility Form?
A: The eligibility form will provide the selection committee information on your eligibility for awards. The form will collect demographic data from you (contact information, status information), as well as eligibility criteria used for specific awards.
Q: Why does the eligibility form ask me for information such as if I am African-American or a mother?
A: Certain awards have specific criteria that restrict who is eligible or specify that "special consideration" may be given to certain classes of people. For example, the "Honoring Our Mothers" award is restricted to women who are mothers and are currently balancing the demands of motherhood, and school or work.
Q: The eligibility form asks if I'm a U.S. citizen. Am I eligible for an award if I am not a citizen?
A: Yes, you are eligible for an award even if you are not a citizen. Most awards are available to citizens and non-citizens alike. Certain endowed awards are restricted to U.S. citizens.
Q: The eligibility form asks for my GPA. Are awards given only to people with very high GPA's?
A: Not all awards require academic excellence as a criteria. Some explicitly state that academic record will not be used to determine the recipient.
Q: What if my GPA isn't very good because of a bad semester or because I got off to a bad start before settling down?
A: Briefly describe the circumstances in your goals and plans letter if there are special circumstances you would like taken into consideration. Not all awards use academic excellence as a criterion.
Q: It asks about "financial need." Are awards available only to the "needy"?
A: No. Most awards are not specifically targeted at financial need as the overriding qualification.
Q: What is the Project Title/Description?
A: It is a short description of your Project (e.g., "dissertation research on the decision-making processes of abused women", "returning to school to obtain a bachelor's degree in Journalism", "master's level of study in Special Education", "attendance at training seminar", "travel to deliver a conference paper").
Q: What is the "funding requested for"?
A: A short (15-word maximum) summary of your spending list for the funds requested, i.e., tell us what the money will be used for, e.g., "defray the costs of tuition", "fund research and travel costs associated with my doctoral dissertation", "cover partial cost of MCAT test preparation, text books, and fees").
Q: From the applications packet, I see I need a "goals and plan" letter. What advice do you have for this?
A: Take this entire application process (and yourself) seriously! IFW awards are not a give-away. You need to CONVINCE the IFW Selection Committee that you have a dream (goal) and that IFW can help you reach that dream (goal). IFW receives almost a hundred applications each year. The goals and plan letter is critical because it is your introduction to the Selection Committee. This is your opportunity to impress the readers of your application.
What is important for you to remember is that these people cared enough to donate significant amounts of money. You need to take great care in your application.
Make sure you proof read your letter carefully and eliminate any grammatical or spelling errors. Have someone else read your letter to make sure it makes sense.
Stick to the page limit. Use reasonably-sized margins and no less then 12 point type. Don't ramble. Concisely tell us who you are, what your project is and why IFW funding makes a difference. This is not the place to describe details of your research. A separate project statement should be used if your project is complex or cannot be described in a few sentences.
Certain awards have limiting eligibility requirements If you meet any of the special eligibility requirements this will be picked up in your online eligibility form. You may want to elaborate on these criteria in your letter. See the list of awards for details.
Be reasonable in what you include. For example, if you are asking for funding to support your dissertation research, describing the possible impact of your research is good, but trying to describe the statistical methodology you plan to employ is likely too much.
When a selection reader finishes your cover letter, she should have a good idea of who you are, what you want supported, why, and what difference an IFW award can make.
Remember, above all, IFW wants to make a difference!
Q: Whew! Is that it?
A: One more thing, make sure you represent yourself accurately. Don't say you are a "business student" if you have not yet been accepted into the School of Business or say you are a "Ph.D. candidate" if you have not completed your coursework and exams and been admitted to "candidacy."
Q: What is a project statement?
A: A project statement is a one-page elaboration on the project presented in your goals and plans letter. You may use this to describe specifics of the project or justify and explain budget items that are not clear from the budget sheet.
Q: Why is a project statement optional?
A: Some projects are easily described in the goals and plans letter, and their associated budget plans are simple and fully described on the budget sheet.
The project statement is only needed if you need to describe the details of your project so that the selection committee understands what is being requested. The project statement is the place to tell of any extraordinary circumstances or describe unusual budget items. For example, one women was requesting funding for very expensive books needed for her dissertation. The budget sheet only said "books $300." Her project statement explained that these were beyond normal book expenses and the books could not be borrowed through interlibrary loan. This explanation will not fit on the budget sheet but it is important to getting her request accepted.
Q: From the applications packet, I also see I need a project budget. Can I just say I need $500 for expenses?
A: Unfortunately, gross dollars figures are not sufficient. Your project budget should show a line-by-line itemization of your project expenses as well as when you will use the money.
Q: Do I need to provide exact amounts or can I approximate?
A: You may estimate, but be as realistic and accurate as you can be. Do not inflate your budget (e.g., adding a $400. taxi ride to get to JFK airport). Reviewers give applications with inflated budgets lower scores.
Q: Are there time limits for when I can use the money?
A: Yes, the money must be used for expenses during 2015 (spring, summer or fall semesters) or spring 2016. Further, you must be affiliated with the University both at the time you apply (spring 2015) and when the activities you are funding take place.
Q: Wait a minute. I thought I didn't even find out until May whether I received an award. I can apply for spring 2015 expenses?
A: Yes, you can apply for expenses for spring 2015. This means you need to pay for these expenses yourself somehow and then hope you will get an award to allow you to retroactively cover the expenses. There is no guarantee you will get such an award.
Q: Can I apply for expenses for fall 2015 if I am graduating in May?
A: Only if you will have some other continuing association with the University (perhaps as a graduate student or employee) in the fall.
Q: What is most important about the budget?
A: Be serious and realistic about the numbers. Take care to neither over- nor under-estimate your expenses. Provide justification in your optional project statement for items that are not self-evident. Check your math.
Q: What is the selection committee looking for in the budget?
A: A complete and reasonable budget. Get the best cost estimates you can, especially for "big ticket" items such as travel, conference registration, tuition, transcription expenses, or equipment.
Q: What should I list?
A: List all expenses you are covering yourself and those being covered by other funding sources. You can group like items such as "supplies" on one line. Our reviewers are very thorough and will look this information up, so make sure to do your own research thoroughly.
List where else have you applied for support. IFW considers it very positive if you are seeking other sources of funding. If you are faculty, have you considered FRAP, if appropriate? If you are a grad student, have you looked at GSO grant applications?
Q: This seems pretty self-explanatory. Does my resume need to be just one page?
A: No, it can be longer if necessary to include your relevant background and experience. Clearly, IFW would expect a resume from an undergraduate student to be quite different from that of a professional or the curriculum vita of a faculty member.
Q: Is a transcript required?
A: No, but highly recommended. The Selection committee, looks at transcripts to provide a more complete picture of the applicant's academic history.
Q: Do the student transcripts need to be official?
A: No, a photocopy copy of a recent transcript is acceptable or a print-out of your unofficial transcript from MyUAlbany is acceptable. Attach your résumé.
Q: What are the "fatal mistakes" that hurt an application?
A: Here are a few mistakes and why they are perceived so negatively by IFW:
- Assuming financial need alone is sufficient criteria for an award. (It's not enough; you also need a strong application.)
- Handwritten applications. (It makes it seem as if you don't care enough to make the effort to put your best forward.)
- Incomplete applications. (This indicates a lack of preparation or that the applicant didn't take the application seriously with one possible exception) or too long (didn't follow the instructions.) Missing letters of recommendation.
- No connection to the University at the time of application or when award money is spent. (To be eligible, you must be connected to the University when you apply and when the expenses occur. Don't apply for funds to be spent after you graduate or leave the University.)
- Incorrectly describing yourself and your connection to the University. (Whether done accidentally or on purpose, inaccurate attribution is received very negatively. Don't make false claims!)
- Asking for a "wish list." (A "wish list" is a list of items you'd like IFW to pay for but the items are either random or unrelated to each other showing a lack of focus or project relevance. Alternatively, the "wish list" items may all be relevant but the total is unreasonably high and no priority is provided. IFW won't guess your priorities.)
- Having a large budget and asking IFW for partial funding for the project with no indication of where the rest of the money will come from. (IFW wants to make a difference, and it can't do that if your project is never completed.)
- Forgetting to fill out the eligibility form and/or forgetting to complete the application packet.
Q: Once I have completed my application packet, where do I turn it in?
A: Your mailed packet must be postmarked by February 28, 2015 or turn in your application by no later than Friday, March 6, 2015 to:
Dr. Carol Anne Germain
University at Albany LI 141A
1400 Washington Avenue
Albany NY 12222
Q: Where is LI 141A?
A: LI 141A is located on the first floor of the University Library (Uptown Campus), in the Main Group Study Area.
Q: How late is the office open?
A: 5 p.m.
Q: What if I have a question that is not answered on this page?
A: Send your question to Carol Anne Germain at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if the question is of general interest, we will add the answer to this page!