Skip to toolbar

Application Tips

Learn how to prepare a competitive grant application.
A Student Engagement Network grant can be a great way to fund your engagement experience and further develop the skills you need to reach your career goals. The below information will help you understand the application review criteria and how to answer the critical components of the application—the impact statement, intended growth areas, and need for funding.

Application Review Criteria

Applications are reviewed by a team of faculty and staff at Penn State that represent a variety of student-centered offices, including Undergraduate Education, Student Affairs, Outreach and Online Education, University Libraries, and other programs and departments across the University. The review team uses a scoring rubric to rate each application on the below sections.

Category More Successful Less Successful
Overall description Describe the engagement experience in a clear manner that provides excellent detail and purpose Fail to include requested information or only provide sufficient information with lack of detail
Impact statement Exhibit a passion for the engagement experience and clearly explain the intended impact on individual learning in addition to the broader impact on the community Explain the importance of the experience in partial detail and describe less, little, or no individual and/or greater community impact
Growth areas Express excellent awareness and enthusiasm to incorporate chosen growth areas into the experience; expand on values, self-awareness, core beliefs, and important interactions with other people and systems; discuss the skills and tools the individual plans to use, hope to gain, and/or will apply after the experience is over Express less, some, little, or no awareness of the growth areas and their impact on individual transformation
Funding need statement Complete and attach budget using the template provided and build a strong case of need that includes relevant information and clear details Fail to provide a budget with partial descriptions and/or lack of  requested information
Example Application

Engagement experience category: Undergraduate research

Please describe your engagement experience in a few sentences (when, where, what).
​​I would like to conduct research under Dr. _____________(name) in ____________Laboratory (location, Pennsylvania) from date through date to attain hands-on experience in a medical imaging laboratory. Courses such as Technical Foundations in Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Medical Imaging, and Applied Statistics have sparked my interest in MRI. Although the etiology and expression of human psychiatric disorders is complex, humans and mammals share basic emotional processes with similar behavioral and neurobiological changes. Accordingly, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis ​is studied for its role as a central stress response system. Since HPA axis activation is critical for homeostatic stress response, a stronger understanding of what changes in the brain upon a change in the HPA axis is necessary. The purpose of this project is to study the chronic HPA axis perturbation in a rodent model of mental disorders. This independent research project is an unpaid research opportunity. Therefore, I am requesting funding from the Student Engagement Network Grant Program to offset living expenses.

Student clearly describes the engagement experience in a manner that provides excellent detail and purpose.

Please explain what impact you hope to make during your engagement experience.

As the Vice President of __________, I promote health awareness, educate on health issues, and provide health services to the Penn State and local community. In addition to relevant engineering coursework, Club name has sparked my interest in mental health. This engagement experience will give me the necessary knowledge to educate students about the stigma surrounding mental health disorders. With this information, I will promote mental health awareness in our community by conducting presentations for student organizations and holding informational tables, citing my proposed work this summer as an example of the effects of chronic stress on mental health. I hope to better University culture by increasing the idea of mental health positively. This experiment will address fundamental questions in neuroscience, such as the downstream effects of HPA axis dysregulation. Understanding the HPA axis and how it affects the brain and behavior can improve the research group’s functional brain model as well as contribute to therapeutic options and developmental risk identification for mental health disorders.

Student exhibits a passion for the engagement experience and clearly explains their intended impact in clear detail.

Please explain how this engagement experience can improve your systems thinking.
Through fMRI imaging and behavior tests, this engagement experience will challenge me to create a system that correlates observed behavioral responses to changes in neural activity. Over the next 11 weeks, I will not only learn about the MRI’s mechanical complexity but also how to acquire MRI images and analyze the significance of identified brain regions to stress pathways, with their translational relationship to humans. This project will improve my systems thinking by teaching me about brain function and system interaction.

Student expresses excellent awareness of problem as parts of a system, identifies several important aspects and interactions, and proposes development of logical, potential solutions.

Please explain how this engagement experience can improve your professional development.
This engagement experience can improve my technical knowledge as well as experimental design, laboratory, communication, and teamwork skills. Throughout the project, I will attend all weekly lab meetings and professional development workshops to share my progress with the research team, learn from other projects, and help students with their research. Presenting to student organizations and the research group will teach me how to communicate research findings to different audiences ranging from students with minimal science backgrounds to experienced imaging professionals. By delving into medical imaging research, this experience will be valuable in helping me discover an area of interest for future academic study and determine between industry versus graduate school.

Student expresses excellent awareness of and expand on importance of many essential skills (i.e., problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, communication, and decision making).

Please explain how funding is necessary to support your goals.

Funding is necessary to support my goals because it will allow me to concentrate on research rather than on other jobs to support my summer living expenses. Over Summer, I worked six jobs, ranging from X to X, while taking three courses to finance my undergraduate education. I currently hold three jobs and I am applying for more positions over the summer to pay for my studies. The opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation at one of the nation’s most prestigious research universities is a privilege. I would like to take advantage of this opportunity by spending time learning valuable professional skills rather than working part-time jobs. Although I will still participate in this experience if I did not receive the needed funding, my participation will be limited. Any funds will directly support my education by allowing me to spend more time conducting research, studying course material, and making a positive impact on the Penn State community.

Student builds a very strong case of need for funding that includes relevant information and clear details.  ​

Impact Statement

Be prepared to explain the potential personal impact, but take a moment to think beyond yourself and who you’re becoming. Consider the greater impact your work could have on your peers, your community (both here at Penn State and in your hometown), and on society as a whole. Some experiences even have national or global impact! It’s amazing to consider the possibilities.

Growth Areas

You will be asked to select a primary and secondary growth area. This is your opportunity to truly reflect on how your experience can transform you as a student, as a citizen, as part of a system, as a leader, and as a future working professional. Express in detail how you will use your engagement experience as an opportunity to grow and transform. The more genuine, the better. Learn more about these areas.

Example Starters

Multicultural awareness

  • “This experience will help me understand cultural perspectives or views by…”
  • “This experience will teach me to overcome cultural barriers by…”
  • “This experience will cause me to reflect on my own cultural biases through…”

Civic responsibility

  • “This experience provides opportunities wherein I can improve/change society by…”
  • “My work with the ­­______ organization will help understand the importance of social and moral stewardship through…”
  • “This experience will allow me to use what I have learned in the classroom to improve society by…”

Ethical reasoning

  • “Throughout my experience I will be required to consider ethical decisions that affect others because…”
  • “This experience will help me navigate situations wherein the needs of others contradict my own, by…”
  • “The work involved in this experience requires that I consider my role in standing up for a just cause through…”

Systems thinking

  • “This experience will help develop my ability to consider how small decisions impact the larger organization by…”
  • “Over the next 5 months, the projects I will be given will challenge my ideas about how the world works through…”
  • “My time with the ______ organization will teach me about the relationship between…”

Professional development

  • “This experience will allow me to work on office communication skills because…
  • “In this experience, I will improve problem-solving skills by…”
  • “My work with ______ will allow me to improve critical thinking skills because…”
  • “This experience will help me understand group teamwork dynamics by….”


Funding Necessity

We all have different needs, goals, and desires in our educational journey. This section is a chance for you to explain more about your personal circumstances and make a case for why funding will enable your experience, and how it’s necessary to support your goals. Successful applicants provide the details in the section that leave no questions for the review team. Download the budget template.