How to Write a Bad Proposal and Fail to Get a Carson Grant

Perhaps the best way to understand what makes a good Carson Grant application is to imagine a very bad Carson Grant application. An unsuccessful Carson application might have some of these qualities:

Poorly written.

A poorly written proposal speaks volumes about its author. Your proposal should be a flawless example of your very best writing. Your prose should be clear, articulate, and free of spelling and grammar mistakes.

Inadequately researched.

It may seem ironic that you should begin research even before you apply for a Carson Grant, but applicants who can demonstrate a broad familiarity with their subject, have read foundational texts, and who can provide a brief review of the literature, will generally produce a more substantive and persuasive proposal.

Not written to the audience.

Although Carson Scholars do not receive academic credit, do not forget that the Grants committee is a faculty committee; your proposal will be read by scholars from various disciplines, who all have experience conducting research and writing grant proposals.

Lukewarm or unenthusiastic sponsor.

Unfortunately, if a sponsor's recommendation falls short of enthusiasm, or conveys the impression that the sponsor doesn't really support the project or the student, it can affect how the committee views the proposal. Although the Carson project is conceived and carried out by the student, help should be there when needed. Pick your sponsor carefully; solicit her or his advice in drafting and rewriting your proposal.

Doesn't meet the criteria of a Carson.

Reread the selection criteria. A Carson, above all, is:
Challenging. Carson projects are not continuations of ongoing research or creative projects. The Carson should be an exploration of new territory.
Significant. A Carson project should result in a definable product that "makes a contribution"-to your intellectual or creative development, and/or to the community at large.
Feasible. Carson projects should be well-conceived, and likely to be completed in one summer. Although research can (and frequently does) take on a life of its own, the Carson stops when the fall semester begins.
Independent. Carson projects are executed outside of a classroom setting or assigned coursework, and are not used for academic credit. Moreover, Carson projects should be independent of a professor's research, designed and carried out by you.

A request for financial aid.

A Carson Grant will not be awarded to fund an already existing project; for a faculty member to continue funding a project that uses student assistants; for assistance meeting tuition costs; or as additional financial aid for travel and study abroad.

A holiday junket.

Each year the Grants and Awards committee reads Carson proposals that involve travel, some to far-off, exotic locales. Where the applicant can demonstrate that the travel is necessary to successfully executing the project-interviewing Okinawans about the U.S. military presence on their island; reading the work of Cuban playwrights in a Havana library-the grant is more likely to be funded. Ask yourself: could this project be done somewhere else? Is a trip to Paris really necessary? (not just desirable).

Mistakes assertion for proof or evidence.

Just stating that "I can do this project" or "this project will get done" is not enough to sway the committee.


The most common reasons the Grants and Awards committee may decide a proposal isn't practical are:

  • The applicant lacks the requisite background or skills to complete the project successfully. For example, you propose to conduct interviews, but your subjects don't speak English, and you don't speak French; your project requires a knowledge of statistical analysis, and you haven't taken a course in statistics.
  • The project is too poorly defined or broadly focused to be completed in one summer. In short, it's not feasible.


The submission deadline for Carson proposals is March 17, 2024- no exceptions. With 10 grants to award among (on average) 20 applicants, your odds of receiving a grant are exceedingly high. Take advantage of it!

Willamette University

Student Academic Grants and Awards

900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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