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Strategy for NIH Funding
Navigation for the Strategy for NIH Funding. Link to Part 1. Qualify for NIH Funding.Link to Part 2. Pick and Design a Project.Link to Part 3. Write Your Application.Link to Part 4. Submit Your Application.Link to Part 5. Assignment and Review.Link to Part 6. If Not Funded.Link to Part 7. Funding.

Previous page in Strategy.Create a Cover Letter   ·   Strategy for a Successful SubmissionNext page in Strategy.

Prepare to Submit

You will need to take action to prepare for your application's submission to Grants.gov.

Learn how to comply with technical requirements to avoid corrupting your files; then do a preliminary check to make sure your application package is in good shape.

Next, see what it takes to submit on time. Should you miss the deadline, it's unlikely you will be able to submit late—read the rules for late applications.

This page applies to any application using electronic submission.

Table of Contents

Just the Facts

(This section has factual information only; for advice on this topic, go to Our Advice below.)

About Applying

Most NIH grant applications, including R01s, require electronic submission. For other activity codes, check your funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to confirm.

Your institution may apply directly to Grants.gov or use alternative software, but most submit directly to Grants.gov.

Over 90 percent of R01 applicants successfully complete the application process on their first or second attempt.

Regardless of how you apply, you must follow the instructions in your FOA, its NIH Guide announcement, and the Grant Application Guide.

If your institution uses a proprietary application system, keep that in mind as you read our facts and advice. NIH describes applying directly to Grants.gov using the grant application package, but your system may have its own forms, layouts, or form fields. 

To be on time, Grants.gov must successfully timestamp your application by 5:00 p.m. your institution's local time on the receipt date listed in the NIH Guide announcement for your FOA.

Over 90 percent of R01 applicants successfully complete the submission process on their first or second attempt. For advice on submitting successfully, read the Our Advice section below.

For technical support and information, use the following links:

Rules for Late Applications

With only a few exceptions, NIH does not accept late applications.

There are, however, several valid reasons why an investigator-initiated application may be submitted late and accepted by NIH.

Natural Disaster. NIH issues special Guide notices when a natural disaster occurs. In this circumstance, your delay should not exceed the duration of time your organization is closed and you'll have to explain the specific reasons for the delay in your cover letter.

Personal Tragedy. In the event of a personal tragedy, e.g., you or an immediate family member suffer sudden severe illness, you will need to include an explanation in your cover letter.

System Errors on Government Web Sites. You'll have to follow NIH’s Guidelines for Applicants Experiencing System Issues and take the following actions:

  • Contact the appropriate help desk immediately, over the phone and in writing.
  • Maintain a record of the steps you take to resolve the problem.
  • Once the issue is resolved, make note of it in your application’s cover letter. Include the confirmed system issues, Help Desk ticket numbers, and the steps taken to resolve the issues.

Contacting your program officer is not a substitute for contacting the appropriate help desk.

Service on an NIH Advisory Panel. A perk to serving on an NIH panel is that you may be eligible for late submission for applications due on standard receipt dates. Recent temporary or ad hoc service that required a commitment of time that could have been used to prepare an application may be an acceptable reason for late submission.

If you are eligible and choose to take advantage of this policy, you must explain the nature and period of your service in your cover letter.

You may also qualify for continuous submission, which allows you to apply late for R01, R21, and R34 grants. To qualify, you must be on the list of Applicants Eligible for Continuous Submission. Read Do You Qualify for Continuous Submission? in Part 2.

Neither CSR nor NIAID may give permission in advance for a late submission.

For applications reviewed at NIAID, some practices are different. See the Late Applications SOP for more information.

Our Advice

(This section has advice only; you should also read the factual information above at Just the Facts.)

Since you'll likely submit electronically,* you should be aware of the steps your application will go through, decisions you may have to make along the way, and what you can do to ensure smooth sailing.

Submitting your application is not as easy as you may think. That's why you shouldn't go it alone if you run up against a roadblock or are confused about how to proceed. First, learn about the process; then if needed, find help at NIH's Help Desks.

Start by talking to staff in your business office to find out whether your institution submits directly to Grants.gov or uses a proprietary system. If it's the latter, keep your institution's approach in mind when reading our information, and learn more at Get Ready Now to Apply Electronically.

*R01s and most other activity codes require electronic submission. To find out whether an application must go the cyber route, check the FOA.

Get Your Technical Ducks in a Row

To avoid technical hiccups that could derail your application, follow these steps.

Use the Right Software Version

Make sure that you use the right version of the Adobe forms and Reader and that everyone who opens your application package uses a compatible version of Adobe Reader. Otherwise the application file may be corrupted. Compare your software with Grants.gov's Compatible Versions of Adobe Reader.

If you're like many people who have more than one version of Adobe Reader or Acrobat—the most current version and one too old for the Adobe forms—be warned: you can inadvertently corrupt your application if you or others who work on your file open it with the wrong version.

First, try to uninstall the old version. If you cannot uninstall, do the following:

  • Each time you open the file, open the program, then open your file using the program's menu.
  • Do not click directly on the file name to open the program. If you do, Windows could choose the older program and ruin your file.

Dodge Interference Later

If you are having trouble when submitting to Grants.gov, try these tips to avoid interference from browser security settings and other programs.

  • Delete browser history cache entirely.
  • Remove all browser toolbars.
  • Ensure pop-up blocker is off.
  • Close all other applications.
  • Under Internet Options, Settings, make sure that "Every time I visit the web page" is checked.
  • In Adobe's Trust Manager, Allow All Web sites. Find the Trust Manager under Edit, then Preferences.
  • Open the application file only by dragging from the desktop into Internet Explorer.

For more help, review NIH's Finding Help, Avoiding Common Errors, and PDF Guidelines along with Grants.gov's Troubleshooting Tips and the eRA Training Web site.

Don’t Let Your Institution Delay You

Be aware that your institution’s business office may have its own internal deadlines and processes for submission. If your institution is the source of your delay, NIH will not accept a late submission.

Also remember that all correspondence related to your application should go through your institution’s business office.

Application Package: Check That It's in Good "Form"

Before you hand off your application to your authorized organizational representative (AOR)—the person who submits your application to Grants.gov—you may want to do a preliminary check to see that your forms are in order.

You can do this by using the "Check Package for Errors" button at the top of the grant application package page. This button looks for some very basic Grants.gov form errors (e.g., ensures you completed all the fields marked required by Grants.gov).

Even if you get an all-clear after clicking the button, keep in mind that additional Grants.gov and all Commons validations take place after you submit your application.

If your institution is using a different process or system to send applications, this section may not be relevant to you. Check with your business office for instructions.

Act Now to Avoid Post-Submission Rejection

After you submit, CSR performs a manual review of your application. Avoid this failure point by planning ahead.

Before you submit, check that you do the following:

  • Leave out other support (you submit this just-in-time; see Prepare Your Just-in-Time Information in Part 3).
  • Provide sufficient human subjects or animal research documentation.
  • Document your preapproval to submit any application that requires it, for example:
  • Include documentation of your approval for using select agents.
  • Submit a modular budget if requesting $250,000 or less in annual direct costs for activity codes requiring modular. NIH does not accept detailed budgets for these applications even if the rest of it is in good order.
  • Use proper font size, margins, and other formatting.

After your application completes the submission process, CSR performs a manual review. This is another potential failure point you can avoid by planning ahead.

CSR may return your application to you without a peer review if you fail to do any of the following: complete all required form fields, use the correct forms, format your documents properly, or follow instructions in the FOA and SF 424 Application Guide.

Also keep in mind that NIH rejects all forms sent directly to NIH instead of through Grants.gov.

And finally, NIAID's program staff may decline your application if you don't meet the requirements of a request for applications or institute-specific program announcement and are responding to one of our initiatives.

Don't Be Late for a Very Important Date

Ask your institution when it needs your application. Make sure your business office receives your application well ahead of this internal deadline so you will have time to get through Grants.gov and eRA Commons in case you need to correct.

If you have problems to fix, count on several more days and consider that NIH is not the only agency that uses Grants.gov for application submission, and there may be overlapping submission dates you're unaware of. With so many applicants flooding the system, it's no surprise it can get bogged down.

Be aware that if your application does miss the deadline, you will probably have to correct and try again for the next receipt date (if any) because NIH accepts few late applications for specified reasons only. Read the Rules for Late Applications above.

That said, we recommend that you give yourself as much time as possible. Learn more at Passing Validations and other pages in Part 4.

If You Have to Submit Late, Keep Us In the Loop

We advise you to submit your application well ahead of its due date, in case you run into technical difficulties or any of the other problems noted above.

Once you know your application will be late, contact the scientific review officer and program officer listed in the FOA before submitting it.

The window to apply late for regular standard submission/receipt dates is two weeks while the window to apply late for expedited standard submission/receipt dates is one week. In general, NIH does not accept late applications for requests for applications (RFAs) and program announcements reviewed in an institute (PARs) with special receipt dates.

The decision to accept a late application ultimately lies with NIH’s Division of Receipt and Referral in the Center for Scientific Review (CSR). No one can provide you advance permission for a late submission.

For the record, CSR has rejected the following reasons for late submission:

  • Heavy teaching burdens.
  • Ongoing illnesses.
  • Laboratory relocations.
  • Delays caused by an institution's business office.

For more information, read the following resources:

Strategy for NIH Funding
Navigation for the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Previous page in Strategy.Create a Cover Letter   ·   Strategy for a Successful SubmissionNext page in Strategy.

See the other sections of
Part 4. Submit Your Application

Table of Contents for the Strategy

We welcome your comments, questions, or suggestions. Email deaweb@niaid.nih.gov.​​​​

Last Updated June 27, 2014

Last Reviewed December 01, 2011