Frequently Asked Questions

Fall 2021

Please review the Frequently Asked Questions below and attend an Information Session for additional information.  These Frequently Asked Questions may be updated as this year's award cycle begins.

Application Deadline for All Materials (including supporting letters):

February 4, 2022




1. Who is eligible to apply for this year’s President’s Engagement Prize?

Any full-time graduating senior in the Engineering, Nursing, SAS (including LPS), or Wharton undergraduate divisions who will receive their first undergraduate degree in December 2021, May 2022, or August 2022 is eligible to apply.  In the case of team entries, each member of the team must meet these eligibility requirements.

2. What if my academic work and/or other prior activities are unrelated to the project I am proposing? Do I need to have prior academic or non-academic experience related to the project I am proposing?

While prior project-related academic or non-academic experience (e.g., employment, volunteer activity, internships, travel, etc.) is desirable and will be considered in determining the applicant’s preparedness to undertake the project they are proposing, such experience is not required.  A project proposal may be in an area unrelated to the applicant’s prior academic or non-academic experience.



3. How do you define projects that are “local,” “national,” or “global”?

Local projects would focus primarily on addressing an opportunity or challenge in the City of Philadelphia or its surrounding suburbs.  National projects would address an opportunity or challenge either outside the Philadelphia region or national in scope.  Global projects would address an opportunity or challenge outside the United States.

4. For the purposes of this Prize, what kinds of projects qualify as putting “knowledge to work for the betterment of humankind”?

Projects funded by the President’s Engagement Prizes can be based in Philadelphia or anywhere in the nation or the world.  In just the last couple of years – without the motivating focus of a prize – Penn students have embarked on some truly extraordinary self-initiated projects ranging from creating an institutional food recovery program to aid local Philadelphia food banks; to a public policy initiative to reduce Medicaid expenses and improve patient health; to empowering youth in Southern Sudan.  The scope and scale of President’s Engagement Prize projects will be limited only by the imagination and resourcefulness of our students.

5. What qualifies as impactful “engagement” for the purposes of this Prize?

At Penn, we encourage students to think creatively about the broad meaning of public service, to maximize the opportunity to do well by doing good, and to articulate their purpose-driven desire to make a difference.  Strong proposals will describe how the proposed project will make a positive and on-going difference in the lives of those touched or served by it.  Overall, the President’s Engagement Prizes are an opportunity for Penn students to make a meaningful difference in the world and to think big about what they can do in their community, their country, and their world.

6. Is the prize intended to support short-term or long-term projects – i.e., is it for a one-year initiative or is the prize meant to support the development of a longer-term project?

The project should be designed as a twelve-month initiative and the proposal should detail the proposed impact of the project during this one-year period.  However, the continued impact of the project could stretch beyond the first year.  We believe that early success leads to even greater achievement, and we encourage students to think about how their proposal and their project can be a springboard for making a continued difference in the world.

7. Must the prize go towards an original, independent project, or can the grant go towards a project that a student implements in conjunction with and under the supervision of a pre-existing organization?

While applicants can partner with an outside organization, the proposed project must be original and of the applicant’s own creation; the prize cannot be used to support or further pre-existing projects or programs of outside entities or of the University of Pennsylvania.



8. What materials are required in my application?

A complete description of the Prize can be found here.  The following materials must be submitted as part of the applicants proposal:

  • Application Form
  • Project proposal, not to exceed 1,000 words, outlining the student’s proposed project (what do you plan to do and how will you accomplish it?), experience and qualifications as they relate to the project, and prior record of local, national and/or global engagement.
  • A preliminary project budget of up to $100,000 with a clear statement of how the funds will be used.  A budget planning template is available here. Budgets for winning proposals will be refined during the planning period after selection of the prize recipients.  Proposals with project budgets in excess of $100,000 will not be considered.
  • A Penn Mentor Recommendation and Commitment Form signed by the student’s proposed project mentor (either an active or retired Penn faculty member or Penn administrator), attesting to their support of the applicant’s proposed project and willingness to oversee prior to the student’s graduation the development of a detailed plan for the project’s implementation.
  • Signed letter(s) of preliminary interest/commitment from any organization or institutions with which the student is proposing to work in the course of the project.  Please note that proposed projects do not need to be affiliated with an external organization.
  • One additional Letter of Recommendation requested by each student from an individual, not related to the student, who is able to assess the student’s preparedness to undertake the proposed project.
  • An unofficial copy of the student’s academic transcript.


9. What should the “letter(s) of preliminary interest/commitment” include?  Is it necessary to have a finalized agreement with a proposed outside group/person/organization prior to submitting an application and proposal?

If the proposed project involves an affiliation or relationship with an external organization, the affiliation letter should indicate the organization’s willingness to work with you on the intended project, should speak to the feasibility and validity of what is being proposed, and should indicate any additional resources or contacts that the organization can provide to support the work.  The applicant and the proposed partner should also make clear that the proposed project is original and of the applicant’s own creation; the prize cannot be used to support or further pre-existing projects or programs of outside entities or of the University of Pennsylvania.

Partner organizations must submit preliminary letters of interest/commitment to work with the applicant by February 4, 2022.  Project details will be worked out in conjunction with recipients’ project mentor (either an active or retired Penn faculty member or Penn administrator) and partner organizations during the recipient’s senior year, but preliminary letters should be as specific as possible about the project and the student’s and the partner organization’s roles.

10.  Can I still apply if my Penn Mentor Recommendation and Commitment Form, Letter of Commitment from an external organization, and/or Letter of Recommendation won’t arrive until after the January deadline?

All materials (including the application and supporting letters) must be submitted online to CURF no later than February 4, 2022.  Materials submitted after that date will not be considered.

11.  Should the letter of recommendation be from a Penn faculty member or non-Penn affiliate?

This is up to the discretion of the applicant.  The letter of recommendation should be from an individual not related to the student who is best able to assess the student’s preparedness to undertake the proposed project.  Letters from family members will not be accepted.  You may not request a letter of recommendation from the same individual who is writing your Mentor Recommendation and Commitment letter.

12.  May I include more than one letter of recommendation?

No.  Additional letters will not be considered.  For the purposes of the Prize, each student applicant must submit one letter of recommendation.  [Note that on a joint project, each team member must provide one letter of recommendation.  Individual projects will therefore require up to three letters (Penn mentor, partnering organization—if applicable, and one recommendation letter), while joint projects will require up to four letters for a two-person team and up to five letters for a three-person team.] You may not request a letter of recommendation from the same individual who is writing your Mentor Recommendation and Commitment letter.



13.  How detailed must my plan for my project be?

As detailed as possible, within the word limits.  Applying for the President’s Engagement Prize is akin to applying to a foundation for a competitive grant.  We need to know why you believe this project will have a significant impact, what knowledge and skills you will bring to ensure the success of the project, and what impact you expect your project to have locally, nationally, or globally.

A Budget Planning Template is available here.

14.  Can I submit more than one proposal for different projects?

Each student may submit or participate in only one project proposal.



15. Can I also apply for the President's Innovation Prize?

The President’s Innovation Prize is a new prize opportunity for graduating Penn seniors to award innovative, entrepreneurial projects that are designed as for-profit ventures and have the potential to make a positive social impact.  Students may not submit applications — either as individuals or as part of a team — for both the President’s Engagement Prize and the President’s Innovation Prize.

16. How will semi-finalists be determined?

Applications will be evaluated using the following preliminary selection criteria:

  • Appropriateness of the proposal to the purpose of the Prize.
  • Project feasibility.
  • Applicant preparedness, including strength of academic performance, experience, and qualifications as they relate to the proposed project.
  • Strength of the applicant’s prior record of local, national, and/or global engagement.
  • Strength of the mentor’s recommendation and engagement with the proposed project.
  • Strength of other recommendation.

After preliminary evaluation, the Selection Committee will review the applications and select semi-finalists to interview based on the following criteria:

  • Project’s exemplification of the Penn Compact 2020’s commitment to local, national, or global engagement.
  • Project’s potential impact.
  • Strength of the applicant’s commitment to the project.
  • Such other factors as the Selection Committee may deem appropriate to assess the contributions of the student and the project to the overall goals of the Prize.

The Selection Committee will consist of the Provost (or designee), the chair of the Penn Trustee Committee on Local, National, and Global Engagement, a past prize recipient appointed by the Provost, and one tenured member of the standing faculty from each of the University’s four undergraduate schools, appointed by the Provost.

17.  Will all candidates be interviewed?

No.  After an initial screening, the Selection Committee will select those applicants to be interviewed by the Committee as semi-finalists.  Applicants not selected for interviews will be notified of their status no later than April 1, 2022.

18.  Will I be able to update my proposal if I am invited for a semi-finalist interview?

Applicants invited for a semi-finalist interview will be permitted, but not required, to submit (prior to a deadline specified by CURF) a one-page written addendum to their initial proposal in advance of the interview.  The addendum should not represent a material change in the proposed project’s scope or purpose, but can be used to amplify the description of specific initiatives that will be undertaken as part of the project, the project’s potential outcomes or impacts, or the applicant’s preparedness to undertake the project.



19.  Are there limitations on what the Prize money can be used for?  Can it be used to start a profit-generating business?

It is expected that 100% of the Prize funds will be used to implement the proposed engagement project and support the recipient(s) during their post-baccalaureate year.  Neither the living stipend nor the implementation funds may be used for other purposes, including, but not limited to, graduate study, a for-profit venture, or partisan political activity, and recipients may not receive academic credit for their project at Penn or elsewhere.  The implementation portion of the funds may not be used to support an individual student’s living expenses.

20.  Are there specifics regarding how the program funding is allocated?  For example, can part of the Prize money be used for hiring additional program support for the implementation work, or does it need to be allocated specifically to building space, supplies, etc.?

Project expenses can be used in any approved manner.  (Note that prize recipients are responsible for the payment of all applicable taxes and other tax implications--including those related to employing other individuals to assist on their project.) You can read Notes on Taxes here: 

, and Notes on Intellectual Property Commercialization and Waiver of Liability 1 here: .  Also here is the powerpoint presentation from a recent joint presentation by the Penn Tax Office.

21.  Will the money be available all at once, or in increments over a period of time?

Half of the living expenses stipend and half of the project implementation expenses will be disbursed in late June 2022.  After submission and approval of the recipient’s Interim Progress Report (due January 1, 2023), the remaining half of the living expenses and half of the project implementation expenses will be disbursed in January 2023.

22.  Is there a timeframe in which the money has to be spent?  Are there progress reports that are required along the way?

Funds must be expended during the 12-month period from July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023.  In addition to the Interim Progress report due January 1, a final report will be required no later than September 1, 2023.

23.  Are the winners allowed to modify or alter their budget during the project year?  Would that require a review by a panel or Penn staff?

Project plans must be finalized before funds are disbursed.  While minor changes in spending often occur and are permitted, no significant variation from the approved project budget is allowed without the written approval of the Director of CURF.

24.  Are there any systems in place to support the implemented program past the year of the initial award?

Financial support for the President’s Engagement Prize will be limited to July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023.  No additional Penn or University-raised funds will be available.  Prize recipients are free to solicit or raise funds independently from other non-University sources.

25.  Are there any other University resources that are included in the award (lab space, personnel, etc.)?

No.  Any other necessary resources should be obtained using the Prize’s project expenses and any other available funds.

26.  Will grant-writing support be provided to Prize recipients if they wish to secure additional funding for their projects?

No explicit grant-writing resources are offered during the grant year, but recipients are welcome to seek external grants to continue their work, or to apply for national or international fellowships to further their preparation for work in their field.

27.  What if I am successful in obtaining funding from other sources for this same proposal—is that allowed?

Yes, but Prize funds must be expended as proposed in the recipient’s approved project budget.

28. I’ve already accepted a job offer from a prominent company or organization, or I’m hoping to be admitted to a prestigious graduate program.  Can I still apply?

Yes.  While you would of course need to work out any deferral of employment or education with the organization in question, deferrals for recipients of awards like the President’s Engagement Prize (such as the Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, Gates, and Fulbright Scholarships) are often granted.

29. What other kinds of opportunities can the President’s Engagement Prize prepare me for?

Applicants for the President’s Engagement Prize will be setting themselves up extremely well to compete for major fellowships like the Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, Gates, and Fulbright Scholarships.  Preparation to apply for such awards should begin during the Spring of the year before you wish to begin a fellowship (i.e., Spring 2022 for candidates wishing to begin a fellowship during 2023-2024).



30.  How can I get more Information about requirements and how to apply?

CURF will be holding Information Sessions throughout the fall. The preliminary schedule can be seen here.