Before you even start the application you need to do two things:
- Download the GRFP 2016 Program Solicitation
- Determine your eligibility
I put emphasis on downloading the Program Solicitation because this is a critical document. It contains current and detailed information on every aspect of the application. Requirements including deadlines, fields of study, and other eligibility criteria change every year. For example, the 2014 program year changed such that only two statements (versus the previous three) were required for the application. You want to have this document on hand for worst case scenarios like not being able to access it due to a U.S. Government shutdown.
Determining your eligibility is important for obvious reasons. In the event you are not awarded, it's helpful to know exactly how many times you will be able submit again over the next years. If initially you find that you are ineligible, I recommend you investigate further. Seriously, this woman had a gap of 10 years between her B.S. / M.S. studies and actually applying, but she provided an eligibility statement with her application to plead her case. Once you've taken a look at the Program Solicitation and you know you are eligible, you may as well get started.