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Proposal Tips

What makes a good proposal?

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation count significantly, particularly those that can speak directly to the project that the student wishes to undertake. It is always better to have someone write a letter who is knowledgeable about the particular project, or involved in it in some manner, such as an academic advisor. It clearly helps to have a recommender who knows the student well, but it counts more when the recommender can speak about the student’s engagement and investment in South Asia. General letters that speak to the student’s character are important, but additional weight is likely to be given to letters that talk about the project, and the wider benefit to be derived from the completion of this project.

Research Proposals

Applications that propose to undertake research towards the completion of an academic task, such as a thesis, are particularly encouraged. Such proposals demonstrate a serious engagement with South Asia, one that may have potentially longer-term results. The research should be feasible, and should be well considered, particularly from the perspective of what is possible in a short period of time. It should include questions that animate the study and a methodology that explains how the student will seek to find answers to these questions. Students should consider the archive(s) that they wish to access, and the places they wish to go. It should be clearly set out how they will conduct their research, who they wish to meet and interview, and what they hope the results will be of this research. It always helps if students can demonstrate that a faculty member is involved in their project either as a direct advisor, or someone for whom they work in their studies. Statements should not be too long.

NGO proposals

Proposals to undertake an internship at an NGO are encouraged. Those that clearly demonstrate the benefit to the local community of the student’s participation are looked at particularly positively. SAI has many partner NGOs, and proposals to intern at these are encouraged. Students are also encouraged to make an effort to gain knowledge of South Asia before they who have made an effort to engage previously with the study of South Asia and/or its languages are also encouraged to apply for these.


It is recommended that budgets should be worked out in detail, and include all costs, including costs that will be covered by other sources. The entire trip, including living expenses, ticket costs, per diem expenses, and any other fees to be incurred should be listed. Students should endeavor to find out how much SAI can provide, and explain how that money will be employed if they are successful.

Previous Experience with South Asia

It always helps the student’s application if he or she has already engaged with South Asia, either by taking South Asia-related courses, or studying languages that may be necessary to successfully undertake their project in South Asia. If they are going to work in NGOs working directly with nonEnglish speaking people, it helps to demonstrate that they have made or will make some attempt to integrate a rudimentary knowledge of languages other than English employed in the region in which they will work.


Budget Tips

There is no program fee or cost associated with applying for a grant from the South Asia Institute. SAI grants should be used to cover the costs of international and domestic transportation, meals in region, communications (mobile phone and Internet), visa costs, and travel-related immunization and medication expenses. Please note that grants from SAI do not cover external program fees charged by internship or research sites, nor may they be used for tourism activities or souvenir purchases.

When filling out your CARAT (Centralized Applications for Dissertation Completion and Research Grants & Summer Grants) form, you must provide a budget estimate for your proposed research or internship. Though the Grants Selection Committee expects that you have done the appropriate research necessary to gauge your estimated cost of living for the grant period, the links below provide sample estimates of basic costs associated with common research and internship sites in South Asia.

Please click on the sample CARAT forms for each location below to view the approximate budget estimates for various sites:

Please note that the above are estimated costs and that totals will vary by location and are subject to change. Budget estimates have been provided for some major cities in South Asia, but the list is not exhaustive. Therefore, it is critical that you conduct your own research prior to filling out your CARAT budget form. Useful places to look for budgeting information include: airline sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, or Kayak; budget travel guides such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guide; cost of living sites such as Numbeo; and student/travel blogs.

Applying for an Internship

Click for tips from the Office of Career services for tips on writing a successful cover letter and resume.