Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Hundreds of applicants each round get an unhappy surprise: They hit the submit button right before the deadline, and their grant application is rejected with no time left to fix any mistakes. 

To help ensure your application sails through the submission process and makes its way to peer review, CSR developed a list of things you should know and always do based on the problems we see applicants have all too frequently.

What You Should Always Do

  • Read the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) and follow all the instructions. Some FOAs have special rules for format and content, and your application could be rejected during the submission process if it fails a key validation check on those rules.
  • Submit your application well before the due date so you’ll be able to solve problems before it’s too late.
  • View your compiled application in your eRA Commons account. This is your opportunity to see (you may need to right click and open in a new tab) your application just the way your reviewers will see it. Your text, formatting, and figures may not look the same in our system as they did on your office computer. Electronic validation processes have no way of knowing you forgot to attach a very important letter of support (or another optional document) to your application package. You have two business days to view, reject, change and submit a reformatted version of your application, but remember that any changed/corrected applications you submit after the 5 p.m. (local time at your institution) deadline will be late and not proceed in the peer review process.
  • Check the status of your application in your eRA Commons account. Courtesy e-mail notifications will be sent to you and your institution by and eRA Commons at various points during the processing of your application. But these e-mails can be caught up in your SPAM filter or sent to an old e-mail account if you have not updated your eRA Commons profile. It is your responsibility to track progress of your application in eRA Commons.

What You Should Know

  • An on-time application is one submitted by 5 p.m. local time at your institution on the due date and is subsequently accepted by NIH as error-free.
  • Your institution’s registrations with and eRA Commons must be active on the due date. If you work at a small- or medium-sized university or small business that doesn’t submit applications frequently, check with your grants office to make sure all submission accounts (you may need to right click and open in a new tab) are active well before you submit your application. It can take several weeks to establish or renew the needed registrations with SAM and, and other entities.
  • Your application must be validated and accepted by both and NIH. After your application passes -- the central receipt point for many Federal grant applications -- you will receive a tracking number and notification that your application is being retrieved by the agency (NIH).  The NIH system then seeks to validate your application by checking it against the NIH Guide and funding opportunity announcement instructions. If your application fails any of these checks, an error or warning notice is issued.
  • Errors stop the submission process and prevent your application from being accepted.
  • Warnings do not stop the submission process and your application will continue forward in the peer review process. However, if you want to change your application in response to a warning, you must reject, correct and resubmit it before the 5 p.m. deadline. If you reject your application but do not resubmit by the 5 p.m. deadline, your application will be late.
  • You have a two-day window to review and change your application but if you make changes after 5 p.m. on the due date, your application will be late.
  • Having submitted an earlier version of your application doesn’t help you. There is no grace period after the deadline to address errors or warnings.
  • You can’t revert to an earlier submission if you submit a changed/corrected application. Your corrected application will over-write any former versions of the application you submitted. There is no option to revert to an earlier, on-time version of your application.
  • Fixing an error doesn’t necessarily mean NIH will accept your application when you resubmit a corrected version. Our system checks NIH business rules in sequence, so another error could be identified in your resent application causing it to be rejected again.
  • You should sweat the small stuff: Something as simple as making a typographical error in your eRA Commons username or failing to fill in any required field will generate an error and stop the processing of your application. Take advantage of available resources like our Annotated Forms and Avoiding Common Errors page
  • You and your institution will know you have successfully submitted your application when you can view your application in your eRA Commons account. We also send email notifications, but they can go astray. If you can’t see it online, we don’t have it.
  • Error or warning notices may be delayed due to slowed processing times, and you may run out of time to submit again before the deadline. Though it often takes just a few minutes for your application to be checked, you may experience significant delays due to high traffic on due dates or due to specific problems with your application. Delays in or eRA Commons processing of less than half a business day are not considered to be valid reasons for NIH to accept a late application.
  • You should contact the relevant help desks at,, or eRA Commons as soon as you have trouble submitting your application. Help desk staff should be able to help you submit your application on time. If you are having trouble getting resolution, document your troubles with the NIH’s eRA Help Desk before 5:00 p.m. on the due date. A record of your troubles is critical if you later ask NIH to accept a late application due to problems beyond your control with government systems. 

When NIH Might Accept a Late Application

CSR’s Division of Receipt and Referral will consider accepting late applications on a case-by-case basis, depending upon the reason why the application was late and the documentation provided with the late application. NIH may accept an application that is late due to a death of an immediate family member or a sudden acute severe illness of the PD/PI or immediate family member, or large scale natural disasters.  The NIH Guide describes this policy in detail.    

NIH will work with you if your application is late due to confirmed government system issues that are beyond your control. You must provide information we will need to determine the cause(s) and timing of the delay, including relevant help desk ticket numbers. Show that you have worked diligently to resolve the problem(s) that caused your submission to be late. Submit the application and cover letter as soon as possible after the deadline. Finally, follow through! Monitor your eRA Commons account for application status updates and any correspondence from CSR regarding the acceptance of your application. See Guidelines for Applicants Experiencing System Issues (you may need to right click and open in a new tab)

Be prepared: We know your application is very important to you, your laboratory, and your institution. Start your submission process early to give yourself plenty of time to deal with any unexpected problems. If the submission flies through, error-free, on the first try as you hope it will, then you are well on your way to the next important step in the process: peer review!

The NIH Office of Extramural Research manages the electronic submission and related policies. Get More Information on Applying Electronically at NIH.