October 10, 2022

How to Manage a Scholarship Program: Eight Industry Best Practices

Scholarships are a critical component of higher education that provide financial relief and opportunities for students to excel. While your program is unique, it likely still includes a process and challenges similar to other programs. So how do you optimize your process and overcome challenges? Consider these eight best practices to lure the best candidates, streamline the process and maximize your impact. 

With so many families relying on scholarships to pay for college, it’s never been more important to design scholarship program processes that are simple and effective from the earliest application stages through the semesters and years that scholars are active. As scholarship administrators, you care about your students and want to see them succeed today and well into the future. To ensure your program is effective here are  our recommendations for scholarship best practices:

1 - Clearly Define Eligibility Criteria

It all starts with your applicants: exceptional students who are just one life-changing opportunity away from success. Different scholarship programs focus on different demographics and criteria. Think about the students you want to attract to your program and make sure your eligibility criteria is clearly defined throughout the application process. 

By setting clear requirements from the start, you’ll save valuable time for applicants, reviewers and scholarship administrators by steering clear of avoidable confusion, which is a major stumbling block for students as they navigate this unfamiliar process. Try incorporating a unique measurement of eligibility, such as an eligibility quiz, to help applicants who won’t qualify recognize that before investing effort and emotion into the application.

2 - Create an Approachable Scholarship Application Form

First, make sure your process clearly states all requirements and the platform you use is user friendly and enables applicants to seamlessly upload third-party transcripts, letters of recommendation and digital materials. 

Second, consider how today’s students use media and technology.  There are many opportunities for creativity and self expression, so consider designing a unique application that goes beyond the traditional essay format. Your team can utilize digital tools that enable candidates to respond to scholarship application questions in their own creative language.

To support this, you’ll need to use a scholarship management platform that enables students to upload videos, portfolios and slide decks so they can reveal their talents and passions in ways transcripts, resumes and essays cannot. This centralized platform that allows applicants to submit as many types of materials as you require also keeps these materials accessible and organized for your reviewers. 

3 - Promote Your Scholarship to a Large Pool of Applicants

Once you’ve decided who the ideal candidate is for your scholarship program, think about how to best market to these star candidates.

You’ll want to showcase your program’s most attractive features, of course. But where? You need to learn where your ideal candidate spends their time. How are they consuming information and promotional material? Most students today are active on social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn. So you need to share your program in places where they are already hanging out and consuming media. Get creative with your content to stand out from the crowd! If you have built a community of past scholarship recipients, these folks can be your most vocal advocates utilizing their own social networks to spread the word during your next application period.

Of course you can also put some budget into your promotions. Social media platforms offer advertising services, which enables you to cast a wide, albeit targeted, net to appeal to students and encourage them to apply. Social ad tools have granular filtration settings that enable administrators to target students using their personal details, such as age, demographics and geographic location. 

Make sure that you also post your scholarship on relevant sites that list education funding opportunities so that students can easily find yours in an ocean of possibilities. By listing in common places where students are already searching, you’ll enable them to easily compare your unique program with others, which can increase application rates. 

4 - Set Clear Deadlines and Timelines

To keep your program running smoothly, make sure that you are setting clear deadlines for applicants and reviewers. Whether your program is rolling, annual, or based on another increment of time, timelines help ensure that qualified candidates are meeting application criteria on time. Nothing is worse than losing out on a talented applicant who narrowly missed a deadline because it wasn’t clearly defined. 

Consider using a platform that can automate reminders through email or text alerts when deadlines are approaching. A visual display, such as a countdown clock, can also be an effective tool for setting clear expectations. 

Once applications start rolling in, you’ll also want to prepare your team of reviewers with clear timelines. Hopefully, you’ll be inundated with amazing candidates, so you’ll want to have a very organized review process to sort through them efficiently and equitably. This is another area where a platform helps. When reviewers can easily access applications assigned to them, view all of the application materials for each assigned applicant, and also score each candidate within a single portal, they're able to work collaboratively and efficiently, and you’re able to view and track the results. 

5 - Review Applications Fairly

Scholarship programs should take care to guarantee reviewers are giving equitable consideration to all applicants. While most scholarship programs believe they are objective, implicit bias remains an issue that the industry is working to overcome. It is critical to be mindful that you are embedding equity into every step of your process. 

For example, utilizing scholarship management software can help to ensure an unbiased review process. By randomizing reviewer assignments and allowing for blind reviews that anonymize applicants, scholarship administrators can be sure they’re picking the right applicant for the scholarship based on the merits of their application alone.

Another tip: create a review panel to open the selection discussion to a variety of people. Cloud-based scholarship management software makes it easy to collaborate remotely with people all around the world.

6 - Check-In With Your Scholars

Your work allows students to break barriers to educational opportunities. But the best scholarship programs impact scholars far beyond the financial award. When scholarship administrators check-in with their students, they can gain qualitative information about the student’s experience and take actions to ensure their success.  

Even something as simple as setting reminders to check-in with scholars by text or email, conducting annual surveys, and sending out personal emails or newsletters, can go a long way in ensuring scholar retention. Discover how the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation goes beyond the award in this webinar with the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA). 

Using a scholarship management platform also makes it easy to gather and store quantitative information, such as academic records, that can be evaluated alongside qualitative touch points to gauge scholar sentiment and performance.

7 - Evaluate Your Results

Even the best scholarships can get stale if they’re not evolving. Post-cycle deep dives and discussions can help you figure out what worked and what didn’t. How many applications were started but never submitted? Where did people tend to drop off? Did you reach a diverse set of candidates? All of these questions can help you improve the process or clarify questions for the next cycle. 

Take time to determine up front what data you will gather. Then review this data to understand trends that help your organization track KPIs and adapt to market demands. Customizable dashboards can make it easy to visually track progress and generate real-time reports about your application and review process to help you understand the types of applicants you receive, how money is being allocated and used, and how the program is trending overall. 

8 - Tap Into Resources for Scholarship Providers

At the end of the day, we all want to help learners thrive. One way to do this is to seek out collaboration opportunities with scholarship programs that have similar missions. Tap into resources, such as the NSPA, to network with peers, funders and service providers. Engage with educational content about the industry to keep your program fresh. 

Unlock Your Scholarship’s Power

With ZengineTM by WizeHive supporting your scholarship program, you’ll spend less time on administrative tasks and more time helping students pursue their dreams. Take the guesswork out of your efforts and schedule a demo today!



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