December 7, 2017

Top 4 Scholarship Application Stumbling Points for Students, and How to Help Them

Think about your scholarship applications from the applicant’s point of view and try to avoid these four common roadblocks.

Eighty three percent of academic scholarships are selected based on a panel of judges who score the online application, according to a 2016-2017 membership survey by the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA). With so much importance placed on the online application, make it easy for candidates to complete — and for you to judge — by considering these four common stumbling blocks.  

1. Confusion on eligibility.

Time is valuable for both you and your applicants, and neither of you want to waste it because of avoidable confusion. Include a simple eligibility quiz at the start of your application to help candidates determine if they meet the required criteria for the scholarship and simultaneously help you weed out undesirable applicants. For example, do they have a bachelor’s degree and a selected major, which might be a requirement for your scholarship? Do they reside in a certain state or have a GPA of 3.5 or above? If they check the boxes for whatever your eligibility criteria might be, they can proceed and complete the application … or move on to one for which they are better suited.

Protip: Qualifying quizzes work best with quantitative questions like GPA or county of residence, which are easy for students to complete and for scholarship managers to review. In fact, academic merit, financial need and community service were the most popular eligibility criteria used when choosing scholarship recipients in the 2016-2017 NSPA survey. If you want to include qualitative eligibility questions that are open-ended or in essay form, you’d be better suited to setting up a multi-stage application with a review after the first stage.

2. Complicated instructions.

It seems obvious, but this one bears repeating when it comes to avoiding any stumbling blocks for students with your online applications. Overly complicated applications are a deal-breaker. Simplify your applications by breaking them into parts. (Remember to include stop and save functionality, too, so applicants can complete a section and come back to it later.) Consider breaking up your application like so:

  • Part 1: Eligibility check. Does the candidate have the required background or experience?
  • Part 2: Profile. Collect the applicant’s contact information and other basic details.
  • Part 3: Application Include program-specific questions about the applicant’s activities, grades, awards, interests, and other scholarships.
  • Part 4: Outside information. Clearly outline how many letters of recommendation are required, what transcripts are needed, etc. Include easy uploading  and the ability to directly request letters from the system here, too.
  • Part 4: Follow up information. Clearly outline the next steps -- how long will a review take? How will the applicant hear from you? Are there any further tasks they may need to participate in, like an interview?
  • Part 5: Breathe a sigh of relief.Your new and approved application is a lot less complicated, and more qualified submissions should be right behind

3. Lack of engagement on your part.

Checking in or emailing applicants when you receive completed applications is a no-brainer and, honestly, expected. Consider incorporating notifications to would-be applicants at additional stages of the application to keep them interested and engaged. After all, proactive feedback is key to pre-empting questions from your applicants regarding the status of their applications and avoiding an inbox full of questions. After the eligibility check, send a note reminding applicants their eligibility is confirmed, and they can proceed to the next step. This process works great before an in-person interview, too, by keeping applicants informed and engaged along the way—and meeting important deadlines. Notifications can be automated, leaving you with less administrative work.  

Protip: Over communicate when it comes to the eligibility quiz by ensuring applicants know when they are not eligible—not just when they are eligible. If you are using standard metrics, your application portal should be able to display this to an applicant as soon as they hit “submit” on the quiz. This removes the time it takes for staff to notify in-eligible candidates of their status, and focus on more suitable candidates.

4. Required essays. 

We’ve seen video essays start to replace written essays for college applications, especially for art and design schools. But, there’s room for it scholarship applications, too. Consider replacing the online essay portion of your application with video to aid in faster and higher-volume applications. In the age of Snapchat and Instagram Stories, video might seem more approachable to applicants than a 500-word essay. Better yet, students applying for scholarships based on need rather than academic achievement can avoid the high cost of hiring a tutor to prepare for an essay.

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