How the ScholarshipsCanada Team Makes Scoring Your Scholarship Applicants Easy

This article is part of our series on developing your own scholarship program. Starting up a scholarship program is easy enough, but if you’re not assessing your applicants in a consistent, fair, and deliberate way, you may not be getting the “best” recipients from your applicant pool. 

Here at the SchoolFinder Group, we’ve scored thousands of scholarship applications — here’s how we do it. 

1) Define Your Goals

The first step is always identifying your goals for the scholarship. Find more advice on the topic here, but in short, you want to decide WHY you’re offering a scholarship in the first place. 

2) Developing the Rubric

In accordance with your goals, we build a simple scoring rubric using principles drawn from education design and assessment. Find a whole article on the subject here, but the basics are simple: we choose a handful of criteria that match your goals, and weight them appropriately on a Likert scale. 

3) Multiple Scoring Passes

Once the rubric is locked in, and applications are closed, we begin scoring the applicants. Typically this happens in two or three rounds, especially for a program with lots of applicants.

The First Round

The first round is primarily about excising candidates who don’t fit the bill for one reason or another. What exactly this means depends on your goals, of course. As an example, if you’re looking for someone with excellent academics, we might filter out anyone with an overall average under 70% for the first round. Or, a sports scholarship might filter out any applicants who don’t play sports. 

Sometimes, the first-round cut isn’t as simple as deciding on a flat cut-off. For example, for the Opterus scholarships, which ask for four personal statements, we read and score only the first of four in the first round. Applicants who score over a certain threshold on this first question get moved to the second round for a more fulsome scoring approach. 

We’re currently experimenting with AI-assisted adjudication at the first-round level. (Reach out to us for more info on our AI initiatives.) 

The Second Round

The second round is about getting all potential, qualified applicants down to a shortlist. How big this shortlist is will depend on how many applicants you receive! As a rule of thumb, we aim for roughly 33% of total applicants making it to the second round of adjudication.  

Between rounds, we swap the adjudicators, so the same person isn’t scoring the same applicant each round. This helps diversify scoring and smooths out potential biases in scorers’ dispositions. 

The second round is a great opportunity to accentuate additional criteria among applicants. Classic ones include specific extra-curriculars or an affiliation with a volunteer organization, but you might want to emphasize a specific region of Canada, applicants with young dependents, people in financial need — you name it.  

The Third Round (and Beyond)

The third round, in most cases, brings us to our finalists. While the second round gave us a pool of potential recipients, the third round should be a nail-biter, representing 10% or less of the original applicant pool — these are people who could all make excellent scholarship recipients. 

The trick is getting the number of finalists down to match the number of scholarships available! One of the best ways to do so is with a selection committee. Find details on building a selection committee here, but know that it’s good practice to get a diverse set of viewpoints on a small team — and if you can include a previous recipient or two on the committee, all the better! 

The ScholarshipsCanada team can be part of your selection committee, or not, as desired. Even a committee of two is valuable in checking biases and offering an opportunity to bounce ideas and debate the merits of a particular candidate before choosing recipients. 

4) Using Multiple Adjudicators

As mentioned above, we use a rotating team of adjudicators each round to ensure the same applicant isn’t scored by the same adjudicator. Though each adjudicator works from the same rubric, this diversity of perspective gives applicants a fairer shake, and helps smooth out scoring spikes. 

Where possible, we’ll assign more than one adjudicator per round, too, and take an average of the adjudicators’ scores. 

Our team includes educational-sector experts in writing, research, marketing, student success, and more, ranging in age from new grads to seasoned veterans. Depending on the scope of the project, we may take on additional adjudicators, too, who have been vetted for reliability and professionalism. 

5) Interviewing Applicants

Some scholarship programs have an interview component, whether formal or informal. A formal interview should be accounted for in the rubric, and be part of standard scoring, as described above. Informal interviews can happen at any time, but we usually reserve them for finalists. 

In short, this means contacting the finalists by phone, email, or text, and checking in on specific aspects of their application, their goals, their expectations, and offer a chance for the applicants to ask questions, too. For example, the Eaton-ICE scholarships have an internship component, so we contact finalists to share details about the internship and ask some clarifying questions. 

These interviews are a great way to get to know candidates and can really help when deciding on close calls. 

Next Steps

Scoring doesn’t have to be a pain! Even though it’s so important to the success of your scholarship program, scoring applicants can be a pleasure. It can be fun, even heartening, to read what students are accomplishing. 

From a small program with a few dozen applicants, to a huge program with thousands of candidates, the ScholarshipsCanada team can help you score your scholarship apps and find the right recipients to reach your goals.  

For more information on how we can help you get started, contact us at:

The SchoolFinder Group Team


Further reading:

» Scholarship Application Survey: Student Insights 2024

» Online Scholarship Application Guide: Session-based vs. Forms

» Report on Scholarships in Canada 2024

» How to Develop Your Own Scholarship Program

» Devising a Fair and Consistent Rubric for Scholarship Application Assessments

» How to Assemble a Scholarship or Bursary Selection Committee

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