How to Develop Your Own Scholarship ProgramBuild brand awareness by supporting students in your community
Developing a scholarship program is a great way to connect with students and serve your community. Paying for school can be tough, so helping students fund their educations will get you noticed! Running a scholarship program can improve your brand awareness and recognition — while making the world a better place.
Read on to learn how to create a scholarship program for college and university students.
Defining the goal of your scholarship program is important. Your goal will help you determine the audience for your scholarship, marketing strategies, and more.
Are you looking to grow your brand awareness among a student population? Are you hoping to recruit the best and brightest to work for your organization some day? Are you honouring the memory of a colleague or loved one?
Whatever your goals, you should aim for each aspect of your scholarship program to support them. Choosing the right audience, timeline, and marketing strategy should all reinforce and support your original objectives for the program.
You should also give some thought to when you want to run your program. Many scholarships have deadlines in October or November, while July and August aren’t nearly so busy. Depending on your goals, you may want to be part of “scholarship season,” or you may prefer less competition for eyeballs during the “off season.”
Deciding on the right audience is a big part of the scholarship process. Most award programs are open to a specific subset of students—often based on demographics, extra-curricular activities, or grades. The wider your eligibility, the more applicants you’re likely to get. (This can be a pro or a con; see Scoring and Adjudication, below.)
The most common audience is fresh high school grads who are entering their first year of college or university. There are many great students who fit this bill and might qualify for your scholarship. This audience is fairly well served already, though, so think deeply about who will be eligible for your program.
Typically, the more granular you get about eligibility, the fewer applicants you’ll receive. If you have a specific niche, or a particular demographic you’re trying to reach, you may want to speak directly to this group and exclude anyone else. On the other hand, if you’re looking for broader awareness, a wide-open scholarship program may draw a lot more eyeballs than something closely circumscribed. Again, it all goes back to your goals!
If you’re really at a loss, consider gearing towards disadvantaged groups who may have trouble paying tuition. You may also want to open your award to international students—those from abroad who are studying in Canada—as they generally pay much higher fees than their Canadian counterparts.
Terms and Conditions
Scoring and Adjudication
Once you’ve got your applications, it’s time to sort and score them!
Developing a rubric
The more applicants you get, the more you’ll have to score. You’ll want to develop a rubric for scoring applications, especially if you’ve got more than one person doing so.
We recommend a version of the Likert scale, which is a five (or seven) point scale often used in surveys. If you’ve ever “agreed” or “strongly disagreed” with a survey question, you’ve seen a Likert scale. You can assign each point on the scale a weighted value.
Your strategy will depend on the requirements you laid out earlier. If you required an essay, you may want to score each question individually, or score the whole application overall. If you’re looking for strong academics, maybe each letter grade has its own position on the scale.
Your rubric should lay out, as clearly as possible, what you’re looking for in an applicant, and how each point in the scale matches to a given requirement.
A given scholarship program may receive hundreds or even thousands of applications. Sorting through them efficiently can be a big job! That’s why first-round cuts are so valuable. If you’re able to remove a portion of applicants before the close review stage, you probably should!
The easiest way to do this is a grade cutoff. For example, you may decide you don’t want anyone with a grade below 85%, which instantly removes a portion of applicants from the pool.
If you haven’t requested grades, first-round cuts can be difficult. You may want to review only the first of several essay questions, or remove applicants from outside your preferred geographical region. You may have to get creative here!
Of course, you don’t need to do a first-round cut if you don’t want to. Feel free to review all applicants closely if that makes sense for your goals.
If you’ve got a solid, straightforward rubric and some enthusiastic volunteers, you can enlist help in scoring applications. We call these folks adjudicators.
Ensure your adjudicators are on the same page about the goals for the scholarship. The better your rubric, the easier scoring will be. Adjudicators can score through an online portal set up for the purpose, or keep notes in a spreadsheet, depending on your system.
Adjudicators generally have the best intentions, but people get tired, and emergencies crop up, so not everyone you enlist will necessarily score everything you assign them. Build in some time for the unexpected to occur.
Review and score the finalists
Once all applications are scored, you’ll want to draw up a list of finalists. This is often a list of top scores from each adjudicator—its exact length will depend on your rubric and your total applicant pool.
When you have your finalists, review each of their applications once again. Keep in mind your goals, the requirements, and score each finalist. This can be easier with a small group of colleagues, which allows for debate and discussion.
You’ve picked a winner! (Or more than one.) Congratulations!
The next step is disbursement. Organizations will often ask for a few elements from the winner(s) to help promote the scholarship program. These include:
• Consent and authorization to use winner’s name, picture, etc, in promotional material
• Bank data, to allow for direct deposit to the winner’s account
• Social Insurance Number (SIN), for tax purposes down the line
• High resolution photo, generally in a professional headshot style, for use in promotion
• Personal statement, written by the winner, generally in terms of “what this award means to me/my community”
(You should probably hang onto the funds until you’ve got all the paperwork and photos you need!)
We also recommend sending an email campaign to all applicants thanking them for applying, and congratulating the winner. If you can include a bit of the above—perhaps a photo and quote—all the better.
Starting up your own scholarship program can be a rewarding experience, and it doesn’t have to be painful. If you’re unsure about any of the above, reach out to our team. We’re happy to talk you through any of the above steps, or even help you set up and run your scholarship from start to finish.
Good luck with setting up your scholarship, and have fun!