How to Develop Your Own Scholarship Program

Build 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.

Your Goals

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.”

Your Audience

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.

Application Requirements

Once you’ve got your audience sorted, you’ll want to determine what you’ll ask of your applicants.

Essays and personal statements

Essays are among the most common requirements. You’ll provide a prompt and applicants will write a certain number of words in response. Essays are great for getting to know an applicant on a more personal level, but can be difficult to score efficiently. Still, if you want to get a sense of your applicants’ thought processes and personalities, nothing beats an essay or personal statement.



Grades are a classic factor in many scholarship programs — so much so that many administrators are staying away from them so they can reach a more diverse audience. Asking about applicants’ grades can be a quick and straightforward way to adjudicate, and offers a glimpse of an applicant’s overall performance, but can obscure facts and circumstances that might interest you, too.



References are typically required for only the most popular or competitive scholarships — and because getting a reference letter relies on outside forces, chances are you’ll see fewer applicants than if you didn’t require a reference. References can be a good way to read an applicant’s personality, in a roundabout way, but they can be tough to score.


Multimedia submissions

Videos, poetry, and other creative arts can also be used alongside or in place of any of the more traditional requirements above. What you look for will depend on your goals and audience, but asking for a media submission in place of (or addition to) any of the classics above can give you great insight into your applicants — and potentially diversify your applicant pool.


Proof of enrolment

If you want to confirm that your applicants are in school — and they’re studying what they say they are — you may want to ask for proof of enrolment. Whether a student can get this proof depends on the time of year. Schools generally send out enrolment confirmation in the summer. If students can’t get official confirmation before your deadline, consider accepting an offer of admission instead.


Terms and Conditions

You’ll need to draw up a document outlining your Terms and Conditions. There are many boilerplate templates available online to guide you, but if you’ve got a legal department handy, best to let them handle it!

Your Terms and Conditions should clearly lay out the purpose of your scholarship program, all of the steps to apply, all eligibility requirements and restrictions, disbursement plans, and any liability disclaimers you feel are necessary. If possible, you should include the dates you’ll select and announce winners, as well.


Reaching the right audience with your scholarship is an important step, especially if you’re running a big program, or you’re looking for a specific demographic to apply.

Sites like ScholarshipsCanada will index your award listing for free, and offer more extensive marketing options as well. Email campaigns and social media ad placements can also be good ways to get the word out.

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.


First-round cuts

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.


Training adjudicators

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.


Scholarships, like any income source, are subject to taxation. Many post-secondary students are eligible for a scholarship exemption, meaning student recipients will be able to write your scholarship off, but you’ll still need to report the expense when your organization is doing its taxes.

The basic scholarship exemption for students is worth $500, and may grow beyond that depending on a student’s scholarships and expenses.

Even if you’re not part of a registered charity, your organization will still get a tax credit for funds spent on scholarship programs. You can learn everything you need to know (and more) about scholarships and the CRA on their website.


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!

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