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How To Start a Scholarship Program in 7 Easy Steps

Better application management of scholarships, grants, awards, and more.

How To Start a Scholarship Program in 7 Easy Steps

If your organization is looking into how to start a scholarship program, or even how to re-start your scholarship program, you’ve come to the right place. The truth is that when you decide to launch a scholarship program there are many moving parts you need to be aware of. 

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as making the announcement and choosing someone to randomly receive the money. At least that isn’t how it should be if you want to create a reputable scholarship program.

With that in mind, we’re going to walk you through some important first steps on how to start a scholarship program of your own, and offer some tips you can use along the way.

Step 1 - Consider Your Values, Goals, and Intentions

This is perhaps the most important step in how to start a scholarship program. By aligning your organization’s values, goals, and donor intent with the scholarship program you create you’ll instantly be better equipped for things like:

  • Knowing who is a good fit to receive your scholarship
  • Explaining why applicants didn’t qualify
  • Messaging for donor requests, scholarship promotions, and marketing

For proper alignment of your scholarship program make sure to ask yourself:

What are the core values of your organization? 
For example, if building a strong community is important to your organization, you’ll want applicants who get involved in community affairs and volunteer with local organizations for the greater good. 

What are the goals of your organization? 
Suppose your organization’s top goal is to leave the world a better place than you found it. If this is the case, you’ll want applicants who do things like community service to clean up local beaches and parks, or that spend their time developing products or services that help move the needle on the “Go Green” initiative.

Finally, what is your donor’s intent? 
To answer this question, you’ll need to think about things like whether you want the scholarship to be funded by private donors, small businesses, or even large corporations. If you have a donor already lined up, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you can better align the program to target those who the donor is trying to help. 

You’ll also need to think about the monetary scholarship goals. Consider things like:

  • How much money do you want to give away? 
  • How often will a scholarship be awarded? 
  • The number of recipients you would like your scholarship to have per award period

Pro tip: Keep in mind, you don’t need enormous amounts of money or a large number of recipients for your first scholarship awards.

You could start with one recipient for your first scholarship award and then grow from there. The key is to figure out as much as you can ahead of time so that if you do choose to run this scholarship program more than once, you can scale the process as quickly as possible.

Step 2 - Define Your Scholarship Criteria

Define-Your-Scholarship-CriteriaWhat are the scholarship criteria for an applicant? Create a scholarship rubric with qualification factors so that it’s crystal clear who should apply for the award. 

Pro Tip: Establish quantifiable criteria (e.g. numeric values, picklist choices, etc) as much as possible. It enables greater automation in applicant selection.

For example, if your scholarship is for a high school student looking to use the money to go to college, your criteria could include things like:

  • The GPA requirements of the applicant
  • Number of community service hours you would like to see
  • Preferred extracurricular activities
  • SAT/ACT scores

Or if your scholarship is to award an aspiring cosmetologist with the money to go to a trade school, your criteria could include things like:

  • A written essay explaining why they want to be a cosmetologist
  • Training or certifications in cosmetology
  • An apprenticeship with a salon

Step 3 - Create an Application Form

Pro Tip: Use SmarterSelect scholarship management software to create your application form! 

This will help you make quick work of this step as well as the next steps.

Our scholarship management software makes it easy to quickly design an application form for your hopeful applicants. Using the software is a breeze for applicants as well. They can quickly answer questions, upload transcripts, documents such as written essays, pictures, and more. 

As this guide is more of an overview on how to start a scholarship program, we highly recommend reading our 3 part series on building an online application:

-- Part 1 - Make it easy for the user

-- Part 2 - Guide users and keep them on track

-- Part 3 - Make it easy and efficient for evaluators

Once you have created an application form, it’s time to move on to the next step in our guide.

Step 4 - Collecting Applications

Collecting-Applications Now, it’s time to publish your application and allow people to apply for your scholarship. For some scholarship programs, this can be one of the most intense parts of the process. It can feel overwhelming being flooded with applications. 

That’s why it’s so important to use quality scholarship application software. With it, you can create filters that identify individuals who are unqualified before they even apply.

Pro Tip: Create a reasonable deadline for applications, and stick to it. 

There should be a limited amount of time for applicants to apply. It’s only fitting that if they can’t meet the deadline, they are automatically disqualified from having the opportunity to be rewarded with the money. 

If it’s a scholarship for college, perhaps students only have the winter to apply. Or, if it’s for a trade school scholarship, maybe you only allow students to apply for the 8-12 weeks prior to open enrollment. 

You do need to give applicants enough time to learn about your scholarship and actually fill out a thoughtful application. However, you don’t want to give them too much time considering statistically most people will apply in the final week of an application process anyway

Step 5 - Evaluate Applicants

All of our clients have told us this is the most tedious, stressful, and time-consuming element in the process of how to start a scholarship program.

That’s not surprising considering many of the people who are going to apply should be qualified to receive your scholarship. Add to that the fact that you clearly have a giving nature - it’s why you started a fund in the first place - and it’s that much harder to narrow the field. 

It’s not uncommon to want to give it to everyone. Since that’s not possible, you will have to fine-tune your method for thinning the herd and picking just a handful of people to closely consider for the award. 

The good news is, thanks to those pre-qualifying questions, you’re already going to have many of your would-be applicants eliminated from the get-go. SmarterSelect makes it easy to manage just a few or as many as thousands of applicants. With automated recommendations, and a customized scoring process you can quickly eliminate many of the applicants in much less time than you would initially expect. 

From there, you will be left with a much smaller pool for your team to go through. You’ll never have to worry whether or not you are giving your award to a deserving candidate because your own customization settings will be what curates the final list of applicants for your consideration. Then, comes the best part of this entire process.

Step 6 - Give Out the Scholarships

Give-Out-the-ScholarshipsThere’s truly no experience quite like helping someone’s dreams to come true. The way it can significantly alter a person’s life for the better is the very reason most people seek out how to start a scholarship program. 

Once you have chosen your intended recipient or recipients, you can decide on any number of ways to make the announcement. From sending a letter and announcing it on your website, to taking the recipients to dinner, or hosting an awards ceremony, the possibilities are plenty. This is the step that makes it all worth it. 

Step 7 - Go Back to Step 1 and Start the Process Again

We’re betting if you’re like most of our clients, you’ll want to repeat this process again. After all, it’s not only a wonderful feeling to help others, but it’s a fabulous way to build brand awareness for your organization. If you’re ready to scale your scholarship program and make it more efficient, click here to download our in-depth scholarship management guide for program managers.Download eBook: The Ultimate Scholarship Management Guide for Program Managers

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