Monday, April 3, 2017

Effective College Scholarships

Kathleen Sayce, April 2, 2017

Not all scholarships are applied for every year when each crop of seniors graduates from high school and prepares for higher education. We talked to college counselors at several local high schools and learned that this is normal. But why? For college bound students, even a few hundred dollars helps, so we looked in more detail at why this happens, to see if there are guidelines to use when making and managing scholarships that overcome common problems. 

We learned some interesting facts about college scholarships and student behavior. Graduating seniors will often not apply if:
  1. Awards appear to be highly competitive. 
  2. Applications use unique forms or have special application requirements.
  3. Applicants have to hunt for information on what, when, and how to apply. 
  4. The amount awarded is small.
  5. The way awards are made is complex. 
  6. The area of study for the award is obscure. 

For each problem that surfaced, there is a solution that may help:

Competition:  This may be coverage, as in a large geographic area, or study area of focus, or looking for one outstanding student instead of several. If you are planning a new scholarship, think about writing the criteria to make yours seem possible to win by more students. Not every scholarship can pick from 'the best of the best' across multiple schools. Nor should it. The students who do best in life aren't the A+ group, but the B group. They learn early how to work harder, and keep doing so all the way through life. Think Honor Roll, but not Valedictorian. 

Application Forms and Requirements:  Use standard forms! Keep unique requirements to a minimum—an essay or letter. Don’t create all new forms and an all new process. 

Institutional Information about Scholarships:  Keep college counselors in local high schools informed about new and ongoing scholarships. Consider using electronic posting services. In Washington, this includes The Wash Board, a statewide site for high schools, colleges and scholarship providers. Students log in, and see relevant scholarships by geographic area and area of study—it’s much simpler than in past decades. It also gives high schools one place to see all the scholarships that each one offers. 

Clarity:  Every scholarship begins with a great idea—to help future students with higher education. Keep this in mind when you set out the goals for successful applicants. Be clear. Be concise. Be consistent. Be especially clear about what the student needs to do, after having been chosen, to apply for the funds. 

Awards:  Bigger is better. One thousand dollars ($1,000) is a good starting point. Five thousand ($5,000) is better. One year is good. Four years of awards is better. ‘Full rides’—tution, room and board, and money for books, for four full years is fantastic. Think about adding to an existing fund to increase the size of its awards rather than starting a new, and much smaller one. 

Award Timing and Process:   Does the student apply for her or his award after their first term is complete? Or after the first or second year? Clarity is important. Set out the timing to apply for the funds, and how to apply very clearly. 

Area of Study:  Don’t be too specific—your original focus of study may disappear in a few years or a decade. Cultures change. Times change. Departments change. Studies change. Be flexible looking into the future. 

Scholarships are a wonderful idea, a way to help generations of students who come after you to gain training that helps them on to successful lives as adults. Those who get help along the way, in turn will help others when the time comes. And that’s the culture we want to encourage—one where those that can help those who need, so that everyone gets by.