Five Questions You Need to Answer Before Starting a Scholarship Program
By Scholarship America
For organizations of all sizes, starting a scholarship program is a win-win. Scholarships allow you to support your workforce, their families or your community; they help ensure higher education and a future with more skilled workers; and they are a compelling benefit that helps you recruit, retain and delight your staff.
But creating a scholarship isn’t as simple as setting aside $1,000, putting a stack of application forms in the break room, and picking a student winner in the spring. An equitable and impactful scholarship program takes a lot of thought at the outset—and the first thing you will need to do is to answer these five questions.
1) Who am I passionate about supporting?
It’s crucial to figure out who you want to benefit from your scholarship program. Are you planning to reward employees directly, or provide awards to their children? Do you want to open the application to anyone in your local, regional, national or global community, or are you keeping the awards accessible just to your team? Should you earmark your scholarship funds for students pursuing degrees at a certain school, or careers in a certain industry? Do you want to help students from low-income families, or from communities underrepresented in your field? The question of who you want to impact, and why, will go a long way towards determining the shape of your program.
2) What does my workforce look like?
Think about the demographics of your workforce. How old are they? Are they young and single, or older with families? Are their kids mostly in diapers, or mostly in high school? All of these questions will help you figure out what kind of scholarship program to offer.
Many companies offer a standard children-of-employees scholarship to help those closest to them pay for higher education—a valuable solution for your families. However, for a tech startup with a millennial and Gen Z workforce, a scholarship aimed at a specific cause or community might make more sense. Or, for a law firm with an older staff and grown children, a local or regional scholarship may be valuable for community relations (and future interns and associates!)
3) Can I afford to make an impact?
If you’re thinking of starting a scholarship fund, you already know that the cost of higher education has shot up over the past two decades. A degree has never been a better investment—or a more expensive one. To create a scholarship with a real impact, we recommend gearing your budget toward higher-dollar scholarships, even if it means awarding fewer students each year. By providing $5,000 or $10,000 scholarships, you’re offering life-changing opportunities that students won’t forget.
In addition, you can deepen your scholarship’s impact by making it renewable, meaning a student receives the award for multiple school years as long as he or she continues to meet the program’s required renewal criteria. This type of award indicates a true commitment to the student, helping them persist all the way to graduation.
4) How can I ensure the integrity of the scholarship?
Today’s college students and scholarship applicants grew up online, and they know the hazards of scams, data breaches and misinformation all too well. It’s vital that your scholarship program is set up to be fair, unbiased and trustworthy—and that’s where a partner like Scholarship America can be immensely valuable.
By outsourcing the management and evaluation of your scholarship to a trusted, nonprofit third party, you’re ensuring that applications are judged by an expert, unbiased team with decades of experience. And by working with Scholarship America, you’re able to promise that students’ personal information is safe: unlike many organizations (including some nonprofits), we are committed to never selling, misusing or licensing student data, and we have a full-time Data Security Officer supervising a dedicated team to keep all student and client PII safe and secure.
5) How do I know what I don’t know?
As your program gets established and grows, the complexities—and the time and money required to manage them—will expand. Tax concerns, financial aid displacement, the ins-and-outs of dealing with colleges and financial aid offices and deadlines: they can all start out confusing, and the answers often lead to more questions.
If your scholarship is outgrowing your team—or if you just don’t know where to start—contact the experts at Scholarship America. Our experienced scholarship management professionals can help you answer these questions and create a program that delivers maximum benefits to exactly the students you hope to help.