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How to Start a Scholarship Fund

By Matt Konrad

Updated June 2024

Starting a scholarship fund is an outstanding way to make an impact on the world, change the lives of students and leave a legacy for yourself, your organization or your company.

But creating and managing a program on your own requires extra time, money and training. Ongoing marketing, application reviews, customer service and disbursement of funds can all add an excessive administrative burden on your internal team. At Scholarship America, we combine best-in-class scholarship administration with our nonprofit mission, and we administer scholarship programs for corporations and foundations of all sizes. Partnering with us will help give you back your time and save you money, while creating a bigger impact for students.

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As you consider starting a scholarship, here’s what you need to know.

Define your “why”

  • What’s driving you to start a scholarship, and what impact do you hope to have?
  • What students do you want to serve? Will you focus on new high school grads, current college students or nontraditional groups like returning adult learners or upskilling professionals?
  • Are you providing assistance to your employees, their families or a community population?
  • Are you serving a specific demographic group, population or field of study?
  • Will you be focusing on students’ financial need, or other criteria?

Knowing your goals and your target audience will help define the administration and funding process.

Scholarship funding and sustainability

  • How is your scholarship being funded?
  • Will your scholarship be given just once, or will it be renewed throughout a student’s college education?
  • Will you be funding tuition only, or other important living expenses?
  • Are you aware of the tax regulations around scholarship award distribution?
  • Have you considered administrative expenses and resources, including application processing, marketing, legal, printing and award distribution?

Like most things, scholarship awards come with hidden expenses, and the budget to give away a $5,000 scholarship isn’t just $5,000.

Administration and award selections

  • How will you be hosting, advertising and processing scholarship applications?
  • Who will be reviewing applications and selecting award recipients, and can you ensure that their judgment will be neutral?
  • Have you considered outsourcing administration to ensure resources remain sustainable?
  • Who will be handling customer service questions?

Starting a scholarship with impact

  • How can you afford to best help your community?
  • Is your scholarship criteria inclusive enough to attract a significant number of applications?
  • How do you want to support your scholarship award winners throughout their education?

To start a scholarship fund with a real impact, we recommend a minimum award amount of $1,000; our sponsors’ average award is just over $3,500. Awards of $5,000 or more are considered prestigious—the kind of award that makes a tangible impact, and consequently one a student will never forget.

Lots of planning is needed up front to create a great scholarship program — and that’s before you even start creating applications, selecting a review committee and answering applicant questions. Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone.

Whether you’re a company looking to start a scholarship fund for employees or their families, or an individual looking to start a scholarship in honor or a mentor, you’re in good hands. Everyone deserves an opportunity to pursue their educational dreams, regardless of financial status. At Scholarship America we can help you help others achieve their education goals. Get in touch today to learn more about how we can work together to make student dreams come true.

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