How the Scholarship Application Process Works | Scholarship America

How Do Scholarships Work?

Scholarships  |  8 minute read

We’re giving students a peek behind the curtain to see what happens before and after they submit their applications to Scholarship America and what they can expect throughout the process.

After spending weeks (or months!) applying to various scholarships, waiting around to find out what happens next can feel gut-wrenching to students. You might be asking yourself, “When will I hear back? How are they making their decisions? Is anyone even reading my application?”

At Scholarship America, we know there’s a bit of mystery around the process. In this piece, we’re pulling back the curtain to share what really happens after (and long before) you click “Submit.” Understanding how we work and why we make certain decisions will hopefully give you more confidence in the process.

While application details vary by opportunity, there are three unique phases that remain generally the same:

  1. Scholarship Creation: Scholarship America works with partners to co-create unique opportunities based on their specific program goals. 
  2. Applicant Submissions: Scholarship America launches the program, accepts applications, and begins processing and evaluating them.
  3. Recipient Notifications: Scholarship America informs the recipients of the scholarship that they’ve won, notifies the sponsor of the selection and manages the logistics of sending the money where it needs to go.

Below, we’ll share more details around what happens during each phase of the process and how the scholarship process really works.

Phase 1: Creating the Scholarship

The Goal of Phase 1: Design and build a scholarship that is easy for students to understand, apply to, and get excited about.

A lot of work goes into creating scholarships; so first, it’s important to understand the Scholarship America mission and why we do this. Our team is working toward an ambitious goal: to award a majority of our scholarships to high financial need, historically marginalized students by 2027. We are currently hard at work growing to reach that goal.

Before students ever see or complete an application, multiple people and parties are at-work behind-the-scenes. Together, we’re crafting the program, creating the goals, and deciding on the selection criteria to make sure the opportunity aligns with our larger mission and desire to help students find success beyond high school.

A critical component prior to putting any design into action is to fully understand a sponsor’s “why.”  Most programs will have primary goals and secondary goals—philanthropy, legacy, brand awareness, employee benefits, workforce development, diversity and equity, and more. Our responsibility is to create a design that will fulfill these goals for the sponsor, while ensuring the process is student-centric and student-friendly.

— Eric Wilner, Partner Solutions Director

What’s Happening in Phase 1:

  • We collaborate to design a specific opportunity. Scholarship America works with all types of organizations to create scholarship programs that reflect specific missions and initiatives. There are so many smaller decisions that need to be made, and each one works together to build a unique opportunity.
  • We figure out the logistics + prepare to launch. When it comes to creating scholarship programs, there are a lot of details that need to be addressed. Substantial work goes into determining the specifics of each opportunity and it can take anywhere between 3 months and a year to fully flesh out.
  • We use language that’s equitable and inclusive. To encourage a diverse applicant pool, our team writes and rewrites the program and criteria language to connect with as many deserving students as possible.
  • Length of Phase 1: 3 months – 1 year

Question: Why do you need so much personal information and how do you use it?
Answer: We only ask for the information we absolutely need to evaluate applicants, confirm their identities, and pay out awards. Let’s break down the scholarship application components and why we ask for each bit of info:

  • Certain information is required for administrative purposes and to simply confirm you are who you say you are (e.g. your name, birthdate, address, tax forms, etc.)
  • Some information (e.g. your family income, academic transcript) we need so we can confirm you qualify for the specific opportunity you applied for
  • The Scholarship America essays help us learn more about you and what makes you unique. Over time, we’ve shortened and streamlined them to make them easier for students to complete and submit. Scholarship America asks applicants to talk briefly about your education and career goals, and about any unusual circumstances you’ve overcome in your life

We take the privacy, safety and security of personal information super seriously at Scholarship America. While it might feel extra to be asking so much, you can trust that you’re sharing your information with real people who care a lot about security.

Phase 2: Accepting Submissions + Selecting Recipients

The Goal of Phase 2: Make it easy for students to apply to the scholarship and for program evaluators to fairly review the applicants.

After the scholarship is designed, then we create an application website. That’s where we share all of the essential information with prospective students, guidance counselors, and others to clearly articulate who the opportunity is for, how recipients are selected, and which pieces of information are required to apply. 

We also work with the partner to determine ways to spread the word about the opportunity, which could include a listing on the Scholarship America website, social media posts, email promotion and more.

What’s Happening in Phase 2:

  • We begin actively accepting applications. This is a really exciting time for Scholarship America; we love seeing the applications roll in and feel a huge sense of responsibility over ensuring opportunities go to the most qualified students.
  • We promote the key dates and deadlines to attract qualified applicants. Usually we do this via email campaigns, social media, relationships with schools and guidance counselors, and the marketing efforts from our partners. So if you’re a student looking for opportunities, keep an eye on these channels for relevant announcements, especially during November-March.
  • Customer service answers questions from students, parents, guidance counselors, and others. Our customer service support team is dedicated to helping you resolve issues and gain clarity. Plus, they have an average response rate of replying in 38 minutes during standard business hours.
  • We go through each and every application we receive. After the application deadline ends, our team of evaluation specialists gets to work reviewing each application with a fine-toothed comb. The number of applicants per scholarship varies. Sometimes we receive hundreds or even thousands of applications, and other times we can’t give away all of the designated award funds because there aren’t enough qualified applicants.
  • Length of Phase 2: 3 months – 6 months

Question: How does Scholarship America make sure the evaluation process is fair?
Answer: The Scholarship America team includes a group of more than twenty trained evaluation specialists, who use their background in higher education to assess applications. All applications are evaluated based on the information provided by you and the agreed-upon criteria of the scholarship, and our evaluation specialists are trained to review each submission in the least biased, most equitable way possible.

Phase 3: Spreading the News + Sending the Funds

The Goal of Phase 3: Clearly notify every applicant and celebrate the students who will be receiving awards.

In the final phase of the scholarship process, Scholarship America shares our selections with the program sponsor for final approval, and then notifies all applicants via email whether or not they received an award. In this phase, we also provide more details to our recipients how and when they can expect to receive the funds.

“The end result of seeing the impact an award has on a student is the most fulfilling part of our job. It takes a ton of work to get to this point, but the moment is real and so rewarding. … [I] cannot help but shed a tear and feel pride in the role we play in the overall process.”

— Eric Wilner, Partner Solutions Director

What’s Happening in Phase 3:

  • All applicants are notified whether they’ll be receiving a scholarship award. Scholarship America and our partners update every applicant, whether you’ve been selected to receive funds or not.
  • Scholarship recipients formally “accept” their awards. Before anything else can happen, recipients must formally accept their scholarship opportunity. If they do not, the funds may be dispersed to another recipient.
  • Checks are mailed to either the recipients or directly to the schools.
  • Length of Phase 3: 4 months – 6 months

Question: Do you let everyone know if they win or not?
Answer: Yes. It’s essential to our values for each student to hear from us directly whether they’ll be receiving funds or not. We know how much time and effort is put into the application process and want to show our respect and appreciation for every single student. We also want to acknowledge their efforts and encourage them to stick with the scholarship process. After all, it’s never too late and it only takes one to make a difference.

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