No one I know got into the field of Financial Aid Administration to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a paper-pusher, or compliance cop (though those are both hats we often wear). We entered higher education with a goal of helping students navigate the financial aid process. That goal supports a larger vision FinAid professionals have of helping students to improve their lives—and in many cases, changing the trajectory of entire families. Lofty? Maybe. Difficult? Definitely. But we work at it, every single day. That’s why when news articles like “Vaping essays: E-cigarette Sellers Offering Scholarships,” and “Not All Scholarships Have Students At Heart,” come out, I feel compelled to write.
Finding Time to Find Scholarships
With the rising cost of education, achieving higher education dreams can often no longer be funded solely through Federal aid dollars. Students frequently need to supplement their educational funding with additional dollars. A perfect example: Scholarships, both institutional and ones offered by private external organizations. How much time do FinAid employees have to help students search for right-fit scholarships on a one-to-one basis? The honest answer is often minutes, or seconds. And there’s not a Financial Aid Officer around who doesn’t wish they had hours to dedicate to it—because scholarship dollars can make all the difference.
But the reality is that Financial Aid Offices have a lot going on. Totally transparent moment: More than a lot. Aid offices are overburdened by regulations and obligations handed down from the Federal and State Governments, Veterans Affairs, and collegiate admiration. Aid Office employees work through all of these things before they ever do anything to serve a student, who is the primary customer. And when push comes to shove in terms of prioritization, do you think maintaining federal compliance or providing scholarship search tools and assistance will win out?
Dreams Are Expensive—So Are Scam Scholarships
A Director of Financial Aid for seven-plus years, scholarship search tools and scholarship assistance were often deprioritized in my office—solely because there were never enough hours in a day. Where I would have preferred a digital tool, or a solid list of scholarships I trusted to give to my students, I had neither. Instead, I had to point to a list on our website, and a print out of “Scholarship resources” that students could take. Neither was very helpful. The list was outdated, poorly vetted, and—most importantly—didn’t offer any type of personal guidance or follow-up assistance.
Sometimes I thought that the students might be better off doing nothing rather than using those resources I gave them, because we didn’t often update them (seriously, no time to vet them). So we just kept printing those lists and handing them out. But then I read articles like the ones I referenced earlier, and I know that our efforts helped—even just a little. Because identifying scholarship providers who have ulterior motives is getting harder and harder.
Fully-Vetted External Scholarship Database #RightHere
Within ScholarshipUniverse—launched in April by CampusLogic—we offer the first and only fully-vetted external scholarship database. I know what you’re thinking, “Sure it is, Amy. SURE it is. And just how do you vet it?” I’m glad you asked. I reached out to Carissa Danbury, one of our most tenured scholarship researchers, and asked her to explain the vetting process. Danbury and her team have reviewed more than 7,000 external scholarship opportunities to-date. Fourteen percent did not pass the strict vetting standards required for a scholarship opportunity to be placed within the ScholarshipUniverse database.
“Vetting a scholarship is done by checking it thoroughly for legitimacy,” says Carissa. “There are guidelines on how to do this, and what is considered ‘legit.’ Some scholarships are scams and can potentially be a risk to anyone applying for them.”
Fees, PII Requests and Vaping: Things Not in Our Database
Carissa and her team have worked hard to refine a structured, repeatable vetting steps that take the gut feel out of the process. “There are definitely some things that are a hard no for us. For example, you’ll never see scholarships in our system that have fees associated with an application, scholarships that offer a ‘guaranteed win,’ or that ask for banking or personal identifiers like social security number or passport information,” Carissa explains. “You also won’t see scholarships related to controlled substances, vaping, or smoke shops.”
The ScholarshipUniverse research team digs in to learn as much information as possible about a potential scholarship provider, the application itself, and any promotional materials that exists. If a scholarship passes this initial vetting round, a second research pass searches to identify any inconsistencies: think grammatical errors, unprofessional presentation of information, invalid contact info, or requirements for social sharing. “It’s a pretty strict process, which is what everyone wants it to be to help protect students,” says Carissa.
Vetting: Not A One-Time Thing at CampusLogic
The scholarship review process is one that will be ongoing—and opportunities will be reevaluated on an annual basis to ensure they’re still active. What type of effort has this been? Huge. The team reviewing scholarships at CampusLogic has included up to seven people actively vetting potential scholarships full time. That’s all time that Financial Aid Offices don’t have to spend to provide students with a huge, vetted resource that can help students close funding gaps and bring outside funds to the institution. How’s that for peace of mind?