More Funds to More Students: 3 Ways to Simplify Scholarship Applications

COVID-19 is accelerating the pace at which colleges and universities upgrade their technology and remove barriers for students (think test-optional or test-blind admissions practices). These changes shifted from things schools should do to things they must do. But with all this change, some processes are still living in pre-pandemic times. Consider Scholarship applications. They’re still barriers for students trying to access funds that they desperately need. This one example paints a picture of a large problem with one solution: It’s time to re-evaluate the scholarship application. Here’s where we can start. 

Ditch Long Applications  and Embrace Matching for Eligibility 

Scholarship applications are longer than necessary for a few reasons. First, scholarship administrators want to have the ability to determine which students fit specific scholarships, and that’s impossible unless all the eligibility requirements are collected as part of the application. The more scholarships and the more eligibility requirements that the scholarships have, the longer the applications tend to be. This becomes an obvious barrier to completion for students, especially considering students may be filling out multiple applications. But there is a better way: Matching for eligibility. 

Eligibility for specific scholarship funds can be (and should be) determined by an adaptive matching engine so students can get connected to specific funds (both at their school and externally) with each data point the student provides. This dynamic matching means applications become shorter and more relevant to both the student and to the funds they are being used for. Applications become the differentiator where students set themselves apart, rather than another long qualifying form that doesn’t get completed.  

Modify Essay Requirements 

To boost application completion, consider eliminating, revising or reducing the essay requirements. Ask any student why they don’t complete scholarship applications, and most will tell you it’s because they don’t like all the essays. Scholarship applications are notorious for requiring essays. When applications are used as a qualifier for scholarships instead of dynamic matching, those applications tend to be filled with lots of essays. And that’s because certain scholarships and selection committees require different essays. However, not all the essays are relevant to every applicant. Students may be completing essays for scholarships they are not even eligible for, and they don’t realize it.  

With dynamic matching and more targeted applications, any essays required will be more relevant to the applicant and a better use of time. However, it is even better to replace essays with shorter prompts.  

Many prompts currently ask students to revisit past trauma or continually prove that they’re struggling financially. This in and of itself can cause students to stop the scholarship application process. Shorter prompts focused on the student’s future and where they want to go are far more useful for selection committees and less emotionally taxing on applicants.  

Make Recommendations Equitable 

Removing recommendation letter requirements will increase equity for students and boost application completion. I recently spoke with a Scholarship Chair who said that only around 50% of their funds were being awarded each year due to a lack of applicants. The committee based their selections on information they already had on the students and asked the students to fill out the form anyway—and include a recommendation letter. However, the recommendations were all similar and not a deciding factor. 

Given that most scholarship offers to students are not large sums of money, and donors generally do not require recommendation letters, why are so many required for scholarships? 

For example, a $1,500 scholarship might get divided up between three different applicants, but the recipients had to collect two recommendation letters just to apply. This is a major equity issue as not every student can acquire recommendation letters. So, unless you’re managing a large and prestigious scholarship for more than $10,000, consider eliminating recommendation letter requirements or reducing the requirements. Recommendations can be burdensome on students and reference letter writers, who are typically penning more than one letter of recommendation at a time. 

Simplify  Applications  

It’s important to note that today’s students are not limited to Gen Z. Many students today have jobs and families and limited or no time to fill out multiple long-form applications with repetitive essays and recommendation letters. If you are a school that already has student data needed to make selections for some of your scholarships without an application, consider having no application for those specific funds.  

With award-winning scholarship management tech like ScholarshipUniverse, you can leverage your student data and improve your application process, thanks to one-stop shop dynamic matching. Let’s make applying for scholarships less of a barrier and help students unlock every dollar. 

About the Author

Ken Downs, Product Evangelist

Evangelizing how technology and best practices can remove friction for students, schools, and organizations in the scholarship and financial aid space, Downs is CampusLogic’s Product Evangelist. He was instrumental in leading the development of the University of Arizona’s national award-winning ScholarshipUniverse product, now part of CampusLogic’s platform. A longstanding member of the National Scholarship Provider’s Association, Downs has given workshops titled: Big Data and the Coming Scholarship Sea Change, Scholarship Hacking, and the Scholarship Universe Story.

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