How to Maintain a Fair Scholarship Award Process


Wouldn’t life be easier if we could hand out scholarships to every college student who needs one?

Instead, scholarship offices have the tricky task of managing the distribution of a limited but precious amount of institutional funds—and where there are many people vying for limited resources, questions of fairness often come into play.

Fairness, Defined in the Scholarship Office

What does “fair” even mean? It’s not about equity, it’s about equality. Scholarship and Financial Aid Offices know the process isn’t always fair. A student receives an athletic scholarship—while you watch another student struggle to pay the semester’s tuition.

Donors often come forward with generous scholarship endowments that provide invaluable assistance for those students, but often want to set their own eligibility criteria.

5 Tips to Ensure Your Scholarship Award Process is Fair

But there are opportunities for scholarship offices to consistently ensure fairness in the awarding process. By grasping these opportunities, you work toward the goal of ensuring that more students receive the support they need to graduate from college.

  1. Understand your students. What information does the scholarship application collect about students? Can you easily match—and rank—their profile with the awarding criteria? Is it enough to enable committees to make decisions about how they can help students achieve their goals?
  2. Attract a large pool of applicants. This helps to ensure that decision-makers select the students that best fit award criteria. The best way to do that? Make sure students know about your institutional (and vetted external) scholarships; remove any barriers that may be preventing them from applying. Tedious, time-consuming applications are a big obstacle!
  3. Be donor-friendly. Have a donor-friendly culture to keep the number, variety, and value of scholarships funds high. The more donors you have, the more awards you’ll have to help support student success
  4. Be strategic. Sometimes, you must be strategic to be fair. A College Futures report looks at the power of awards to help students enroll at, and graduate, college. It points out that students awarded scholarships are more likely to enroll in college. Awarding scholarships to low-income students who are on the fence about enrolling can persuade them to enroll. A scholarship can be pivotal in some students’ decisions to pursue higher education—something to keep in mind throughout the process.
  5. Be transparent. Be open about your awarding process, and how you make decisions. Be transparent about the scholarship office and all review committee policies.

Disillusioned students may not apply for awards, and that’s definitely not fair. If students know you are on their side, they’ll be more engaged with the awards process. After all, that’s what scholarship fairness is really about: Being committed to student success.

More Scholarship Best Practices >


Previous Article
Keep Scholarship Providers in the Game—and Off the Sidelines
Keep Scholarship Providers in the Game—and Off the Sidelines

“The ability for scholarship organizations to allocate & disburse funds has come to a standstill,” says VP ...

Next Article
How to Improve the Scholarship Review Process [On-Demand Webinar]
How to Improve the Scholarship Review Process [On-Demand Webinar]

Frustrated by how much work it takes to get scholarship applications to the right reviewers—and managing th...