Scholarships and the College Decision-Making Process


Scholarships aren’t just bonus bucks for college. They’re an important influencer for many students’ ultimate decisions about where to enroll.

Career prospects and academic reputation are still the top two reasons students choose their schools, according to the Freshman Survey, conducted by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program. But finances increasingly influence enrollment decisions. The researchers say students are becoming savvier shoppers—search diligently for the best package or deal.

How Scholarships Influence College Enrollment Decisions

Scholarships are a huge influencer right from the get-go. One study showed nearly four in 10 students said their eligibility for scholarships at a particular school inspired their final choice. It noted that while 92% of students were accepted into their first-choice school, only 83% ended up enrolling. One-third of those who flipped said they enrolled at a back-up school because their awards package was better.

It doesn’t take a lot of cash to influence those decisions. Almost 90% of students say they’d at least be somewhat swayed toward one school over another for as little as a $500 annual scholarship award.

Scholarships Help in Retention, Too

Often, all the scholarship attention is bestowed upon incoming students. But scholarships are important for student retention, too. They can help keep students from jumping to another institution. Or worse, dropping out because of financial constraints. SUNY Buffalo discovered that scholarship awards are a potent incentive for students to stay all the way to graduation.

4 Tips to Ensure Your Scholarships Support Enrollment Decisions

It’s clear that scholarships are important to today’s student. How can institutions best use them to support their decision-making process?

  1. Be loud and clear: Almost every school has a wide selection of awesome institutional awards. Promote them! Make sure your students are aware of them—and what they may be eligible for.
  2. Promote your scholarships during recruitment: Students are shopping around—and they’re looking for scholarship opportunities as they browse. Be a savvy salesperson: “Advertise” those opportunities throughout the enrollment process.
  3. Look beyond freshman year: Don’t stop promoting awards once students sign their acceptance letters. Help them succeed long-term by reminding them of scholarships they may apply for in their second year and beyond.
  4. Keep it simple: Make the awards process easy and intuitive. A user-friendly system shows students that you’re committed to helping them find those invaluable award dollars.


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