Scholarship Planning: What worked, what didn’t, and how to move forward.

Many scholarship administrators wear multiple hats. And busy days make it difficult to spend time assessing current workflows. But taking time for assessment and planning can be instrumental in making your next year run smoothly and efficiently.

These three basic steps will help you move in the right direction:

1. Identify pain points.

Keep notes. The best way to figure out where the pain points are in your process is to keep a notebook or sticky wall to document frustrations. Remember, if you make no changes to your workflow, those frustrations will reappear each year.

Brainstorm with your calendar. Look through your calendar and brainstorm a list of areas that could use improvement. For instance, if several days are blocked on your calendar to allot point values to students’ GPA, SAT/ACT Scores, and Financial Need, take note. You may be able to use inline evaluation or reporting formulas to speed up the process.

Ask your co-workers. If you haven’t documented your pain points as you experience them, there’s a good chance they have been brought up in conversation with co-workers. Whether in formal meetings, or break room venting sessions, your co-worker may remember the things that drove you crazy last scholarship season, even if you don’t.

So, now you have a list of pain points. In my early years of scholarship administration, this is where I ended. Overwhelmed by how hard things can be, I would get busy moving on to the next piece and never use the list to act. Remember, action is where the change happens. A well thought out action is what makes the next cycle smoother.

2. Create action items. Consider the following solutions to alleviate pain points:

Utilize different question types to receive information in a uniform way. If you spend time adjusting high school names that students have entered for an award letter, take time to enter in the names of eligible high schools into an alphabetized drop-down menu. Spending extra time setting up questions to get answers in the format you want could save you hours in correcting applicant input information later. As a bonus, you will easily be able to pull accurate reports using that field.

Add instructions to question groups or individual questions to preemptively answer the most common applicant questions. This can be particularly helpful when asking students financial questions. By including a link to a sample 1040 Tax Form or a Student Aid Report (SAR) highlighting the location of the desired information, you can cut down on inaccurate information and calls to your office.

Remove questions that are not used in award selection. Many application questions are asked out of tradition rather than necessity. For example, are you really using all three letters of recommendation to determine if a student is worthy of a scholarship? Would one letter suffice? If you’re awarding based on GPA and the student essay, do you even need a letter of recommendation? This change may need additional discussion with your team or donors so start the conversation early.

Provide additional information in automated emails to help students and evaluators perform their required tasks with fewer questions. The automated emails within the system have probably already made your life easier, but you can maximize them by providing information about what’s coming next, links to other scholarship providers, helpful hints, and instructions. Don’t forget to add the log-in URL in every email to help students, evaluators, and staff get back into your scholarship site quickly and easily.

3. Take Action. Now that you have identified your pain points and action items, you must TAKE ACTION! Addressing even one or two items on your list will make the next season much easier.

Schedule time to take action. We all have great intentions when it comes to improvement, but you must remember the value of assessment and action. An hour today could save you 10 hours during your busy season.

Consider who else needs to be involved and in what areas. You probably don’t need to discuss changing a question type with your entire team, but you most likely need to discuss removing a question entirely. Schedule time to address items that need input to appropriate teammates.  

Talk to your Client Success Manager. Schedule time to talk with your CSM about your pain points. They may help you identify some strategic changes in your workflow or use of the site that will create efficiency. They may also be able to show you features you’re not using that will ease the problem or make it disappear completely.

In the world of scholarship management, it’s easy to focus on the immediate. Helping students, families, donors, and board members with their current needs is enough to fill any day. I encourage you to spend time in assessment to care for yourself and create a more enjoyable day-to-day. Never forget that your emails, spreadsheets, meetings and workflows are changing the lives of real people all around you. You are providing a great service to your community and an amazing opportunity to students. Keep up the great work!

Photo by Sam Mgrdichian on Unsplash

About the Author

Alyse Braaten

Alyse has been working in the field of college access and scholarships for over 10 years with a focus on students residing in California’s Central Valley. She believes in the power of scholarships to uplift students, families, and communities. Born and raised in Bakersfield, California, she has deep roots and strong connections to the nonprofit sector. Before joining Foundant, Alyse spent three years with the Kern Community Foundation as they transitioned from limited paper-based scholarships to extensive online scholarship portfolio through Foundant. This exceptional experience allowed Alyse to work directly with students and school staff prior to application, build relationships with donors and community volunteers during selection and follow-up, and support awarded students throughout their college career; maintaining awareness of the entire path of success.

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