Starting a scholarship program may seem like a no-brainer. For one, it’ll let you support your community or workforce. It will also facilitate a future with more skilled labor. Not to mention, establish your philanthropic legacy that’s customized to reflect the institutions and field of study you’re interested in.  

However, creating such a program is a process. It’s not all about setting aside a specific sum of money, calling for applications, and picking winners in the spring. A fair, beneficial, and sustainable grant program requires proper planning from the onset – which begins by clearly answering the following questions. 

Which communities or students do you want to support?

Sallie Mae How America Pays for College report noted that, in the 2019/2020 academic year, families spent a median of $30,017 on college. That’s nearly 50% of the average household income. With 70% of families using grants or scholarships to help pay for college. 

In short, the number of people who need scholarships is high. But seeing that you cannot benefit everyone in need, it’s best to focus and narrow the target group. 

To do so, choose a group of students who you genuinely want to impact. Think of people who are:

  • In underrepresented communities 
  • Working on causes that you value 
  • Like your younger self 
  • Representatives of values you care about (or find important) 

The goal is to select a target group that resonates with you. Thus, customize and personalize your scholarship selection criteria in ways that represent your interests. For example, you can establish a memorial scholarship to honor loved ones.

You can use different attributes to inform your scholarship criteria. It could be need, merit, skills, or athletic ability. Whatever factors you settle for, ensure the resulting group is broad enough to pass for a charitable class and narrow to match your interests.   

You might also want to consider how to weigh applicants’ achievements relative to their circumstances. For example, how to fairly compare students with a lower GPA (but have to work) to straight-A students (who rarely work.)

If you don’t have specific personal criteria, support national priorities and narrow it down from there. Think of, 

  • Increasing nursing students 
  • Increasing the number of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields 
  • Generating more interest in computer coding 

How many applicants do you expect?

The scope of your grant or scholarship program will dictate the number of applicants you can expect. That boils down to several factors, including:

  • Your qualifying criteria. If your program is too targeted or restricted, getting enough qualified applicants may be difficult. Conversely, keeping the qualifications less restrictive may result in more applicants. 
  • The application period. Keeping the program open longer, say 3-6 months give interested candidates ample time to apply – which may translate to a competitive applicant pool. 
  • Time of the year. Awarding scholarships when students in your target group are paying tuition may increase the number of applicants. Overall though, students apply for grants all year round. There’s no “best” time for awarding scholarships.
  • Promotion strategy. You can increase the number of applicants by selecting a scholarship management service with access to millions of potential candidates. Or by sharing your scholarship details with people who might be a good fit or schools with eligible students. You can also share the details on your social networks. 

How much impact can you afford?

The cost of a college education is skyrocketing by the day. Never has a degree been more expensive.

Nonetheless, you don’t have to make your grants as prestigious. You can start with as little as $500 a year, and it will be meaningful to a person in need. 

The key here is to define the amount you want to give and how often – and set up the program correctly so that your donations are tax-deductible. 

To add more impact, you can engage your network. Just deploy platforms that make it easy for people to donate. For example, you can set up a bank account to accept donations. (Keep in mind that large donations may be taxable.) Or opt for crowdfunding options.  

You can also add more impact by making the scholarship renewable. The student can receive the grant for multiple school years so long as they meet the program’s renewal criteria. 

What’s the scholarship’s actual budget? 

The scholarship budget goes beyond the amount you want to donate. It includes your team’s hourly rates or outsourcing costs. That’s money spent to manage the program, from creating the application to ensuring funds are disbursed correctly.

You can reduce your expenses by retaining affordable scholarship management services, like Scholar’s App.

How will you design the program?

Designing the scholarship program, finding potential candidates, evaluating applications, making selections, etc. Now, that’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s also where your dreams of offering scholarships flop or flourish. 

Thus, prepare for the workload or hire an experienced scholarship management service provider—to manage your program’s funds’ logistics and operations. In other words, use your dollars efficiently and minimize your engagement level. 

If you need more hands-on-deck, Scholar’s App offers a free platform for donors to assist throughout the entire lifecycle of your scholarship.

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