• Reviewing: Best Practices

    One of the most valuable benefits of using a centralized platform to manage your scholarship applications is the time it saves you and your review committee. Uniform scoring, when appropriate, can eliminate the need for your committee to review the same applicants multiple times across multiple scholarships. Allowing you to control what information is available to reviewers can also mean less opportunity for unintentional FERPA violations. As scholarship review season approaches, how can you achieve higher participation from your reviewers and get the most of out their efforts? Simplify your process! Here’s how:

    Make sure your reviewers know what you’re looking for. What purpose are your scoring rubrics serving? You’ve asked your reviewers to rate applicants’ essays with a highest possible score of five. Does your committee know what to look for in an essay response? What separates a score of three from a score of four? Outlining your expectations and sharing them with the committee ahead of time will help ensure that there is a high degree of consistency in the way applications are scored as well as minimal confusion on the reviewers’ part.

    Don’t duplicate your efforts by creating score cards based on scholarship eligibility. If this is your first time managing your scholarship process online, your review committee might have previously been tasked with screening applicants for eligibility in addition to evaluating the more subjective parts of their applications (such as recommendations and essays). Most online scholarship management platforms match applicants with scholarships they’re eligible for based on pre-set scholarship criteria so there’s no need for your reviewers to take on this extra work. Allow your reviewers to focus on other areas of an application and provide their subject matter expertise during the review process by not creating score cards for criteria that have already been evaluated by the software.

    Pre-screen applicants before assigning them to reviewers. You may have scholarships with general criteria that give preference based on certain factors. You’re likely to get higher numbers of applicants on these types of general scholarships. If the number of applicants is so high that it would be a burden for the reviewers to evaluate all of them, consider identifying the top applicants and eliminating those applicants who are unlikely to be awarded that scholarship. For example, if the scholarship in question awards to college students with a 2.0 or higher GPA and gives preferential consideration to female applicants, consider having the committee review only female applicants.

    Set the number of reads on each application. There may be some review committees that prefer that all members read all applications. Other committees might be open to dividing up applications evenly amongst themselves. In the latter case, determine how many sets of eyes you’d like on each application and set this ahead of time so as not to assign a disproportionate amount of applications to any one individual.

    Blind certain pieces of information from reviewers. What do your reviewers need to see on an application? Some information you collect on the application might be considered sensitive or just plain unnecessary for the reviewers. Keep your review process unbiased and uncluttered by hiding this information from reviewers.

    Promote your process. Review committees can be resistant to change when they’re used to doing things the same way year after year. The idea of transitioning to an online review process may seem daunting to them. Be sympathetic and make things easy on them wherever possible, but above all remind them why you’re moving online. Your unified goal is to award scholarship dollars to the most qualified and deserving applicants. Housing applicant data, reviewer scores, and award information in a central location provides benefits that extend beyond any one party involved.

    Collaborate with peers. Networking with similar colleges, universities, and foundations can be beneficial when setting up your review process. Seeing how other administrators have overcome obstacles can help you avoid the same pitfalls.

    There are plenty of ways you can improve your review process, and we’re here to help you figure out how! We’ve worked with our clients to provide suggestions, help adapt platform features to fit their processes, and even facilitate conversations with other clients. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our support team to schedule a strategy call to talk through any questions or concerns you may have.

    Jill Murphy
    Implementation & Training Specialist

  • 2016 Year in Review

    As happens during this time of the year, I have been reflecting on what a momentous year it has been. While searching through my notes, I realized that not only are we closing out 2016, but the AwardSpring platform is two years old. Given that, let's take a look at what we've accomplished in those two years.

    Two years ago, we had our first customers start using the platform as a beta. We had three customers daring enough to start preparation work in December for January 1 go-live. We added conditional (skip) logic into the software just three days prior and it wasn't yet possible to delete a scholarship. We were hurrying to prepare our platform for real customers and closing lots of bugs. We didn’t sleep much.

    Setting up the first AwardSpring site.
    Chris setting up the first AwardSpring site.

    We learned a lot from our customers during that first cycle. Features that we thought were important got put on the back burner, features that we thought could wait were needed immediately. In a lot of ways this exemplifies how we work. Being responsive to customers is crucial to our success. In the first six months, we shipped the following:

    - Reviewer Blinding
    - Help Center
    - SIS Integration
    - Single Sign On

    We also revisited the design of several pages on the site. For example, we completely redesigned the awarding screen to make it customizable. This was a common theme for work that we have done since our initial launch. Each customer has a unique process and features we build need to allow for this wide variation.

    Customizable award and deny screen.

    We continued to improve the software through the back half of 2015 and into 2016. In total, we have updated the software with 29 feature releases in 24 months. The frequency of releases is important to us as it means we can quickly address smaller issues and customer requests. In previous lives at other companies, my team was only able to address concerns during quarterly or yearly releases.

    It is easy to focus only on the software when looking back. The software has many tangible, visible changes. However, one of the biggest, less visible changes has been to our support process. Prior to taking over STARS Online, support was… interesting. Since then, we have introduced a dedicated support team, added the ability to message our support team from inside the software, and expanded our phone coverage. We have also added dedicated implementation specialists to guide our customers through their first award cycle to ensure they can effectively use the software.

    As you can see, our customers are the center of nearly all of the changes we've made in two years. To help formalize the feedback process, we automatically ask customers for feedback after every support interaction. Our client development team also reaches out multiple times a year to see how things are going, address any issues, and schedule additional training.

    In many ways, we're an entirely different company than we were two short years ago. However, our core values remain the same which keeps us focused on customer needs and drives constant improvement.

    We couldn’t be more excited about the future. We have some amazing ideas about how to continue to make scholarship management easier and expand the kinds of tasks the software can help you accomplish.

    If you have feedback, questions, or ideas for where we should head in the future, feel free to send me a note or give me a call.

    Daniel Orofino
    VP, Product Management

    Contact me: 847.859.5017 x 7325 | dorofino@awardspring.com

  • Preparing for Your Next Award Cycle

    No matter how well you prepared your AwardSpring site before your first award cycle, there will likely be adjustments you can make to your site to better streamline your process for your next cycle. Perhaps you didn’t anticipate that certain questions that would trip up your applicants. Maybe you forgot to ask an additional question or essay that could better illuminate students’ qualifications for your reviewers. 

    It's best practice to make these types of changes as you are preparing for your next award cycle. You have the chance to revisit your application and qualifications to smooth any wrinkles that arose during your previous cycle. 

    Here are some suggestions of changes you might want to consider:

    Make workflow corrections Were there particular sections that made the process difficult for applicants? Did you forget to ask an important question? Look back through old emails and tickets from your applicants if you need a refresher on what needs to be adjusted.

    Request custom reports Although you can request custom reports at any point during your award cycle, it is beneficial to ask for them in advance. During your cycle, you might have discovered that the default reports in the AwardSpring system could be tailored a bit more to your process needs. If this is the case, requesting custom reports at the beginning of your cycle will ensure you have your report when you need it. It’ll be right there in the report dropdown!

    Create donor profiles Between cycles is the perfect time to start building out donor profiles, if you haven’t already done so. We built the donor functionality to drive engagement and educate applicants about who is providing the opportunities. Donor profiles can include both internal fields (contact tab) and public-facing information such as profile photos and social media links (profile tab). Profiles can be maintained by either the donors themselves or by you the administrator, depending on how hands-on your donors want to be.

    Acquaint yourself with new features We are regularly adding new features and improving existing ones so we might have removed a constraint you experienced when setting up your previous award cycle. Release notes from the entire year can be found in the Help Center if you would like a full review of the new tools that have been built over the course of the last year. Implementing them might require making larger changes to the application itself so between cycles is the perfect time to do so. Some notable additions from the past year include external requests, custom reports, and impersonating student users.

    Add instructional text Were there places in your application that presented issues for your students? If you found yourself talking through the same questions, you might want to consider adding instructional text to your application to curtail confusion. For example, if you want to clarify for students where they can look up their student ID, you could include a hyperlink in an instructional text box to help them locate that information.

    You can find useful articles about how to make changes to your site in our comprehensive Help Center. And, as always, our support team is always available to talk through any questions you have come across or to help adapt features to fit your process. Don’t hesitate to reach out!

    Cass Montemagni
    Implementation & Training Specialist

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