• Post-award Best Practices

    Managing your awarded applicants can be a time-consuming process. You might need to collect required documents from students, ensure that they still meet minimum qualifications, or have students formally accept your awards. You might need to create information packets for awardees to give them next steps. Some scholarship managers even need to plan events to publicly honor the students who have been awarded.

    All of these moving pieces can add up to a lot of manual work on your part. Creating a plan for what items you need in advance of your awarding period will allow you to use your time and effort in a more effective way. Here are some common types of follow-ups that you might want to incorporate into your process.

    Instructions for follow-ups Clear and concise steps will be helpful to ensure that you get all the correct items from each awardee. This will limit the amount of back and forth required to collect everything you need. Additionally, you could pass out information about next steps. Can the student be awarded a second payment for their scholarship? Are they allowed to apply again in future cycles? It is a good idea to spell out this information to reduce confusion for your awarded students.

    Thank you letters The most commonly collected items from students are thank-you letters. These letters are not only a great way to drive donor engagement, they also create collateral to demonstrate how important the scholarship management process is in helping students. Awardees will have an easier time writing effective letters if you have provided them with information about the donor that they are thanking or some guidelines on writing a well-crafted letter.

    Award acceptance forms If you need a student to formally accept an award before you can make a payment, you might want to consider creating a form that they can sign, either physically or electronically and return to you.

    Headshots for publicity The ability to create marketing materials for your scholarship program can help bolster your donations and attract new donors to your foundation or institution. If you want to include photographs in these marketing materials, you can request them directly from the student. Keep in mind that you might also need to ask them to sign a photo release to publish their image.

    Event RSVPs If you need to plan a scholarship award ceremony, it will be very helpful for you to know the exact number of guests to plan for. This follow-up will allow students to tell you if they can attend the event and how many people they are going to bring.

    School bursar address If you need to send the scholarship check to the college or university that the student is attending, instead of to the student’s home address, this is a good time to collect that information.

    Qualification validation Some scholarships have criteria that need to be met which a student might not have proof of during the application period. For example, if one of your scholarships has a requirement that the student be accepted into a particular program or school, the student might have only recently been accepted. You can collect this additional information during the awarding period to confirm they do in fact meet the requirements of the scholarship.

    All of these follow-ups, and many more, can be included in a packet that you physically mail or email to students at the time that you notify them of the award. This packet can be reused with minor updates from year to year which will save you time in the current cycle and streamline the process for years to come.

    If you are currently an AwardSpring customer or are interested in becoming one, be aware that we have functionality in our system to automate the follow-ups process. You can collect all materials online as well as provide any necessary documents or instructions. Additionally, you can review student answers and pass back to the student for additional attention if there is something missing or they have missed the mark.

    We’ve worked with our clients to provide suggestions, help adapt platform features to fit their processes, and even facilitate conversations with other clients. If you are interested in learning more about AwardSpring to determine if it meets your scholarship management needs, please email inquiries@awardspring.com. If you are a current customer, please 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.

    Cass Montemagni
    Implementation & Training Specialist

  • Dealing with the Ongoing IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) Outage

    We all know the importance the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) plays in the lives of Financial Aid administrators, student applicants, their parents and the affordability of higher education in general. The FAFSA is complicated, time-consuming, and collects a wealth of information about a given student’s ability to qualify for additional aid. The IRS has a Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) that has helped students and their families fill out the FAFSA with greater efficiency and accuracy.

    As you’re likely painfully aware, the DRT has been unavailable since March 9, 2017. The IRS has issued a formal statement, available on the US Department of Education website, that outlines their perspective on how the outage of the DRT affects students and the application process. In short, the implications are:

    - Tax data usually made automatically available by the DRT is unavailable indefinitely

    - Students and their families have been directed to manually review their most recent tax returns in order to find the information usually provided by the DRT. They should request copies from their family’s tax preparer, the IRS website, or by calling 800-908-9946

    - Online applications for the FAFSA and Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan are still operational

    Our friends at the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA) have been doing an excellent job staying on top of this issue. If you’re an NSPA member, we recommend following their updates on the matter which have been coming through their usual weekly announcements. The National College Access Network (NCAN) also has an excellent running blog post about recommended actions to take that doesn’t require membership to follow.

    Our team at AwardSpring has been briefed on the implications of this outage. If your students or their families call in to our team for support on this matter, we’ll be sure to share this information with them and direct them to your Financial Aid team for any additional information or concerns.

    Kurt Reilly
    Co-Founder & CEO

  • 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

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