Tips for Maintaining Successful Scholarship Programs While Planning for an Unpredictable Fall 2020 Semester

A lot has changed in the last few months. While that might be the understatement of the year, it is no understatement that things will continue to change as we adjust to the new normal of a post-COVID-19 world. What isn’t likely to change is that most students attending college in the fall will still need scholarships and financial aid support.

Based on recent conversations I have had with some of our higher ed customers (which included associate directors and directors of financial aid and scholarships), here are four key areas to keep in mind as you identify ways to make the most of your scholarship program despite an unpredictable semester ahead.

  1. Qualifications for Awards

To provide additional support for students during the spring semester, many institutions implemented emergency rules allowing students to withdraw from classes after their usual deadlines or opt into a pass/fail grade for certain classes. If you implemented these rules (or others like them) and plan to keep them in place moving into the fall semester, be sure to take them into account as you think about qualifications for scholarships.

Key areas to consider are the awards that require students to maintain a certain GPA or number of hours, or awards that require recipients to be involved in a particular organization on campus. Start filtering through your awards, especially ones with strict qualifications, so you can be prepared to pivot or update those qualifications and ensure student success.

  1. Deadlines

We all know it wouldn’t be a scholarship process without a series of deadlines, not just for applications but also for reviews to be completed and administrators to make the awarding decisions. However, some students may be delaying their enrollment decisions as they wait to see what the fall semester will look like. This shift creates a need for institutions to adjust scholarship application deadlines so that students still have time to apply and receive financial aid as well as to ensure all funds are awarded.

Reviewers who formerly met as a group or used a manual process to review applications might need more time to not only adjust to working remote but also reviewing them individually. Take some time to consider how your deadlines may need to be updated to accommodate both students and staff.

  1. Events

Do you normally host an awards ceremony to honor your students, provide in-person networking opportunities for students to meet their scholarship donors, or have office hours to help students apply for scholarships? No matter the purpose of your scholarship-focused events, now is the time to think about how to shift them to a virtual format.

Consider offering Zoom sessions for students to help answer any questions about the application process. Use this opportunity to also share background information on the scholarship fund such as why it was created, and the donors committed to giving to it. Events can play a huge role in your scholarship and stewardship efforts so institutions should continue to identify ways to encourage those 1-on-1 interactions virtually.

  1. Non-Traditional Students

It is important to think about the types of students you support. Traditional students may be covered by scholarships and the CARES Act but what about your international students who may not be able to return in the fall? Or students who were studying abroad and maybe lost credits due to restrictions in the country they were visiting? Consider how you will support your DREAMers and other non-traditional students who may not be able to receive other forms of aid at this time.

I hope these provide some food for thought as you plan for the future of your scholarship and financial aid programs. Be sure to check out other COVID-19 resources on the Blackbaud Higher Education Hub.