According to the most recent survey from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), only 12.8 percent of all undergraduate students receive a private scholarship. For a student seeking free money for college, those numbers do not provide much encouragement. The simple fact is that there are more students seeking financial assistance than ever before, but not enough programs to help meet the demand. Fortunately, many civic groups, companies, and even private citizens are stepping up by starting their own scholarship programs. It’s really not that difficult and you don’t have to be a billionaire, either; it just takes a desire to help students attain their dream of a college education and a few simple steps to get the ball rolling.
Find the Funding
How will you cover the expenses for managing the program and disbursing the scholarship funds? There are many options to consider, such as setting up a trust, creating a non-profit organization, or using your own personal funds. It’s a good idea to speak with a tax expert before making a final decision to determine any tax liabilities you may have under these options.
Establish a Budget
Creating a scholarship takes a bit more than handing out money to deserving students. Even if you decide to create a program as an individual, you will need to cover the costs of managing and promoting your program (paper applications, online, website maintenance, etc.), and ultimately, awarding the scholarship prize(s). Once you understand all the expenses involved, you’ll have a better idea of how much money you can give to students.
Determine the Criteria
Scholarships can be awarded based on merit (grades), need (income), athletic ability, skills, creative content, and more. Keep in mind that the criteria should be objective and nondiscriminatory, allowing for the recipient(s) to be selected from a group broad enough to be considered a charitable class. You will also need to check with state, federal, and IRS guidelines to ensure your program adheres to all legal requirements governing scholarship programs.
Create the Application
Depending on your preference, you may want to work with an online or paper application (or both). Many students spend their time online, so an electronic application can expedite the process and save students the expense of printing paper and paying for postage. Keep in mind that long applications may discourage students from applying, so try to keep it short and to the point.
Set the Deadline
The majority of scholarships have deadlines in the spring (January through May), but that doesn’t mean you can’t establish a summer, fall, or winter deadline. You will want to have a minimum of 60 days or more to promote your program and another six to eight weeks to select your recipient(s), so planning ahead is very important. Just be sure you give your intended applicants plenty of time to review, prepare, and apply for the award.
Select the Winner(s)
It’s a good idea to create a grading rubric (1-10, A-F, or other scale), as this will ensure consistency among the reviewers and provide evidence that you enlisted specific criteria when selecting your winner. Scholarship committees often use online collaboration tools, in-person meetings, or Excel files to help grade applications and discuss possible contenders/winners. Once the winner is chosen, he/she should be notified by certified mail, email, and/or phone.
Award the Scholarship
To ensure the funds are used for educational expenses, it is a good idea to disburse your scholarship funds directly to the school and not the student. Be sure to indicate how the funds may be used, as this may have a direct effect on the student’s financial aid received from his/her institution. To minimize the possibility of a student having his/her aid reduced, consider authorizing the use of your award for any educational expenses and not restricting it to tuition only.
If you find the idea of starting a scholarship program enticing, but a little intimidating, I have some great news – you don’t have to go through this process alone. There are many organizations that now help people create and manage scholarship programs, whether it’s a large program or a small community award. One of the easiest and most affordable is the Scholarship Application Management System (SAMS) offered by ScholarshipExperts.com. You can check out their demo or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about the services they provide. In a few short weeks, your scholarship program could be a reality!
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