While the full economic impact of COVID-19 remains to be seen, it’s clear that college affordability will be an even greater challenge for students and their families across the country. At the same time, as we adjust to a new normal, a college education can help students gain new skills and credentials to navigate the uncertain job market ahead and work towards a brighter future.
Scholarship providers can play a critical role ensuring that the pandemic doesn’t put a college education out of reach. As our organizations adjust to these economic circumstances, it may not be feasible to increase scholarship awards, but there are other ways to help students manage college costs.
Here are three creative ways to help students access the funding they need for college.
Be flexible with your scholarship dollars.
For scholarship providers, ensuring students have the resources they need to be successful is core to the mission. Every student receives scholarship funds within a unique context, considering their financial aid package, other scholarships, and personal financial circumstances. Failing to acknowledge this broader context can end up reducing the impact of awarded funds – when every dollar can make a difference for your students.
An example of this is that scholarships are often earmarked solely for specific expenses like tuition and fees. The intention of restricting funds may be to support the cost of educational expenses, but it’s hard to be successful in the classroom without, say, reliable transportation to campus or stable housing. A student may find themselves with tuition-only scholarships, thus missing out on sorely needed funds that could have been used elsewhere. Beyond cost of attendance, scholarship funds can also be applied to study abroad and unpaid internships, enriching (and sometimes required) experiences that can bolster a student’s resume before graduation.
Reconsider how your funds are distributed.
Let’s consider an aspiring college student with financial need. To make their dreams a reality, they spend senior year researching scholarships and bolstering their resume, spending countless hours drafting essays and submitting scholarship applications. In the end, the student receives a generous private scholarship on top of a robust financial aid package from their college – only to see their grant funding and institutional aid reduced by award displacement.
To help students reap the benefits of their hard-earned scholarship dollars, consider offering flexibility in the amount and timing of your funds disbursement to help avoid displacement. This honors the intention of your scholarship by supporting the student’s financial needs, providing the funds when needed.
Another way to minimize the potential for award displacement is to administer funds through 529 plans. These are savings accounts that are used specifically to save for future qualified education expenses, and they come with a number of tax and financial aid benefits.
Help students maximize the hard work they’ve put into your application.
Applying for scholarships can be a tedious process, re-entering the same information over and over again. Scholarship applications are detailed for a reason, as programs are getting to know students in the space of just a few forms and essays – but do they need to be so time-consuming?
Scholar Snapp allows students to save application responses into a profile for future use, reusing their personal information from one application to another. Whether or not they are selected for your program, they can use their Scholar Snapp profile to apply for others – often in just a few clicks. After all, it’s the application that counts, not the extra hours doing data entry.
Make your scholarship application Scholar Snapp-enabled to help students unlock additional financial resources.
These ideas aren’t intended to reinvent your program model. Rather, they are for getting the greatest impact out of the time and resources your organization is already investing to help students access college and persist to a degree.
College costs can be burdensome, and the financial challenges for many students will be heightened in these uncertain times. The more scholarship providers can lighten the load for their students, the better they can support them to college success.