Local Scholarship Committee Suggestions

Numerous organizations raise funds to provide high school seniors with scholarship money. A lot of hard work, dedication, and a sincere desire to support the students is involved. Students are encouraged to keep a list of potential scholarships, apply on time, follow all directions, and make sure all required documents are submitted. This is taking place at the same time as students are applying to college and completing senior year coursework.

As a financial aid administrator, I have thousands of pages of federal rules and regulations to rely upon to keep things moving along in a systematic manner. If a question or extenuating circumstance comes up as a student’s application is being evaluated, years of experience managing and overseeing million of dollars in federal and state government funds and best practices guidance are available as a reference point to make a decision. 

This eliminates starting a discussion from scratch about looking at the way to make a final decision related to awarding a student funding. Below are some suggestions related to how a local scholarship committee can design their application, and additional things to consider when making award decisions.

Role of the Grade Point Average (GPA) – Students with a percent 4.0 Grade Point Average (GPA) or higher depending upon how honors, dual enrollment, etc. classes are calculated, deserve recognition for all of their hard work. At the same time, if a scholarship award is going to come down to who has the highest GPA, this should be clear from the application materials. No need is in place to expand the GPA range from a minimum of 3.0 being required. Students with a 3.0 to 3.5 GPA can spend their time applying for awards they do not solely or mainly come down to the highest GPA among the applicant pool.

Group Participation Impact – Parents and their students have to decide which outside of school activities would mostly benefit them. If you have a college preparation or mentoring group, please be clear if being in the program is required to apply for scholarship funding or if the entire local community will also be eligible to apply for your funding. When this is not clear it can lead to false expectations and misunderstandings. For example, if an after-school college prep group meets with teachers once a month on the weekend, and scholarships with the group’s name are awarded to ten students who are not in the group it’s a potential public relations situation with students and their families.

Community Service versus Career Exploration – Community service is important and a long-standing scholarship application question. At the same time dual enrollment and career and technical education programs have been expanded. Two examples could involve a future nurse and auto mechanic who both want to earn a college degree. Numerous hours of free labor for the community can be involved in repairing cars for free, as part of the auto class at school, and training hours for students in health care high school classes. Since these hours are during the school day, they would not typically be seen as community service. Your scholarship committee might want to consider a way to give these students equal consideration as those also doing great and traditional volunteer work for local charities and faith organizations.

Financial Need Definition and Weight – Some organizations define financial need based upon if the student’s family qualifies for a Federal Pell Grant, the overall income for the family determined by their tax return, if the family will have more than one student in college at the same time and other criteria they have in mind. With the rising cost of college, even a student with a maximum Federal Pell Grant can be short of having all expenses covered. College costs also impact middle class families paying for all the costs of a public university, not just private college expenses. Applicants need to know if non-Federal Grant applicants will be given full consideration for funding or if they should spend time applying for other potential awards.

Unwritten Evaluation Criteria – What questions are you regularly having when trying to make final scholarship decisions? Talking to a financial aid administrator that works for a college or university might be helpful for some input. Three good questions to consider asking are:

  1. What are some best practices when making traditional need-based scholarship awards?
  2. What are some best practices when making non need based awards?
  3. If we are trying to make both need based and non-need-based awards, what suggestions would you recommend?

Your local scholarship committee is doing a great job serving the community and continuing the history of private citizens supporting others. The funding you provide goes along with government monies to help students. Please see the below statement, from the late President Johnson when signing the Higher Education Act of 1965, who agreed that this approach would help more students afford a college education.

Higher Education Act of 1965 – Some of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Comments

“This bill, which we will shortly make into law, will provide scholarships and loans and work opportunities to 1 million of that 1.3 million that did not get to go on to college. And when you, the first year, with the first bill, take care of 1 million of that 1.3 million through this legislation, we are hopeful that the State and the local governments, and the local employers and the local loan funds, can somehow take care of the other 300,000. It means that a high school senior anywhere in this great land of ours can apply to any college or any university in any of the 50 States and not be turned away because his family is poor.  And in my judgment, this Nation can never make a wiser or a more profitable investment anywhere.”

President Johnson made these comments at the signing ceremony on November 8, 1965, at Southwest Texas State College.

Kenneth McGhee is a financial aid and enrollment management consultant.