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Should Your Scholarship Application Be On Paper -- Or Online?

Update: October 2016. For scholarship providers, now is the time to think about moving paper applications online to reach more students -- and offer more options. Here, we revisit our guide to how to do so, originally presented last year.

In our ebook, 10 Secrets To A Great Scholarship Program, one of the key items that our experts focus on is the scholarship application itself. While it's not the first step you need to consider, it is an important one. After all, more people will end up spending more time with your application than any other aspect of your program -- and if it's not up to par, you could wind up without enough qualified applicants.

There are plenty of things to consider when starting to draft your application, and one question looms over most of the others: are you going to provide a paper submission form, or an online application?

At first glance, the idea of a printable or paper application sounds appealing. With just a single PDF and a few printed copies, everyone in your company can instantly access and easily complete the scholarship application. If the program is popular, you just need to replenish the stack of forms in the break room -- and no one has to develop a website, figure out data storage or worry about hackers.

However, the paper or PDF application isn't perfect, especially because it may not be relevant to your intended audience. The two most important things to remember throughout your scholarship process are who you're trying to help and why; if you're trying to make an impact on high school or current college students, that means your audience lives online. With more than 60 percent of jobs advertised via the internet, and many colleges and universities requiring students to use online-only applications, most students and young adults begin and end their search on a computer. If you're using a paper application, or even a PDF somewhere on your website, you're likely not going to get the response you're hoping for.

For some programs, of course, a wide audience isn't a necessity. Maybe your scholarship is limited to your employees' kids and grandkids, or to students in a particular school in your community. If that's the case, it's still worthwhile to consider moving your application online to reduce material costs, staff time and applicant stress.

By avoiding paper, you're cutting back on printing, mailing and storage costs, while being environmentally friendly. You’re also ensuring that the people managing scholarships don’t have to spend time opening envelopes, squinting at handwriting or looking through stacks of applications that may or may not be complete, when they could be reading essays and verifying grades instead. Whether your scholarship has a dozen applications or a thousand, having those applications online means fewer headaches for you and your team.

If you have multiple different scholarship funds, an online application can be a lifesaver. The San Antonio Area Foundation, for example, manages more than 80 separate scholarships. They transitioned their application online in 2010, for greater publicity and to manage scholarships as fairly as possible. In 2014, Scholarship America created a streamlined application for the foundation, allowing students to apply once and be considered for multiple awards.

The improvement was noticeable in ease of use – and number of applicants. Applicants increased by 25 percent once the entire system moved online. “The ability to complete one application while being considered for multiple scholarships is a tremendous benefit to the students,” said Bernice Uresti, Program Officer at the Area Foundation. (Click here to read the entire case study!)

And that’s not the only thing that makes an online application the most student-friendly option. Instead of downloading and painstakingly filling in a paper form, they can create an account and come back to their application at any time. With a well-designed application, there’s no worry of losing any information when logging out. Plus, applicants can easily upload supporting documents and receive confirmation when their application has been successfully submitted.

The benefits of online scholarship applications extend beyond the current scholarship cycle, too. By gathering applicant data, providers of large scholarship programs can easily assess where the program is meeting or exceeding its goals, and where it could be doing better. You can see how many students are applying when; where they’re applying from; what their major or career plans are and much more -- letting you impact more and more of the students you want to help. For smaller or internal programs, there may be fewer data points, but they can still open your eyes to trends you may not have thought about within your company.

Of course, moving your scholarship application online will take some work, either from your own technology team or from a third-party administrator. You’ll have to think about things like email permissions, data security and applicant support. If you’re starting a program from scratch -- or if you’re convinced to move online for your next round of applications -- we would be happy to talk you through some of the basics in a free, no-obligation consultation. Get in touch today, and start seeing the benefits of online scholarship applications!

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