Choosing the Right Scholarship Management Software for Your Organization

Scholarships are an invaluable resource for students, allowing them to advance their education and career goals. However, properly managing scholarship programs requires significant effort and coordination. This is where scholarship management software can help streamline operations and selection processes.

With the right software, organizations can efficiently intake applications, evaluate candidates, track deadlines and disbursements, and gain insights to improve programs over time. However, choosing the best option requires understanding your specific needs and doing your research.

Understanding Your Scholarship Process and Goals

The first step is taking a close look at your existing scholarship program – from application intake through award announcement and disbursement. Map out the key stages and tasks involved at each point. Some important questions to consider include:

  • What information do you collect from applicants?
  • How do you currently evaluate candidates?
  • What criteria and weighting do you use?
  • How are awards calculated and communicated?
  • How do you track recipient progress and payments?
  • What reporting needs do you have?

Understanding your specific workflow will help identify what functionality you need from the software. It’s also important to define your goals. Are you looking to streamline processes, improve tracking, gain more applicants, or better analyze impact? Different solutions excel in different areas.

With a clear picture of your current process and desired outcomes, you’ll be ready to start exploring software options.

Deciding between On-Premises vs. Cloud-Based Software

One of the first major decisions is whether to use an on-premises or cloud-based scholarship management system.

On-premises software involves downloading and installing the full program on your local servers or network. You have complete control over hardware but are responsible for updates, backups, and security yourself. This offers more customization but requires IT expertise and ongoing maintenance costs.

Cloud or Software-as-a-service solutions run entirely via internet browsers without any local software. The vendor hosts the program and handles infrastructure behind the scenes. This lowers the upfront investment and shifts maintenance responsibilities to the provider. However, you have less control and customization compared to on-premises options.

Most modern scholarship management systems are cloud-based for their ease of use and flexibility. Some key considerations around each model include:

On-Premises Pros and Cons

  • Pros: More control and customization potential.
  • Cons: Higher upfront and ongoing costs. Require IT support and resources. Software updates are your responsibility.

Cloud/SaaS Pros and Cons

  • Pros: Low upfront cost. The vendor handles maintenance and security. Access from anywhere via the web. Flexible payment plans.
  • Cons: Less control and customization. Reliant on a stable internet connection. Vendor-dependent for major changes.

For most non-profits and smaller organizations, cloud-based SaaS is likely the best option due to lower total cost of ownership and simpler management over time. On-premises may make sense for larger institutions with dedicated IT.

Key Functionality to Look For

Once you’ve decided between on-premises versus cloud, it’s time to evaluate specific software features and functions. Here are some of the most important capabilities to consider:

Application Management

Look for robust online application forms that can collect a range of data from applicants. Features like autopilot questions, uploads, and multi-step submissions are useful. Evaluate the ease of intake versus the complexity of forms.

Evaluation Workflow

Advanced systems provide structured evaluation stages, digital distribution of applications, automated reminders, and centralized tracking of reviews and scores. Integrated rating rubrics help standardize scoring.

Award Calculation

Rules-based award engines handle complex criteria like GPA minimums, financial need calculations, essay evaluations, and more to determine recipient eligibility automatically.

Reporting and Analytics

Robust reporting on applicants, awards, and demographics lets you analyze the impact and inform future programs. Built-in dashboards provide performance overviews for quick insights.

Recipient and Payment Tracking

Manage recipient details, upload transcripts/progress reports, and automate payment schedules with triggers like grade checkpoints or registration periods. Disbursements ensure timely aid disbursement.

Customization and Integration

Look for configuration controls to tailor processes, forms, and views to your specific needs. Best systems also offer customizable workflows. Integration with financial aid and student information systems optimizes processes.

Security and Data Management

Consider credentials needed, backup procedures, access controls, and user permissions to safeguard sensitive applicant data housed in the software. Data ownership and privacy policies are also important.

Armed with an understanding of your current program and these key capabilities, you can start evaluating specific software solutions. Let’s explore some top options on the market today.

There are numerous capable scholarship management software providers to choose from at different price points and capabilities. Here’s an overview of a few top vendors to consider:

Foundation Source

As one of the pioneering software providers in this space, Foundation Source offers a robust OnPoint solution tailored specifically for scholarship administrators and foundations. Advanced features include complex calculation rules, intuitive dashboards, and electronic payments integration. While pricier than others, it is highly customizable and scales well for large programs.

AlaTrust by Altair

AlaTrust provides an easy-to-use, affordably priced SaaS solution-oriented for smaller to mid-sized scholarship programs. It offers online applications, review workflow, and reporting tools alongside Altair’s financial aid management modules for seamless integration. Some flexibility limitations for complex rules or processes.

ScholarshipUniverse

This user-friendly cloud platform from YouScience is highly configurable for different program structures. It simplifies applicant tracking, review workflows, and notifications effectively. Affordable pricing makes it a good fit for growing programs with moderate complexity. Real-time support is also provided.

Award Spring

Award Spring positions itself as a unified platform for all types of financial awards outside of traditional scholarship programs. Its flexible framework handles complex scenarios well and provides excellent data analytics. However, its breadth comes at a higher price point than more focused alternatives.

Other Notable Options

Some other well-regarded SaaS-based solutions worth considering include: Ciatec (Focus on academic and volunteer programs), Technolutions (Powerful rules engine, reporting), and U.Select (Intuitive reviews and notifications). On-premises leaders besides Foundation Source are Awards CMS and FastWeb.

When evaluating any platform, be sure to test the software’s functionality through online demos or free trials wherever possible. Also, inquire about implementation support, training resources, and ongoing upgrades included in support plans.

Additional Factors to Evaluate

Beyond core capabilities and pricing, some other important qualitative factors to investigate when choosing scholarship management software include:

Support and Training 

Consider the availability of implementation assistance, guides, webinars, and 24/7 phone/email support to ease initial setup and ongoing use. Dedicated success managers can help optimize utilization.

System Reliability 

Look for uptime guarantees and redundancy measures from cloud providers. Also, ask about scheduled maintenance windows, version control policies for upgrades, and responsiveness to bug fixes or outages.

Data Security 

Validate encryption protocols, backup routines, user permission controls, and compliance with privacy policies like GDPR and FERPA. Data ownership also matters for long-term control of sensitive applicant records.

Customization Flexibility 

Inquire about configuration options for tailored fields, forms, review workflows, calculations, notifications, and reporting without code changes. Scripting APIs extend flexibility for advanced integrations.

Future Vision and Pricing 

Understand the vendor’s roadmap for continuous improvements and new features. Also, clarify licensing terms, usage caps, and options for add-ons, and support contract renewals with clear pricing.

Client References 

Check client case studies and testimonials or speak directly to existing customers, especially peers running similar-sized programs for real implementation experiences.

By thoroughly vetting all these hard and soft factors, you can gain an accurate sense of each vendor’s strengths and risks relevant to your unique needs.

Choosing and Implementing Scholarship Management Software

With your requirements assessed and top options evaluated side by side, you’re ready to make the final selection. Here are some tips:

  • Shortlist 2-3 leading candidates that best fit your goals, budget, and processes
  • Request customized demos or trials
  • Interview customer success managers to clarify any open questions
  • Get consultant input if needed to validate your top pick
  • Get the purchase approved by stakeholders if the budget requires

Once purchased, take time for proper implementation:

  • Attend all provided training sessions
  • Map out your custom configuration plan
  • Set target timelines with the vendor for support
  • Test all functions thoroughly before going live
  • Communicate changes to users and get feedback
  • Monitor workflow closely during the first cycle for adjustment

And finally, to truly maximize your investment:

  • Leverage all usage tools built into the system
  • Regularly gather user feedback for continuous improvement. Solicit input from all key stakeholders on their experiences with different processes and functionality. Use this knowledge to refine configurations, guide future enhancement requests to the vendor, and ensure optimal adoption and utilization of the system over time.

FAQs

What is the typical cost of scholarship management software?

The cost can vary significantly depending on the size and complexity of your scholarship program as well as the specific features and capabilities offered by the software. Most basic cloud-based solutions start at around $500-1000 per year for smaller programs with fewer than 100 applicants. For mid-sized programs, annual pricing usually ranges from $1500-5000. Large institutions with thousands of applicants and advanced calculation requirements will pay $5000 and up annually for high-end systems. Some vendors also offer tiered pricing plans based on user licenses rather than applicant volume. Implementation services, add-on modules, and custom integrations may incur additional one-time or recurring fees.

Can the software integrate with our existing student information and financial aid systems?

Many scholarship management systems provide APIs and pre-built connectors that allow them to securely communicate and exchange data with common Student Information Systems (SIS) and financial aid platforms. This facilitates automatic import and export of key applicant and award details to avoid duplicative data entry. The degree and ease of integration vary between vendors. Be sure to inquire specifically about integration support for your current SIS/aid products so applicants can apply seamlessly and awards seamlessly update student award packages in the SIS. Comprehensive integration is especially important for large, complex scholarship programs.

How much support and training does the vendor provide after purchase?

Most reputable vendors offer introductory implementation assistance, onboarding training, and ongoing access to technical support at no additional cost. However, the scope and delivery methods vary. Look for at least 8-12 hours of initial remote implementation support, a dedicated customer success manager, online training videos and documentation, and 24/5 phone/email technical support. Larger implementations may require on-site sessions. Ask about additional fees for specialized training, annual software updates, and requirements around support contract renewals. Thorough upfront and continuing training is important to fully leverage the software’s capabilities.

How secure is the data in cloud-based scholarship management systems?

Leading cloud-based systems are designed using security best practices and undergo independent audits to protect sensitive applicant information. Look for systems that encrypt data both in transit and at rest using SSL/TLS protocols. They should also have robust access controls, activity logging, backup protocols, and identity management systems and undergo regular third-party security assessments. Data should be housed in SOC2-accredited data centers with measures like firewalls, intrusion protection, and regular software/OS patching. Systems should also comply with key regulations like FERPA for education records and GDPR for consumer privacy. Proper due diligence helps ensure data protection over the long term.

Can the review workflows and application forms be customized to match our specific needs?

Most robust scholarship management systems provide administrators with strong configuration controls to customize many areas of the software experience without needing developer assistance. This includes the ability to tweak fields on applications, create tailored rating rubrics, modify review screens, adjust automated workflows and notifications, and design reports. However, some flexibility depends on the vendor – look for systems allowing drag-and-drop customization of entire sections rather than just superficial theming. It’s also important to understand the limitations the vendor places on significant re-engineering versus extension of out-of-box capabilities. Advanced flexibility ensures the software grows with evolving program requirements over time.

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