A Step-By-Step Guide to Setting Up a Scholarship Program

money bag

Psst! Want to know the secret to attracting top students to your company? Show them the money! Giving money away (in the form of scholarships), is a tactic that many top companies employ to build their brand and increase awareness among students early in their academic careers. (For a list of reasons why companies do it and why it works, check out this post.)

So let’s say that you’ve decided you want to start a scholarship program at your company. What do you need to do to get it started? I’ll take you through the most important steps of getting the program set up.

To make this a little easier to imagine, I’ve created the following hypothetical organizational profile. (All italic text in this post is part of this “case study.”)

Company name: Pacific Health Pioneers

Company type: Health care provider

Location: Facilities throughout the West Coast

Company size: 70,000 employees

Hiring need: about 200 entry-level positions per year

Budget: University recruiting has $5,000 to spend on a scholarship program

Other notes: Diversity initiative aims to have 20% of new hires from underrepresented groups in health care

Step 1: See if your organization already offers scholarships

Sometimes companies will offer scholarships as part of their diversity or corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. If that’s the case at your organization, great! That means your university recruiting department may be able to simply piggyback on existing efforts and help promote these opportunities. Plus, you can build your talent pipeline by gaining access to the applicants and winners.

If you’re going this route, make sure you tap all your existing contacts at schools—professors, faculty members, student groups, anyone you have a relationship with. Let them know about the opportunity and encourage eligible students to apply. Voilà! You can get the benefits of the scholarship PR and branding and build up your customer relationship management (CRM) database, without the headaches of setup and administration. It’s a win-win!

In our scenario, let’s say that Pacific Health Pioneers does NOT currently have any scholarship program (darn!), so what comes next?

Step 2: Perform a competitive analysis

You’re going to need to convince the people who control the purse strings that it’s worthwhile to spend money on scholarships. You could try simply begging and pleading, but we have a better solution: give them some examples of your competitors who are using scholarships to attract students early.

How would we do this for Pacific Health Pioneers?

There are several other health care providers that offer scholarships. Let’s take a quick look at a few of them.

Kaiser Permanente Northwest

  • Health Care Career Scholarship Program
  • $2,000 offered to seniors at 113 approved Pacific Northwest high schools; students are allowed to reapply junior year of college
  • Special consideration for students who demonstrate financial need and/or are first-generation college bound, bilingual, or from an ethnic or racial minority group underrepresented in a health profession

Sutter Health

  • Van R. Johnson Sutter Scholars Program
  • Awards range from $1,000 to $3,000 given to current students at a community college, four-year university, or graduate program
  • All award recipients have parents or grandparents employed by Sutter Health or an affiliate

Providence Health & Services

  • Providence Scholars Program (held in partnership with University of Portland)
  • Covers 80% of school tuition fees
  • Open to current transfer students and University of Portland School of Nursing sophomores
  • Applicants must achieve a minimum cumulative 3.25 GPA and a cumulative 3.0 science GPA for required science courses

Dignity Health

  • Dignity Health Volunteer Services Scholarship
  • $250 to $1,000 per semester awarded to any student seeking a post-high school education in a health care field
  • Students must attend an institute of higher learning within the state of Arizona
  • Priority given to applicants who have volunteered or are currently volunteering at a facility

Now this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives us an idea of the kinds of things competitors are doing. Here are a few points that are worth noting:

  • Kaiser Permanente’s scholarships are available to high school seniors. This means they are getting their brand in front of students before they even start college. Allowing students to reapply junior year also means that they reinforce their employer brand close to the end of students’ academic careers. They also give special consideration to underrepresented groups. Since Pacific Health Pioneers also has a diversity goal, this model is especially interesting for us.
  • Sutter Health Scholarships are only available to students with a family tie to the organization. We wonder if that type of restriction will work for us or against us…
  • Dignity Health gives priority to applicants who have volunteered or are currently volunteering in their system. This is a great technique for ensuring that applicants are dedicated to your organization. If they already volunteer there AND you help fund their studies, they’re much more likely to think of you when it’s time to look for a full-time job, internship, or practicum.

Step 3: Decide the details of your scholarship

Now that you’ve seen what your competitors are doing, it’s time to set out the specifics of your scholarship. We cover more of these questions in this post. You’ll need to consider things like:

  • What will the amount be?
  • How many scholarships will you give out?
  • Will you be offering a scholarship (money that can only be used to pay for education-related expenses) or an award (money that can be used toward anything)?
  • What will the timeline be? (Will you offer them once a year? Every semester? How does this timeline coincide with your presence on campus? Hiring schedules for interns/new grads?)
  • Which students will be eligible? (Class year, target schools, majors, particular groups?)
  • How will this scholarship tie in with your recruiting goals?

If you can, connect with people in other departments to see what their needs are. Be open to their suggestions and see if you can make adjustments to the scholarship outline based on their requests. If you can get them on board because the scholarship will bring in talent they need, they’ll be much more likely to help you out when it comes to funding and approval.

In the case of Pacific Health Pioneers, we’d like to ask for enough budget to fund five $2,000 scholarships to incoming freshmen and sophomores who are studying toward a degree in health care. We already have $5,000 to spend, so we need to find $5,000 from other departments within our organization. Priority will be given to students who are from groups that are underrepresented in the health care field. We would also like to require all recipients to apply for paid summer internships within our organization.

Step 4: Write and pitch your proposal

Now that you have an idea of the details of your scholarship, it’s time to put together an official proposal and start pitching it.

Consider the following points in this step:

  • Think of the group at your company that has budget and could benefit from the scholarship program (either in the sense of attracting new hires or enjoying positive PR)
  • If your company has a foundation, (a giving arm) that isn’t doing scholarships already, you could start there
  • You could also potentially get the budget money from marketing, diversity/inclusion, or directly from your university recruiting budget

For Pacific Health Pioneers, we have $5,000 from our own university recruiting budget, and the diversity aspect of the scholarship meant that we were able to get help from HR’s diversity/inclusion budget to pay for the rest. HR also suggested that we use the essay question to ask applicants to describe a difficulty that they’ve overcome. This will help us identify problem-solvers and leaders who could potentially be a great fit for our organization.

The next step: Now it’s your turn! Look into existing scholarships and sources of funding within your company and decide whether you can promote an existing program or you’ll need to develop your own. Then follow the steps outlined in this post!

P.S. If you’re feeling unsure what to do next, contact AfterCollege! We’ll be offering a free webinar “Building Brand Recognition with Scholarships” at 10am Pacific Time on Wednesday, February 5, 2014.

We also offer consulting and support to take care of all the administrative aspects of running a scholarship program. Visit our Employer Scholarships info page to learn more.


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