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Connecting Students with Scholarship Opportunity

Kevin Byrne

Scholarships can make it possible to pursue the college degree that will change the trajectory of a student’s life. But applying for them often feels like a full-time job. Students can spend hours filling out the same information over and over from one application to the next. Some scholarship listings are full of out-of-date information and broken links; it can even be hard to sort out the unscrupulous postings and scams from legitimate opportunities. These burdens disproportionately impact students from low-income backgrounds who have the most to gain from financial support.

We believe in the potential for higher education to unlock pathways to prosperity for children and families. But not every student has the same opportunity to succeed in college. That’s why our team is working to identify some of the systemic challenges that can block the path and apply solutions that can chart a new way forward. This kind of change doesn’t happen overnight, but when it comes to pass, it can be transformative for so many students.

Here is the story of one of those innovations, which brought together technology and strategic partners in the sector to make it easier for students to apply for scholarships.

BACK TO THE BEGINNING

Back in 2008, the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA) brought together members from throughout the scholarship industry to take on this challenge. For a scholarship provider, one of the worst parts of the job is not being able to help every deserving student who completes an application. Applying for scholarships can be tedious and time-consuming; students spend hours filling out the same information over and over again. As a scholarship community, how could we help students make the most of all that time and hard work?

The solution? A new data standard that would help standardize how scholarship information is captured. Scholar Snapp would make it possible for applicants to save their completed application to a profile, and they could then complete other applications in a fraction of the time by simply importing their personal information, reusing their responses from one application to the next. Scholarships aren’t intended to be a test of endurance with students spending hours on data entry. By saving time on common questions, students could focus on the unique aspects of each application to better set themselves apart.

Over the next several years, the Scholar Snapp community expanded to include strategic partners like The Common Application; scholarship providers including the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, the Dell Scholars Program, and the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation; and leading application vendors. More than 500,000 students created Scholar Snapp profiles to quickly and easily access nearly 6,000 scholarship awards (with $35M available in scholarship dollars).

Scholar Snapp was creating real change in students’ lives by helping them access the financial resources that can put higher education in reach. But with millions of students entering college each year, we knew we needed to achieve greater scale to make our vision a reality.

COLLEGE BOARD SCHOLARSHIP SEARCH

In March of 2020, just days before the pandemic triggered shutdowns across the country, the Dell Foundation and College Board teams were gathered in a conference room sketching out a plan for the future of Scholar Snapp – and laying the groundwork for a partnership that would connect millions of students with scholarship opportunity.

Perhaps best known for programs and services like the SAT and Advanced Placement program, the College Board also connects students with a range of college readiness and success resources. Within BigFuture, the College Board’s free college planning tool, students can compare colleges and majors, explore career pathways, and learn more about how to pay for college. As the Scholar Snapp team was considering opportunities to achieve greater scale, the College Board was gearing up for a relaunch of its Scholarship Search tool. It was the perfect opportunity to join forces.

Beginning in October 2020, whether applying through the College Board’s Scholarship Search tool or directly through the Common Application or a participating scholarship provider’s website, students are now able to save time on their applications by logging into their College Board account and using the Scholarship Search tool auto-fill functionality, powered by Scholar Snapp.

The College Board helps more than seven million students prepare for college each year. Through our partnership, we can connect more students with more opportunities, while reducing the hassle of the application process.

NSPA EXCHANGE

Now for the second part of the challenge. With a College Board profile, students can use Scholar Snapp technology to save time when completing scholarship applications. But they could still spend hours sorting through scholarship listings, mining for criteria in lengthy descriptions, dodging error messages, even working toward deadlines that are out of date. Behind the scenes, scholarship providers often struggle to update their application details across multiple listings each year. Every application season turns into a race to get the word out, hoping to reach students with the most up-to-date information. We knew there had to be a better way.

In 2020, we teamed up with the NSPA to begin developing the NSPA Exchange, a source for high-quality, detailed scholarship provider and program information. Over time, we expect this database to serve as a central clearinghouse for scholarship program information. For scholarship providers, this will mean having just one place to go to update application details each year. And scholarship listing services can access an authoritative database of scholarship opportunities to serve up to students.  

The NSPA Exchange is already up and running powering the College Board Scholarship Search tool, connecting millions of students with quality scholarship listings. The tool launched to the full NSPA membership in fall 2021 and features more than 10,000 scholarship programs.

STUDENT IMPACT

College affordability is a major concern for students across the country, and for some, it can become an insurmountable barrier standing between them and their dreams for a brighter future. For these students, a college scholarship can be life-changing.

Today, the College Board Scholarship Search tool makes it easy for students to complete applications, sometimes in just a few clicks. The tool’s integration with the NSPA Exchange ensures high-quality scholarship listings so that students can easily access trustworthy opportunities. Through mission-aligned partnerships and the power of technology, these solutions are now reaching millions of students per year. And it all started ten years ago, with a data standard and a vision for a better path forward.