Work-life balance has become increasingly important over the past year, and it’s likely your grant, scholarship, fellowship or award program applicants are full-time students or in the workforce (or somewhere in between). They have responsibilities that take up the majority of their time, and filling out applications for scholarships, grants or even fellowships is likely something they need to do on their own time.
Having an understanding of how to make your applicant’s journey simple and seamless, from submission to selection and beyond, will result in a better experience for your applicants and program administrators.
1. Review and Streamline your Process
Finding a way to streamline your application process is one way to put your program above others and ensure the number and caliber of applicants you’re aiming for is met. Many funding or career programs are highly competitive with one another. If you can show your applicants that the process is quick and easy, they tend to gravitate completing those applications.
Here are three ways to help simplify your application process:
- Ask for the relevant information in your application but draw a line at what is required and what is “nice-to-have”. We want to capture as much data as possible from our users, but there is still a time and place for gathering that information. Consider removing some details from the application itself and following up with a survey to gather more information from the most qualified users. Requiring an applicant to answer questions not relevant to your program can often be a deterrent to them in completing the application journey.
- Make a habit of reviewing your application form and process each year. If you see the same mistakes being made by multiple applicants, there is a possibility that either the requirements or the application flow needs to be addressed and re-organized to resolve any misconceptions.
- If you’re still using a Word document or PDF form that needs to be emailed to your program administrator, consider bringing your entire process online. Having a central system where applicants can apply for multiple programs, update their profiles, and look back at their submission history makes the entire process seem more fluid and encourages people to return year after year – not to mention the ability to review and analyze data.
2. Provide Clear and Concise Instructions
In order to keep your applicants engaged and interested in your program, ensure all instructions are clear and concise so as not to confuse them. What you’re asking may be straightforward to you, but there’s a good chance it may not be for your applicants. Have someone from your team (or someone not familiar with your program) read through the entire process, beginning to end, to ensure all instructions and requirements make sense. Most importantly, don’t be afraid of feedback – there are no silly questions when it comes to clarification and instructions because if one person needs to ask, chances are there will be others as well.
3. Be “Upfront” With Eligibility Criteria
How often have you received an application from a user that is not eligible for your program? No matter how qualified an applicant is, if they are ineligible, this has been a waste of your valuable time and theirs. Announcing eligibility criteria up front will save plenty of time spent vetting applications and save the applicant from finding out after hours of work that they were unlikely to be considered. Applicants who know whether they are eligible prior to beginning their application process tend to spend more time ensuring all requirements are met and all questions are answered, providing your organization a higher caliber applicant to choose from at the end of the day. This functionality should also be a key feature of your online system.
4. Include the Post-Submission Process
It is important to include the post-submission process on your program website so your applicants know what to expect after they submit their application, whether they are selected or not selected. This can be easy as displaying key dates, such as Review Open Date, Finalist Notification or Awardees Notification. This will reduce the number of enquiries from anxious applicants, and also give them an understanding of process and documentation required if they are selected.
5. Schedule Reminders and Status Updates
Applicants are busy and may not realize that an impending application deadline is fast-approaching. Your program may also require the input of reference providers and supporting letters.
Sending out deadline reminders and program updates are very useful for applicants as they keep them informed as to what requirements are still outstanding (and just to know that they are still in consideration for the program). This is another great reason for bringing your entire process into the digital space: workflow and email automation. Having the option months in advance to set reminders and updates based on a defined set of criteria saves you the task of remembering to do it, and it ensures your applicants are always up to date with everything they need to know!
Running award programs is an enormous endeavour. Continuous improvement and simplification of your processes by implementing just a few of these suggestions will result in more quality applicants and a more efficient program overall.