Do your school's entrance awards make the grade?

Do your school's entrance scholarships have any actual effect on students' enrolment choices?

Ask around and you'll find many PSE professionals who aren't sure about how to answer this. And when you ask them whether they'd be willing to claw back or redistribute these awards in any way, you'll often see hesitation in their faces.

"What we're doing is consistent with what other institutions are doing," they might say, which is another way of saying that changing their entrance awards feels too risky.

But how do real students feel about these awards? To find out, Academica Group and / The SchoolFinder Group partnered to survey nearly 1,100 students about how financial awards did or didn't influence their decision to enroll in a specific school (See Notes).

Do students care about financial supports in general?

Simply put, financial supports and/or eligibility for a scholarship aren't the most common reasons why a student would enroll in a given school, but that doesn't mean these things aren't important.

According to the students surveyed, things like academic reputation (76%) and a reputation for positive student experiences (74%) were the most commonly mentioned reasons for attending a given school.

Note: % of students who cited this factor as influencing which school they chose to enroll in

Note: % of students who cited this factor as influencing which school they chose to enroll in

Financial supports (49%) or eligibility for a scholarship (39%) lag behind by comparison, but these numbers are by no means insignificant. Institutions would do well to make sure that these awards are influencing enrolment decisions in the best possible way.

The impact of awards by dollar value

The results of the study suggest that institutions might want to reconsider offering awards below $2.5K in value, which just so happens to be where the majority of entrance awards are found.

Overall, more than half of the students (56%) surveyed said they'd been offered some form of entrance award. The most common form of award reported was the one-time merit-based award, with more than half of all reported awards falling under $2.5K in value.

Note: Y-axis represents % of students who found the award very or extremely influential in their enrolment decision; X-axis represents value of the award received

Note: Y-axis represents % of students who found the award very or extremely influential in their enrolment decision; X-axis represents value of the award received

Data from our study showed that awards under $2.5K are less likely to be reported by students as influencing their enrolment decisions. When awards were $5K or more, on the other hand, 64% of respondents said the award influenced their decision to enroll. This would suggest that schools might want to offer fewer entrance awards at a higher value.

High grades + high income students are less likely to be influenced

It will probably come as little surprise that students who are in less financial need are less likely to be influenced by an entrance award. This study found that students who graduated with high GPAs from high school and whose families earn a high income are much less likely to be "very influenced" by a financial award when choosing a school to attend.

But many of these students receive such awards based on their grades alone, meaning that a significant amount of institutional money might be allocated to awards that are unlikely to impact the decisions of the target group. For this reason, institutions that base any entrance awards solely or heavily on grades might want to consider reallocating these funds to better support their enrolment management efforts.

Can entrance awards push students off the fence and onto your campus?

92% of respondents said they were accepted at their first-choice institution, but only 83% reported attending. Why is this?

Of the 9% who flipped, one third (31%) of these said that they would have gone somewhere else if they'd not received the award they did from their chosen institution. That means that 3% of all students would have attended their first choice institution had their entrance award been more substantial.

This finding raises questions about whether schools can find out which applicants ranked them as their first choice, and look for patterns in which students can be "flipped" with targeted entrance awards.

Convincing students to study away from home

The study also showed that institutions might want to reallocate some of their entrance award funding to make the expenses of moving away from home more manageable for students considering such a move.

While 71% of students reported that they'd considered attending institutions that were away from home, only 56% ended up moving away. Of the 44% who decided to stay at home, nearly half said they'd done so out of financial necessity.

These findings show that institutions might want to consider putting more money into reduced residence fees or creating "early acceptance" for campus work-study positions to help ensure that living away from home is more financially viable for students thinking about doing so.

We asked the students what to do

After we'd asked our questions, we put it to the students to identify which types of financial supports they believed would be more effective in influencing enrolment decisions. Many of their answers fell into the following categories.

1) More diverse types of awards:

  • Fund items other than tuition e.g. rent, transportation, food
  • More funding for upper years/mature students/average students
  • More awards based on activities, not just academics
  • More awards for non-STEM and Business programs
  • Scholarships that don't favour the privileged

2) More communication and easier application process:

  • Use social media to alert students about new awards and upcoming deadlines
  • Students should submit one application once a year for automatic consideration for all awards

3) Equitable access to funding opportunities:

  • "Schools that have jobs on campus should allow all students to apply for them not just those students that have a financial need."
  • "Scholarship opportunities for the kids who had little time to volunteer because they had to work almost full time to support themselves"
  • "Offering more scholarships to people who actually need them instead only giving them to overachievers"


Regardless of how a school chooses to disperse its entrance awards (if at all), it's crucial that this strategy is informed by reliable and timely research on how much these awards actually influence students' decisions to enroll. While it is true that entrance awards of a certain value have become common practice among many schools, our data suggests that schools might in fact use these awards more effectively by offering fewer awards at a higher dollar-value. Schools might also want to consider reallocating these awards away from students who are less likely to be influenced by them (e.g. students with high marks from high-income families) and towards students who are more likely to be influenced by them (eg. out-of-town students).

For More Information:

To learn more about how Academica Group and ScholarshipsCanada can help you optimize your institution's existing scholarship and awards program, contact us at your earliest convenience.


  1. In an online survey conducted by Academica and / The SchoolFinder Group from September 29 to October 18, 2016, nearly 1,100 students provided their feedback on topics related to their choice of college or university for the 2016/2017 school year. The research focused on how financial need did or didn't influence their enrolment decisions.

At Academica Group, we’re proud to work with hundreds of committed, passionate higher ed professionals who want to drive improvement at their institutions. By providing enhanced research capacity and expert guidance, we allow these professionals to work beyond resource limitations and seize more opportunities to positively impact the lives of their students, colleagues, and campus communities.

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