Using Rubrics to Review Scholarship and Fellowship Applications

Your institution’s programs are one of a kind—and offering scholarships and fellowships can help you share these assets with a wider community. As you design applications and set up review, remember that the first step in any smart process is the creation of a thorough rubric. Rubrics are detailed outlines for how each application will be read and scored. Using rubrics to review scholarship and fellowship applications helps reviewers stay consistent, minimizes personal bias, and provides a useful reference for everyone involved in the process.

Most commonly created by teachers to assess student performance, rubrics are useful for evaluation processes of all kinds. If you create a rubric before building your application, it can help ensure all requested information is relevant and necessary. This saves time for applicants as well as your team.

According to Brown University’s Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, there are a series of vital considerations for creating a successful review system. Here are six steps they identified, refocused for using rubrics to review scholarship and fellowship applications: 

1. Define the rubric’s purpose

Consider the components of your application and how each should be assessed. What would an outstanding application include? How detailed do you want to be with scoring? Should each application component receive a distinct score?

2. Choose between a holistic and analytic rubric

In terms of basic distinctions, the holistic rubric is easier to put together but offers less detail than an analytic rubric regarding specific strengths and weaknesses within an application. For example, a holistic rubric might ask reviewers to assign a score of 1-4 for the application as a whole (where a Level 1 application includes a high GPA, excellent references, and an outstanding essay). An analytic rubric would assess the GPA, references, and essay using distinct scales and criteria.  

holistic rubric for those using rubrics to review scholarship applications

Analytic rubric for those using rubrics to review scholarship applications

3. Define rubric criteria

These criteria identify each component for assessment. For fellowships and scholarships, common review criteria include:

  • Academic achievement (GPA)
  • Test scores
  • Personal statements
  • Resumes or CVs
  • Application essays
  • Supplemental essays
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Extracurricular achievements

4. Design the rating scale

Although this could include letter grades, for application review, numeric scores are likely to be the most useful. Most scales include 3-5 rating levels.

5. Write descriptions for each rating

Clarity and consistency of language here will help accurately guide reviewers. Focus on observations that can be accurately measured and include the degree to which criteria are successfully met.

6. Finalize your rubric (for now)

Format your rubric for easy access and reference, assess effectiveness, collect relevant feedback, and revise accordingly. Using rubrics to review scholarship and fellowship applications should involve ongoing updates to your system—a rubric is only as effective as it is relevant to current goals. 

Other considerations

A strong rubric not only helps guide reviewers—it also offers the opportunity to deeply assess and streamline your application. If part of your application didn’t make the rubric, do you really need it to review your candidates?

A few additional rubric strategies to employ:

  • Assess your rubric carefully for language that could be misinterpreted. It’s important to avoid assumptions about reviewers, especially regarding how they will process the criteria, rating scale, and descriptions you provide. 
  • Steer clear of industry jargon or acronyms. Use plain language and where possible and give examples to solidify what you want to say.
  • Determine the relative weight of review criteria. For example, will letters of recommendation be more or less important than GPA? Design your rating scale accordingly.

Sharing your rubric for transparency

Anyone who takes the time to apply for your scholarship or fellowship wants to submit the best possible application. Unfortunately, every application process is different and prospective applicants may not know what your organization is looking for. Sharing clear information about your assessment criteria and timeline is a huge help—and rubrics are a great way to do this.

While you don’t have to show the point system or all of your evaluation guidelines, sharing the main criteria for a successful application established in the rubric benefits everyone involved in your process:

  • It demonstrates respect for applicants’ time. When they can access assessment guidelines, applicants know where to focus in assembling their application.
  • It increases the appropriateness of applications. Clarity around expectations and review criteria can help you receive more relevant applications, saving your review team time.
  • It minimizes questions and doubt. If applicants know what to prioritize in their application, they’re less likely to reach out and inquire. That’s one less email for both of you.
  • It spotlights your organization’s values. Using rubrics to review scholarship and fellowship applications (and being willing to share from them) demonstrates that you care about diligent, fair, and consistent review. It also shows that you understand the value this information holds for applicants and you’re prepared to support them.

Being more transparent about your process by sharing the criteria in your rubric sets you apart from other institutions, facilitates trust from potential applicants, and brings clarity to the whole process. Just be sure what you share is easy to access and written in a simple, jargon-free format.

Submittable’s custom review forms are perfect for incorporating your rubric. Looking for scholarship management software or fellowship management software? Submittable is here to help. For more tips on a fair and efficient scholarship and fellowship review process, check out this guide

Rachel Mindell

Rachel Mindell is a Special Projects Editor at Submittable. She also writes and teaches poetry. Connect with her on LinkedIn.