Rubrics are detailed outlines for how each application will be read and scored. Using rubrics to review scholarship applications help 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: 

What is the purpose of your rubric? 

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?

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.  

Define your rubric criteria

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

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

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.

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.

Finalize your rubric 

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—but 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 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 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.

Discover how we can help your organization get the best return on your scholarship application process.

Create a smooth-running process with Scholars United, a platform to help universities, colleges, and corporations manage their entire scholarship application lifecycle in one centralized solution.

Accept Applications 

Need to import student data from enrollment systems, financial aid systems, home-grown student databases, or from systems like Banner and PeopleSoft? Scholars United enables these imports and our integration APIs are used to afford students and admins single sign-on using their existing SIS credentials, eliminating the need for multiple usernames and passwords.

Nominate Students 

Advisors, high-school guidance counselors, department heads, academic college leaders, and/or community organizations have the flexibility to nominate applicants to receive scholarships.

Flexible Scholarship Matches 

With our “One-Click Apply” option, students can apply for all available scholarships in just a few seconds.

Match Applicants To Funds 

Scholars United automatically matches all the applicants who qualify. Easily set up a scoring rubric and have the system create a pre-sorted list of applicants based on the highest relevance to the fund’s criteria and find the most qualified applicants.

Unlimited Review Workflows 

Whether you have a one-step review process or a 10 step review process the system allows you to create unlimited evaluation steps and links them to evaluation/review rubrics. Add scores to the review rubrics to filter the applicants that have the highest committee review scores.

Online Review 

Share funds-specific reports and spending policies with reviewers. Scholarship administrators can access all the reviews using a single administrator dashboard.

Flexible Awards Process

The platform also allows awards to applicants from single or multiple funds. Students to accept or deny the offered award, and you can select your first and second favorite for the award in case your first choice declines. This saves the time and hassle of reevaluating all qualified applicants. Review funding overlaps for applicants with multiple considerations; and to speed up the awards process, the system can perform batch awards.

Renewable Awards

CommunityForce enables you to collect information from the applicant post-award process. Scholarship administrators can create reports that can help them ensure that the applicant continues to comply with the fund requirement year after year.

Report and Analyze

Slice and dice that data however you wish using real-time ad hoc reporting. Create reports to help with data accuracy and ensuring compliance with donor-advised funds requirements. Administrators can generate statistical reports from the system that can be used for annual reports.


Whether you’re a startup organization or a leading corporation, CommunityForce provides fully customizable, all-in-one online scholarship management solutions to maximize your efficiency, simplify complex processes, and improve collaboration so you can focus on increasing your impact. We’ve helped organizations streamline their entire process no matter the size and scope of their giving.

We enable organizations to reduce the amount of time spent on administrative burdens and focus on what matters: increasing their impact.