COVID-19 Information Center

Member FAQ: Virtual Scholarship Interviews & Meetings


How are you conducting virtual scholarship interviews or student meetings? Any advice on doing so for hundreds or even thousands of students?

NSPA Resources:

Member Answers:

We normally interview over 500 candidates in 21 cities across Canada, and are moving the entire process online. We will interview fewer candidates over a shorter time period (6 students over two 2.5 hour sessions vs. 10 students over 7 hours). We recognized some opportunities however, like bringing people from different regions together for a lunch time group session, where they wouldn't have been able to meet each other before. Our advice is to think creatively and look for positive opportunities - try not to get stuck into trying to move exactly what you normally do in person onto a virtual platform - you will likely need to reimagine how you get to your end goal.

Heather Spratt, Loran Scholars Foundation

In the past we have had our students come in for an individual meeting to go over everything about their scholarship and we would also talk about any unmet need the student might have. This year we have had to move to doing everything virtual. In the past we have used a website called 10to8 to schedule the in-person appointments. The students get a link to schedule their appointment and it is very easy to use. You can also set it up for the appointment to be done virtually through Zoom. This year we have moved to Microsoft Bookings for the scheduling so that we can use Teams for the meeting. We made the switch because we use Office 365 and because of all the negative issues Zoom was having a few months ago. I am not a fan of Bookings as it doesn't have all the features as 10to8 but it will work for what we need. We collect a copy of the students award letter, SAR, a FERPA and Media Release form. In the past they would bring this to their meeting. This year we were able to get the students signed in their student portal on the program we use earlier. We having the students upload these documents to their portal no later then the day before their meeting. This will hopefully make their meeting a bit easier. These meetings each year are mandatory for our incoming freshman. We did not want to lose this interaction with the students so they are still mandatory. If a student is having any issues with getting on the meeting we will work with them on this.

Stephanie Spencer, College Now Greater Cleveland

Our members have mentioned a few scheduling resources to us, including the below, all of which shift some of the burden of scheduling to interviewees instead of interviewers:

National Scholarship Providers Association

At the current time (Mid-March 2020) TD Scholarships is in the midst of the interview stage of our selection process. We had completed half of the travel stage (in previous years, this included 6 days in 5 cities, and meetings with 60-70 finalists) before scrambling to shift from in-person to online interviews. We currently have 3 days of online-only interviews to complete.

Our first big lesson involved the process itself. Most providers will begin by asking themselves: How can we most closely replicate what we’ve always done? How can we make the online experience as close to the in-person experience as possible?

It may be more useful and productive to CHANGE that question. Go back to your first principles:

What is our objective? What does success look like?

  • Online interviews will ALWAYS be a bit different than what you are used to. If you are trying to find the candidates that best meet your criteria, remember that the purpose of the interview is to add another layer of information. Students reveal things in different ways, the interviewers will get a different sense of them, and you will get multiple perspectives from the panel.
  • In-person and online, your goal is to give the students the best opportunity possible to connect with their interviewers.

Ask yourselves, what do we already know about the technology?

  • Every year, a few more students request an online interview. They are clearly becoming more comfortable with this format.
  • TD Scholarships’ panels generally have 4-5 members, and we find that the more people on the call, the more likely it is that problems will arise. You can counter this by streamlining judging panels.
  • TD Scholarships uses the interview process to rank each student against others in their region, and we feel that this aspect of the process is still important. To that end, we have decided to maintain the schedule of interviewing all of the students in a region on the same day. Our goal is to allow the judges to discuss the candidates in relation to each other at the end of the day, while they are still fresh in the judges’ minds.
  • TD Scholarships prioritizes the qualitative aspects of the process. We do feel that the judges’ impressions are very important.
  • If your organization prefers a quantitative process, with an emphasis on scoring very specific attributes, for example, you might find it easier to hold interviews on different days or with different judges.

Don’t think that just because you’ve done something a certain way in the past that it must have been a really good idea and that changing it must be a bad idea. Continue to consider your objective and what success is. Generational forces can also be at work here. Really good things may come out of this. We’ll certainly all learn a lot.

  • Remember that students are generally comfortable with online tools for interviews. Sometimes, being at home or in another comfortable environment eases a student’s nerves. Be prepared with a few warm-up candidates comfortable chatting, as they won’t have as many non-verbal cues and personal interactions to welcome them to the setting.
  • In-person interviews can also be a hindrance if a student has issues with travel that leave them too frazzled to give a good interview, as just one example. In situations where I interviewed half of our candidates remotely and half in person, the interview format seemed to make very little difference.
  • A good candidate will shine, no matter the interaction and medium.
  • If online interviews turn out to be a fabulous tool, many organizations may decide to keep using them. It will certainly save money on travel and be easier on the environment.

It is vital to always communicate very clearly with your judges and students, no matter what interview format you are using.

Also remember to pick and test your technology in advance. Look at several alternatives and always have a backup. A few of the many options for video interviews include:

  • Skype
  • Zoom
  • Google Hangouts
  • Facebook Messenger Video Chat
  • Facetime
  • Slack
  • Discord Servers (VoIP app and platform designed for video gamers – runs text, image, video and audio communications in a chat channel.)

No matter which platform you choose, give yourself enough time to begin and end each call. It always takes longer to get everyone up and running than you think it will.

It may be necessary to call for audio if you happen to have video but no audio, so collect cell phone numbers from your participants, just in case. Be prepared to have a phone-only interview if you have a technology glitch, such as a program deciding to download and install an update during your interview time.

Also, make sure your last student is off the line before you start talking to the next one.

Once the arrangements have been made and the interview has begun, return to your first objective: connect with the student, let them shine, and allow them to tell their story in the best way possible. Remember that they will most likely be super-comfortable with this technology, more comfortable than some of your staff members and judges. This is a good thing.

Ultimately, remember that the goal is to give the money to the people who need it. Find the students and get the checks written. Support and connections and celebrations are important, but the priority this year is to get the money out there. Don’t beat yourself up too much if you don’t make as much progress on those other aspects of the work.

  • Figure out how you’re going to work at home.
  • Move forward and select students.
  • Then figure out how to connect with them, support them, and celebrate them.

Jane Thompson, Executive Director, TD Scholarships

National Scholarship Providers Association

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