FAQ for creating scholarships at VCU

Scholarships ensure access to education and recognize the talent, drive and success of our students. Virginia Commonwealth University is proud to honor our students with a variety of scholarships and awards.

What is the difference between an endowed scholarship and a current scholarship?

  • An endowed scholarship is one in which the principal funding is invested, and scholarship awards are made through interest and dividends. Because the principal is never spent, an endowment fund provides scholarship assistance in perpetuity.
  • Current scholarships reflect a donor’s commitment to support a scholarship for a specific number of years. The full amount of the gift is expended over a specific time frame, such as one year. 

What scholarships provide the greatest impact at VCU? 

Scholarships with broad awarding criteria, such as financial need or academic merit, provide the most flexibility in our efforts to recruit and retain students. About one-third of VCU undergraduate students are eligible for federal Pell grants, given to students demonstrating exceptional financial need. Additionally, one-third of VCU students are the first in their families to attend college. Donor-funded scholarships can make a difference in the lives of these students by providing access to higher education.

Can a donor create a named scholarship?

  1. A donor can name a scholarship when the amount donated meets the minimum funding requirement for a named current or endowed scholarship. Scholarships are often named after the donor, company or organization or to honor or memorialize parents, professors or other important people in the donor’s life. (Alternatively, donors can give to existing scholarship funds in the department or school of their choice.)
  2. Nonreligious criteria, however, can closely match the donor’s intent. For example:

As of July 1, 2021, scholarships can be established at the following levels:

Giving level nameGiving level minimum amount

Named current fund


General scholarship fund (talent, merit, need)


Named endowed scholarship fund (with restrictions)


What criteria can a donor specify when creating a scholarship at VCU?

Scholarship criteria are guided by VCU’s policy on accepting and awarding scholarship and fellowship funds. Acceptable criteria include:

  • Academics: Merit (as defined by the university or campus partner), major, area of study and/or high school or college GPA, or entry type (e.g. freshman/transfer).
  • Financial attributes: Need, as determined by the VCU Office of Financial Aid.
  • Demographics: Characteristics of the student or the student’s background such as residency in a particular geographic area, graduation from a particular high school or school district, state of residence, first-generation student, single-parent household, household size or number of family members in college at the same time.
  • Specific experiences: Demonstrated actions of the student such as fluency in a primary language other than English, demonstrated commitment to working with historically underprivileged or underrepresented populations in specific disciplines, student activities or involvement on campus, or having overcome personal challenges.

All scholarships administered by the university must comply with federal and state laws, in addition to the university’s nondiscrimination, equal opportunity and affirmative action policy.

Can a donor have input into selection of scholarship recipients?

Scholarship donors establishing named funds can specify criteria for selecting the recipient(s). University representatives from the appropriate academic department or division use those criteria when choosing student recipients. Per university policy, review committee members are university employees who have completed student record privacy training. A review committee cannot include any individual who has donated to the particular scholarship.

Can a donor meet their scholarship recipients?

VCU strives to create opportunities for donors and scholarship recipients to meet. Many donors feel profound personal satisfaction when they meet the students whose education they made possible, and students are often eager to thank and meet their benefactor.

How does receiving a scholarship award affect the recipient’s eligibility for other financial aid? 

Total financial aid awards received through scholarships, grants, work-study and/or loans cannot exceed the cost of attendance at VCU for the financial aid award year. Receiving a scholarship could cause a reduction in other financial aid already received. If possible, loans would be reduced. Sometimes, however, it’s necessary  to reduce work-study grants (with the exception of the federal Pell Grant) and/or scholarships. This practice is in accordance with federal regulations and institutional policy. If a student’s financial aid must be reduced because of receipt of a scholarship, they will receive notification from the Office of Financial Aid.

Why can other universities offer scholarships based on race, gender or other protected classes but VCU cannot?

Some universities rely on independent private foundations to administer scholarships without involvement by the university. It is also possible for a university to pool scholarships and offset restricted programs with unrestricted funds, so the overall effect is nondiscriminatory. Other universities could have historical data to support that neutral criteria are not effective in achieving diversity goals. If VCU departments or donors are interested in achieving greater diversity in specific programs or disciplines, an evaluation of institutional data and university goals would be the first step.

If a donor would like to create a scholarship to benefit a specific group of students, what are the options?

Donors have many options to make a significant impact in their area of interest. VCU has a diverse student population who can benefit from scholarships based on financial need or status as the first student in their family to attend a higher education institution. VCU’s deeply ingrained values of diversity, inclusion and equity ensure a climate in which individuals of differing cultural backgrounds, identities, abilities and life experiences are embraced, engaged and empowered to excel and succeed. Scholarship criteria can address the donor’s area of interest by promoting research or service in a specific field, characteristics such as geographic origin, service or overcoming disadvantage. Some examples:

  • The scholarship is awarded to a student with demonstrated interests or research in Latino heritage.
  • The donor desires that special consideration be given to students who have demonstrated experience in or a commitment to working with the Black community.
  • The donor desires that the fund be used to assist students who have demonstrated a commitment to the advancement of women in underrepresented fields or disciplines.
  • The donor desires that priority should be given to students who have overcome obstacles such as socioeconomic or educational disadvantage or are the first in their family to attend college.
  • The donor desires that priority be given to students who have lived in [a rural Virginia county] or demonstrated a commitment to working with residents in that county.

Contact DAR to ensure you work with the appropriate specialist to help with a gift to VCU. The general phone number is (804) 828-0880; the email is giving@vcu.edu.

Can VCU accept a gift or award with the intent to achieve diversity within the student body?

Scholarships intended to achieve institutional diversity must be neutral with regard to all protected classes. Such neutral criteria might include diverse experiences or socioeconomic backgrounds. An example of an acceptable scholarship criteria to achieve diversity:

  • The purpose of this scholarship is to support educational diversity at the university consistent with its mission and admissions policy. Therefore, it is the donor's intent to consider all highly qualified students in an inclusive and broad spectrum of characteristics and categories.

Can a donor limit an award to individuals from certain countries or base the award on citizenship or legal residence?

Criteria based on national origin or ethnicity are prohibited. A donor could specify criteria that requires a demonstrated interest or research in the culture of a certain country. Donors can also specify that recipients must be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident.

Why can athletic scholarships be designated by gender?

Athletic scholarships, within certain parameters, are an exception in accordance with federal Title IX, which requires that female and male student-athletes receive athletics scholarship dollars proportional to their participation.

Can scholarship criteria be based on a person’s religious beliefs? 

  • Although not specific criteria of the award, the award is intended to recognize and support students who have shown an interest or have participated in outreach or service learning work in partnership with a faith-based organization.