A Scholarship Process to Serve Students

A few years ago, Shawn Semmler was one of countless high school students crunching numbers associated with tuition, fees and financial aid as part of the college selection process. He was drawn to Ohio State for several reasons, but the driving factor in his decision to become a Buckeye was that he felt Ohio State offered him the “best value.”

As part of the university’s commitment to affordability and excellence, Ohio State leaders determined that transforming the process to identify and apply for scholarships would contribute to an improved student experience. Staff representing colleges and units across campus, colleagues from Student Financial Aid and three undergraduate students collaborated over the last few months to map out the current process students use to apply for scholarships at Ohio State, and then envision a more efficient, student-centered approach.

Participants at the Universal Scholarship Process readout session
Participants at the Universal Scholarship Process readout session.

A key component of the future state is creating a one-stop shop for scholarships, a universal scholarship hub that tracks multiple deadlines and requires students to submit only one application, decreasing the likelihood of missing potential scholarship opportunities.

“I’ve listened to students' feedback on the scholarship process and we’ve tried to tweak things along the way, and I realize we’re still not there,” says Executive Director of Student Financial Aid Diane Corbett. “And then the first time I heard leadership talk about the Enterprise Project – the opportunity for transformation – I thought, ‘This is it. This is our time.’”

Semmler was one of the student participants, alongside Shamina Merchant and Adler Pierce. Merchant and Semmler serve as the president and vice president, respectively, of Ohio State’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG).

“One of the things that Ohio State does exceptionally well is that students are treated as peers around the table. So when I saw the invitation [to participate] come in, it was neat just to be invited to that table,” said Semmler. “I think a lot of universities don’t necessarily do that. We were able to give feedback all along the way on any part of the process, which is huge.”

Undergraduate Student Government (USG) President Shamina Merchant, Executive Director of Student Financial Aid Diane Corbett and USG Vice President Shawn Semmler.
From left: Undergraduate Student Government (USG) President Shamina Merchant, Executive Director of Student Financial Aid Diane Corbett and USG Vice President Shawn Semmler.

The group delved into the business process transformation (BPT) work by discussing manual vs. automated transactions, finding breaks and hand-offs in the process and calling out other “pain points” that may tarnish the student experience.

Along the way, the workshop participants were consistently encouraged to think about designing processes that put students’ needs first. They identified the following aspects that would meet and exceed students’ expectations for a universal scholarship website or application:

  • Awareness – proactively and clearly communicating information to students
  • Transparency – stating what students need to do and when
  • Personalization – tailoring the future scholarship destination specifically to each individual student

Merchant and Semmler partnered with developers from the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) to design a prototype that helped demonstrate the future goals of how students will find and access scholarship information. Merchant, a fourth-year student studying information systems, felt presenting that prototype to leaders and staff in student services on behalf of the workshop participants was one of the highlights of the overall experience.

“I’m just blown away that Ohio State was willing to devote so much time and so many resources to value the student perspective, because I know that all of the processes across the board for this entire Enterprise Project are critically important, and this is just a sliver of that,” said Merchant. “But it’s a sliver that will be high-impact for our peers, so it meant a lot that it was given that much priority.”