Applying for scholarships to get easier for undergraduates

Iowa State undergraduate students soon will have a one-stop shop to seek university scholarships, starting with applications for the 2019-20 school year.

With the new OneApp system, students will submit a single simplified online application. The student financial aid office, colleges, departments and units can use those applications to select recipients for the thousands of scholarships they administer.

Centralized intake should streamline a process that previously required students to fill out multiple, redundant applications to seek all possible Iowa State scholarships, said Ann Wessman, program manager in the student financial aid office, which is overseeing the new application portal.

Navigating separate applications based on the unit, college or individual department has been difficult for students -- especially incoming freshman -- and confusing at times even for financial aid staff, Wessman said.

"For years, we've known this was a problem. We hear it from our students," she said. "We hear it from the colleges, too: 'Where do we point students?'"

Simpler process

OneApp makes filling out the lone application easier, too. Students aren't asked to provide relevant information Iowa State already has, such as grade point averages, demographics, hometowns and financial need. The software imports that data automatically.

"We need them to tell us about things we don't know," she said, including short answers to a variety of questions to determine eligibility for certain awards.

After submitting their basic information, students may receive suggestions to apply for scholarships that require additional follow-up, such as an essay. If new scholarships are added after the apply, students will be notified of additional opportunities.

Wessman said OneApp is more intuitive than the existing application software and, in another new feature, allows students to return to their applications to make corrections and edits. It also offers more options for notifying students about their awards and donor communications, she said.

Pilot project

In a trial run, current students and incoming transfers used OneApp this spring to apply for scholarships from the student financial aid office and the College of Engineering. The feedback has been positive. Staff previously were inundated by calls and emails from students who needed help with their applications, but those questions essentially disappeared, she said.

Engineering and student financial aid staff are reviewing applications now, which has presented some challenges they're working through, Wessman said. AcademicWorks, the software vendor providing OneApp in a three-year contract for about $240,000, offers ample help-desk support, she said.

"We're learning as we go. For the most part, we haven't had any major snafus. But it's definitely a change," she said.

Training soon

Colleges and other university units that administer scholarships aren't required to use the system, but Wessman hopes to have all colleges on board this fall. OneApp is expected to go live Sept. 1 for incoming 2019-20 freshmen, whose scholarship applications are due in December. Scholarship-granting units can set their own application deadlines, she said. There's no charge for campus partners to use the system, which is being jointly funded by the student financial aid office and the ISU Foundation.

Wessman plans to begin contacting college-level financial aid staff this week to set up training sessions that will start in May. Other units interested in using OneApp can contact Wessman at awessman@iastate or 294-0100.