As another fall recruitment cycle comes to a close, one can’t help but think about all of the challenges facing enrollment managers. From shifting demographics and changes in student mobility patterns to limited flexibility and agility in developing new and diverse educational opportunities to functioning with a heavy workload in a high-stress environment, it is not an easy time to be working in enrollment management. Mining through the mounting challenges, tasks, and meetings, the last thing enrollment leaders should be worried about is the application for admission and the technology associated with it.
However, through our work with colleges and universities over the years, our team has encountered many enrollment leaders dealing with enrollment technology that creates barriers for prospective students, which consequently, negatively impacts total new student enrollment. Prospective students who have to jump through hoops to get into the application, encounter technical issues with the application, or receive poor communication during the application process will most likely end up applying to an institution with an easier and smoother application process. This scenario should not be acceptable to anyone in enrollment management.
Our most recent survey revealed several key issues identified by enrollment managers. Here are the top 5 challenges associated with the application for admission (and how it’s hurting your admissions funnel):
1. Complex, confusing user experience
How many clicks on your website does it take to get to your application? How long is the user registration process? Does it require an email verification that ends up in a student’s Junk folder? Can the student easily identify the program they are applying for? The list of questions could go on. Applying to college can be stressful enough for prospective students, and admissions offices need to be focused on making the application process as easy and engaging as possible.
2. Difficult to change as my institution's needs change
Technology should never be a hindrance in supporting an institution’s needs. As institutions adjust program offerings and learning modalities, to the changing needs of students and the workforce, the application for admission experience needs to be flexible and adaptable — tailored to the specific program offerings and student types. If your application for admission is preventing you from moving your institution forward then it might be time to look elsewhere.
3. Difficult to manage and administer
As admissions and information technology teams continue to shrink throughout the industry, the last thing that those teams need is an application-for-admissions system that is complex and difficult to manage. In the case of information technology and admissions staff, the right admissions application can reduce the need for manual entry and time spent tracking down accurate data from candidates lowering the cost of acquisition per student.
4. Doesn't support diversity and inclusion
Learning environments that promote diversity and inclusion are thought to be more creative and innovative, creating a richer university experience. However, application for admission software that is incapable of accurately capturing the uniqueness of each candidate could prevent admissions offices from getting a holistic view of each application, and thus, could lead to incomplete admission decisions.
5. Difficulty capturing accurate data from candidates
The application process should keep students engaged and ask the questions necessary for admission to the particular program they are applying. Many applications for admissions being used today are long, generic forms that ask unnecessary questions. This can lead to a host of issues including poor or unnecessary data submitted by applicants or candidates becoming disengaged and abandoning the application altogether.
How Can the Application Problem Be Fixed?
If you are an enrollment leader, there’s a myriad of issues to be addressed that could improve your processes and enrollment numbers. In our experience in working with enrollment managers, addressing the limitations and challenges related to the application for admissions gives you the best bang for your buck — tackling time-sucking data and processing problems while improving the application user experience resulting in better data, engaged applicants, and ultimately, enrolled students motivated to be in the classroom at your institution. Here are 4 tactics we recommend to improve the application for admissions experience:
1. Always have your prospective students in mind first
This might seem like a no-brainer to enrollment managers, but the level of complexity of some admissions websites and applications indicates a clear disconnect between admissions offices and prospective students. Applications should be easy to get to and responsive and accessible on all modalities, especially mobile. For many institutions, the online application is the first touch point that you know of a student engaging with your institution - it should be a good first impression.
2. Communicate with your applicants in real-time
In the case of many CRM and common applications, batch data integration is the only option available creating delays for admissions officers to connect with new applicants sooner – this lapse in time could mean the difference between a student who enrolls at your institution or moves on to an alternative college option. With competition increasing, the sooner you can be communicating with your applicants, the better advantage you have to create a strong relationship with those students. And although email has its benefits in the admissions process, institutions need to be flexible and personal in their outreach — this means meeting the applicant where they are including options like text messaging and web chat at the point of starting an application.
3. Tailor the application to specific student types and programs
By creating a custom application experience for each student type and program, you can overcome a variety of challenges many institutions face—most notably, getting prospective students to submit the correct application for the correct start period. By taking a tailored approach, admissions offices can get better data for better decision-making by refining application questions — asking only for necessary data and eliminating irrelevant questions. Consequently, the time it takes to process and admit students is drastically reduced and improves the efficiency of the admissions team.
4. Leverage existing systems
Many CRM and SIS systems offer limited to no flexibility to tailor the application to meet the needs of every student and program. However, it can be extremely costly for an institution to uproot and replace these large legacy systems. Rather than just “dealing with” the system that is currently in place, it’s worthwhile to seek out a cost-effective solution that can maximize the investment in those legacy systems. Taking this approach can provide the ideal experience for your prospective students and save money in your budget.
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