Ever since I wrote about how the online application could be hurting your ability to innovate, I’ve had many discussions with institutions discussing ways they've increased their candidate pool and engagement throughout the applicant journey – and how this has a direct impact on their admissions results.
Today, I’d like to discuss one technique that many for-profit institutions are utilizing: utilizing the admissions counselor and academic advisement to engage prospective students earlier in the admissions process (the white glove treatment). Any institution in a highly-competitive environment can achieve similar results by adopting this technique.
Traditional Admissions Process
Let’s start by describing the process many institutions follow for admissions. These general steps are simplified for the purposes of this discussion (and will be covered in more detail in a future topic).
Step 1: Marketing and Lead Generation
At the beginning, institutions attract a candidate pool via a number of marketing activities. We will describe these in more detail in a future blog entry, but the main point is that the goal of this process is to ensure that candidates are aware of the institution and encouraged to apply.
Step 2: Candidate Applies to the Institution
Once the candidate is interested, they fill out an application to be entered into the admissions process. As part of this process, they provide information about their education goals, their qualifications, and other information.
Step 3: Application is validated, reviewed, and considered
Once the candidate has completed the application, a person (generally the admissions counselor) gets involved. If the institution performs a rolling or open admissions process, this occurs immediately. If the institution considers candidates as a pool, then this occurs once the admissions deadline has passed.
Steps 4-7: Decision, Communication, Nurturing, and Enrollment
Finally, the decision is made on whether to admit a candidate, the candidate is notified of status, nurturing and communication occurs with the candidate to encourage enrollment and the candidate enrolls.
These different steps follow what in the software industry is called a waterfall model. Each discreet step is completed and things are handed off to whoever is responsible for the next step. As such, the Admissions Counselor’s role is focused on marketing activities and reviewing and making decisions on applications, but not in the process of completing the application.
White Glove Admissions Process
Many for-profit institutions utilize their admissions counselors and, in some circumstances, academic advisement personnel as the candidate’s concierge – assisting them throughout the application and acting as a partner throughout the candidate's admissions journey. This dramatically increases engagement and protects against drop-off in the admissions funnel:
- More candidates complete and submit applications (with better data)
- The counselor makes better decisions because they know more about the candidate
- Candidates have a relationship with the counselor which increases acceptance rates
- Candidates are enrolled in programs that are better fit for them, because the counselor helped them in the application process – which also increases acceptance rates and student success
How does this work?
In order to involve the counselor in this manner, the nature of the application process needs to be changed. The online application must be optimized to capture contact information immediately. A mechanism also needs to be put in place to route the work-in-progress application to a counselor immediately – regardless of how far the candidate has gone in completing the application.
Common methods of engagement by counselors are via chat, telephone, email, and even in-person. If the organization measures the level of engagement of the candidate in completing the application, proactive techniques can be employed to engage those students in helpful ways at the times that that assistance is most needed.
Once the candidate is proactively engaged, the counselor can help him/her to do the following:
- Complete parts of the application for the candidate
- Guide the candidate in answering parts of the application (such as choosing a degree program)
- Follow up if the candidate doesn’t have all the information readily available
- Set expectations on next steps of the admissions journey (including follow-up)
Because of the siloed nature of the Common Application, this level of interaction is not possible with how most institutions currently run their admissions process. Therefore, organizations who are successfully employing this technique have created their own online application system that takes into account the candidate's complete admissions journey. In addition to the online experience optimized for the candidate, it is necessary to have an additional experience for the admissions counselor to work collaboratively with the candidate. This includes routing, notification, and ability to review and modify work-in-progress applications.