Are you frustrating your admissions candidates with this question?

"Please select the type of student you are"

This was the very first question asked in the online application of an institution we met with this week.  It was followed by 11 choices from which a candidate was expected to choose.

This illustrates the challenge faced when attracting students with different goals and backgrounds.  Who is the candidate?  What does he / she want to accomplish?  And, how do you learn this critical information without creating selection fatigue?

Knowing this is instrumental in determining what information is needed, what processes need to be followed, and how to maximize engagement in your admissions / enrollment process.

Unfortunately, the lack of flexibility in the software used by institutions forces them to deploy confusing online applications.

What type of Student Are You? -- Example

This example illustrates the selections available to candidates of the institution described.  Candidates are asked to select which type of student describes them as the first part of their admissions journey.

Type of Student Description


I am a non-US Citizen with a visa who has not attended XXX college, and am applying to XXX college for the first time

International Readmit

In am a non-US Citizen with a visa who has attended XXX college before, and am applying to return to XXX college

Concurrent High School

I am a current high school student applying to attend XXX college concurrently as a high school junior or senior

Concurrent High School Readmit

I am a current high school student who has attended XXX college concurrently before, and am applying to return as a concurrent high school senior

Home School / Unaccredited High School

I graduated from a home school or unaccredited high school and am a first time college student

Non Degree Seeking

I do not plan to earn a degree at this time, and am applying to take 1 or 2 courses for personal enrichment

Non Degree Seeking Readmit

I have taken courses at XXX college before for personal enrichment and am applying to return and do so again

First Time Student

I have never attended any colleges.  This will be my first time ever enrolling in college courses

Returning XXX College Student

I have attended XXX college before, but have never attended any other colleges and am now returning to XXX college


I have never attended XXX college, but I have attended other colleges and have earned at least 6 credit hours, and am applying to XXX college

Transfer Readmit

I have attended XXX college before, but I have also attended other colleges and earned at least 6 credit hours, and am now returning to XXX college

A better way...

As you can imagine, it can be very difficult for the candidate to determine which of these selections make the most sense.  Although there are 11 options, there are really only 3 things that the institution needs to know to understand who the person is, and what his / her goals are:

  • Have you previously applied to us?
  • What type of enrollment are you seeking?
  • What is your current situation / status?

Splitting this question into those 3 questions makes the selection much more manageable.

1.  Have you previously applied to or attended XXX college?

This will help the institution determine whether it already has information about this candidate, and what additional information is required.  It will also help prevent duplicate information being created for the same person (which is a significant challenge in the admissions process).

The responses that are most appropriate based on the example are as follows:

    • Attended
    • Applied
    • Neither applied nor attended

At this point, the institution knows whether a new profile needs to be created, or whether the application can be attached to an existing profile.

2.  What type of enrollment are you seeking?

This will tell the institution how the candidate wishes to engage with it.  As institutions create new packages that focus on different types of nontraditional students, the options available may change over time.

The responses that are most appropriate based on the example are as follows:

    • Associates Degree (AA, AS, or AAS)
    • I wish to take individual courses

The organization we met with also has plans to add two additional options to the current set of selections:

    • I wish to take courses / training sponsored by my employer
    • I wish to earn a certification

Now the institution knows which resources within its organization would be used by the candidate when enrolling, and what process would need to be followed to evaluate and enroll that candidate.

3.  What is your current status?

This tells the institution what information is needed from the candidate to complete the application and enrollment process.  If the candidate is already known to the institution, the responses can be defaulted to what is already known about that candidate.

The responses most appropriate based on the example are as follows:

    • I am a non-US Citizen with a visa
    • I will be a high school graduate before attending XXX college
    • I am a high school junior or senior and will be attending XXX college concurrently with my high school classes
    • I have at least 6 credits from another college or university and will be transferring to XXX college

A follow-on question to this would be what institution they have most recently attended:

    • Pick the High School, or designate home schooled
    • Pick the college or university from which the candidate is transferring
    • Pick the country and school most recently attended if International

At this point, the institution will know from where the candidate is coming; whether transferring, international, concurrent, or traditional.

Other ways of reducing frustration

In addition to simplifying the responses and questions, there are a few other techniques that can be followed to reduce the amount of effort and frustration:

  1. Pre-provision candidates.  For the concurrent high school and employer training scenarios, there's often coordination that needs to occur with the organization proposing the candidate to be part of the program.  A high school counselor would need to facilitate the combined curriculum, and a training coordinator may need to do the same for a partnership with a corporate training program.  If the candidate has an initial level of provisioning completed as part of that process, there will be less data entry and improved data accuracy.
  2. Optimizing the re-admit process.  This is similar to pre-provisioning in that the institution already has information about the candidate before he/she re-applies and this information can be used to reduce data entry and increase accuracy.
  3. Follow this step by utilizing goal-oriented degree selection as described in this blog entry.


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