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In the world of higher education, few things can cause greater headaches for administrators than the admissions process. According to research from Common App, the number of college applications has grown by 21.3% between 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 alone, overwhelming admissions departments with an ever-growing number of applications.
All too often, this leads to admissions officials spending hardly any time looking over applications. In other circumstances, poor alignment between campus recruiters and admissions officials can create misconceptions about the admissions process that unfairly challenge students.
Then, of course, there are factors expected to impact admissions in the long term, such as declining numbers of high school graduates, a shift away from the humanities and toward “practical” degrees as well as increased scrutiny on the true value proposition offered by educational institutions.
With so many challenges, higher-ed admissions procedures must adapt and improve to better serve students and administrators alike. So, here are four key tips that higher-ed institutions can use to create smarter admissions procedures:
1. Provide straightforward and streamlined applications
In an article for The Atlantic, author and Arizona State University professor Jeffrey Selingo decries the practice of colleges advertising the use of “holistic” admissions when most schools still primarily base decisions on grades, high school courses and tests. He also notes that asking for extra essays, recommendations and more can “place a particularly unfair burden on students without access to resources such as college counselors, supportive parents or teachers and even a computer with reliable internet access.”
To address this, two solutions are possible. One is a more streamlined system that eliminates the need for essays, information on extracurricular activities and so on. Another is what Selingo describes as an “iterative” approach, where students initially submit high school transcripts. If the transcripts are good, the next “phase” of applications could entail submitting essays, then collecting references until an admissions decision is made.
With either solution, a more transparent (and potentially less demanding) application process can be especially helpful for less privileged students while also easing the burden on administrators.
2. Stick with test-optional and test-blind policies
The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in many schools removing SAT and ACT testing requirements for admissions due to many of these exams being canceled. Even with a return to “normal,” however, many schools are continuing to use these policies in an effort to eliminate barriers for disadvantaged students.
Schools that adopt or maintain test-optional policies are better positioned to obtain more applications from low-income and historically disadvantaged groups. As Christopher Rim, CEO of Command Education explained in an interview with U.S. News, “If you have time outside of school to prepare for these exams, you can do that. But if you are low income, you may not have time to study because you might need to get a part-time job in order to support your family on paying rent or with the groceries and things like that.”
Essentially, test-optional policies remove a potential barrier for prospective students. Indeed, a report from EAB found that 15% of college applicants chose a college because of its test-optional policy, with even higher percentages among Black and Hispanic students (24 and 21%, respectively).
3. Track data with a centralized system
Just like with business organizations, properly tracking and organizing data — in this case, student applications — is crucial for getting the results desired by a higher education institution. Without the right software tools in place, a college admissions office could experience slow response times, miscommunications or delayed communications with prospective students, and potentially even the loss of documentation.
None of this will do much to build confidence among prospective students, and with enrollment declines and underfunding putting many schools in financial jeopardy, these are mistakes no institution can afford to make. Such mishaps could make all the difference in a student choosing to attend another school, further undercutting tuition earnings.
Because of this, higher-ed admissions departments should use quality customer relationship management software (CRMs) that allows them to store, track and update admissions data. The use of such software can ensure that no student slips through the cracks and that all admissions decisions are handled in a timely and professional manner.
4. Coordinate efforts with all stakeholders
While each of the previous points may seem to fall within the exclusive domain of admissions officials, such efforts should also be communicated to and coordinated with campus recruitment, advisers, the financial aid office and more.
For example, campus recruiters must be able to provide accurate information to prospective students regarding the admissions process. Their ability to explain steps in the admission process and potential outcomes can eliminate misconceptions and increase the odds for student success.
In addition, communicating your end goal for application management — be it collecting admissions from as many incoming freshmen as possible or focusing on students who meet certain academic criteria — is crucial for campus recruitment’s marketing efforts. Everything from events to print materials can and should be influenced by admissions goals.
By also coordinating efforts with other involved stakeholders in college administration, such as registration and financial aid, you can ensure a smooth hand-off that will make students more likely to choose your school.
Higher education institutions should be at the forefront of innovation — yet for too long, they’ve remained bound by outdated and inefficient admissions processes that deter students and create unfair barriers to entry. A more efficient, fair and streamlined system, fully coordinated between admissions and recruitment and powered by technology, may prove key to providing necessary steps forward.