With reams of information to sift through and plenty of life-affecting decisions to make, the admission experience can be a very stressful and difficult time for students. How the process is structured and conducted varies considerably between institutions, and the relative ease of the experience has a huge effect on a student’s ultimate decision.
A smooth and user-friendly process can instil trust in a student and sway their vote in favour of a particular university; conversely, if the experience is complicated or confusing, it can put prospective applicants off an institution entirely.
Here’s an outline of four of the main factors which affect students’ decisions during the admission experience, along with some suggestions to help make the process as efficient as possible.
Ease of accessing information
Students consistently report that they struggle to find information about universities online. This includes basic details such as contact information, application deadlines and campus addresses, as well as broader details about student life and course specifics. It can make a huge difference — in the US, a study conducted by Chegg and Uversity in 2014 found that almost 78% of American students would stop considering a university if they had trouble finding information on its site.
To make sure the admissions process is smooth, universities can make these key details prominently available on their website; many good sites display them at the top or bottom of each page. In addition, plenty of universities let prospective students reach out through live chat lines and social media — platforms which provide quick, informal and direct interaction. Other institutions run blogs focusing on specific courses, which give prospects an accurate taste of the student experience and the opportunity to comment on posts in order to learn more.
Universities are always looking for opportunities to obtain a student’s name and address in order to contact them directly with marketing materials. But many students only feel comfortable providing these details if the university gives them something of value in return; such as an e-book, prospectus or similar handy resource. If universities ask for students’ credentials without offering a clear and enticing reward, it’s likely students will look elsewhere.
Volume of marketing is also important to consider. If a student feels hounded by emails or post they don’t find useful, they may decide a university is wasteful and inconsiderate. Every piece of marketing should provide a distinct set of useful information and serve a clear purpose. This way, universities can ensure all students have the information they need and perhaps even gain their trust, building a valuable rapport in the process.
Hundreds of thousands of students attend open days across the country every year, keen for an insight into what it’s like to study at a particular institution. As the Guardian has reported, although these events are widely attended, many feel that they don't provide an honest representation of a university. Instead, feedback suggests that prospects see them as overly positive facades which gloss over the less attractive aspects of what it’s like to attend.
Student life is a difficult thing to replicate across the course of a short visit, but universities can take steps to make sure open days are accurate and relevant. Holding them during term time and directly involving existing students can help provide an honest, in-touch picture of the place of learning. Regularly auditing the content and structure of open days and gauging attendee’s opinions through surveys can also pay dividends.
Students often find deadlines for applications non-transparent and misleading. As an example, the Ucas deadline for the majority of undergraduate applications is 15 January. Students can apply from as early as October, and many universities begin sorting through applications before the end of the year to even their workload; some even send out offers and rejections before the deadline has passed. This has the negative effect of leaving students suspicious of whether early applicants receive preferential treatment.
Many universities dedicate pages of their website to explaining deadlines and train staff to discuss them comprehensively with prospects. This practice can make the process easier and less stressful for students, as well as minimise late applications. Explaining the sorting process in a transparent way can also help a university seem open and trustworthy in the eyes of prospective students.
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