Technology is leading a transformation in university admissions and enrollment management. Once arduous, admin-intensive processes involving paper record-keeping have long since been automated, and advancements in analytics are having a huge impact on university communication strategies.
The goal of technology in the admissions landscape is to streamline processes to make them more efficient, personalised and inclusive. In this article, we’ll explore some of the key turning points in admissions and enrollment management technology. But first, let’s remind ourselves of what the landscape used to look like.
Before the advent of digitalisation in admissions and enrollment, the application process was predominantly paper-based. Departments would rely on snail mail to receive applications, and use paper scoring sheets in interviews.
As such, managing the application process and engaging with prospective students were time-consuming endeavours susceptible to inefficiencies and errors.
Upon admittance, accepted students had to enrol by submitting extra paperwork, and in some cases a deposit to secure their place. Course registration took place in-person, with long queues a commonplace occurrence. Compared to today, there were also fewer choices and limited flexibility in terms of class scheduling.
The reliance on manual paperwork and communication hindered international students in particular who had to wait even longer to give and receive responses.
The widespread accessibility and adoption of the internet and digital technologies had a profound impact on admissions and enrollment, streamlining processes and making them more efficient for both applicants and admissions departments alike.
Now, let’s explore five key technological milestones: online applications, electronic records and transcripts, big data and predictive analytics, virtual campus tours and interviews, email and artificial intelligence, and university CRM systems.
The emergence of online applications marked the transition towards digitalisation. Gradually, higher education institutions replaced their paper or pdf application systems with online application portals, enabling students around the world to apply from anywhere at any time without having to send paper or pdf documents. A modern admissions system allows applicants to access it anytime anywhere, save and resume at any time and keep the applicant engaged with relevant content based on where they are in the process expected next steps.
The administrative workload became smaller for the admissions team, who could focus their attention on other value-added tasks. Today’s university admissions portals are able to automate aspects such as transcript verification and GPA calculations, further relieving the administrative burden and reducing errors.
As well as online applications, digital records and transcripts also helped transform the university experience for both students and staff. Students began to submit their academic documentation electronically which minimised the administrative strain and expedited the evaluation process.
Submitting records digitally is often more secure from a data privacy perspective because they can be encrypted and have restricted access. Today, electronic transcripts can also integrate with a wide range of software programmes, including student information systems and learning management systems, making it easier for the relevant people – including admissions staff – to access them.
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In the late 1990s, email started to become the vehicle for faster communication between admissions staff and students. As email spread, universities recognised how effective it was for sharing notifications, reminders and other important information with students at every stage of their journey.
Email is still very popular today, as illustrated in the recent State of Student Email (2023) report by UCAS. While there are other useful channels, including social media, email remains the preferred tool.
Now, email workflow automated use behaviour data and data profile to trigger automatic personalised email sequences. From welcoming a new lead to engaging them through the admissions journey – Email marketing automation workflows help universities engage students at every touchpoint. An email workflow is a sequence of emails that you trigger to send automatically based on predefined criteria, like a student action, preference, or other personal data.
More recently, universities have been using big data and predictive analytics to inform their admissions strategy and decision making. Looking closely at historical data pertaining to applicant trends and behaviour can support the admissions team making more informed decisions.
By analysing data from previous applicants and students, such as test scores, grades, and essays, it is possible to identify patterns and predict which applicants are most likely to enrol and graduate.
Of course, the majority of higher education institutions now benefit from virtual campus tours and interviews. The trend for virtual events grew during the Covid-19 pandemic when restrictions were placed on face-to-face interactions, and they continue to be utilised.
Virtual tours and interviews help break down geographical barriers. Prospective students can get a flavour for campus life without incurring the costs associated with travel, and universities can connect with a wider international student audience.
Like the other technologies in this article, virtual technology continues to evolve. Today, VR, 360-degree videos and other platforms are making virtual tours even more engaging and immersive. Students are able to personalise their experience by selecting specific parts of the campus or experience they want to see, for instance.
CRM systems are crucial facilitators of modern and efficient admissions systems, providing universities with the digital tools they need to personalise communication, obtain data and support students throughout not just the admissions lifecycle but the entire student lifecycle – and beyond.
Meanwhile, admissions management systems streamline application and evaluation processes, helping to speed up application management and enabling staff to make informed decisions about offers. Combined, these tools can provide a truly student-centric approach and significantly enhance the student experience.
Through digital integration, university admissions departments can achieve digital transformation by offering personalised communications and applications. Integrated technology can also automate otherwise time-consuming tasks like tracking and collecting, and provide valuable insights through analytics.
Increasingly, like all the digital markers in this article, university CRM systems are becoming evermore personalised and data-driven, and integrations are becoming even more seamless. Ultimately, these advancements empower institutions to create a more enriching experience from start to finish.
Although many of us will remember the manual processes of yesterday, the future is all about combining digital innovation with the human touch. Embracing evolving technologies is necessary for universities to compete and thrive in the digital age.