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    The Importance of Human Engagement in Higher Ed Admissions: Balancing Technology and Personalisation

    At a time of rapid digitalisation, how can university admissions departments protect personalisation?
    Last updated:
    January 22, 2024

    Higher education admissions management has transformed over the last decade. Departments are tapping into technological advancements to automate time-consuming manual tasks, and to create a more streamlined process.

    Although automation has numerous benefits and can make the admissions process more accessible, most universities would agree that the personal touch still holds significance.

    So, how can university admissions departments achieve the delicate balance between technology and human personalisation? Before we start exploring some strategies universities can use to ensure balance, let’s take a look at why the human touch is still so critical.

    Personalised guidance

    Personal interactions in the admissions process enable individual students to receive more bespoke guidance that is tailored to their own needs and goals.

    Although an application form can gather key information, some prospective students will need 1:1 support when choosing a programme and making important decisions, such as whether or not to apply for a scholarship or financial aid.

    Holistic assessment

    According to Cambridge Dictionary, the term ‘holistic’ means ‘dealing with or treating the whole of something or someone and not just a part.’

    Some of the most effective admissions processes are holistic in their approach; these universities consider more than just numbers and grades. Other elements of an application - such as essays, interviews and recommendations - provide a more rounded insight into the individual and what they could offer to the community.

    Addressing unique situations

    Some challenges can’t be met with algorithms. Admissions officers are a crucial point of contact for prospective students who might be going through difficult or unique circumstances and need a helping hand. Admissions teams can provide authentic compassion and empathy - something technology is not capable of.

    Building better relationships

    Of course, human interaction, like in the workplace, is key when it comes to nurturing bonds between students and higher education institutions. While technology certainly accelerates administrative processes, building strong relationships can lead to better student engagement throughout the lifecycle.

    True, creating a balance can be difficult - but it’s not impossible.

    Technology is part of today’s learning landscape and using it in the admissions process can help applicants to develop their digital skills further before they start their studies. However, human interaction can develop those important ‘soft skills’, such as communication, critical thinking, collaboration and empathy.

    It’s important to remember that technology is also vulnerable to bias - it was developed by humans, after all. Supporting digital processes with human interaction helps ensure that systems are fair and inclusive, and that these relatively new tools are used with students’ best interests at heart. With this in mind, let’s dive into some strategies university admissions teams can use for creating balance.


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    1. Data-informed decision making

    When utilising data to make decisions, always follow-up algorithms with human judgement. As we’ve mentioned already, algorithms are vulnerable to bias because they were created by humans, and thus are prone to assumptions that were made when the technology was first developed or updated.

    Algorithms used for data-driven insights might not take certain variables into consideration, and therefore provide skewed or subjective feedback. Algorithms also work by recognising patterns in data; they are unable to identify nuance or take into consideration the full context of a situation.

    2. Personalised workflows

    As part of your admissions strategy, always include personal outreach in your student recruitment workflows, as well as digital communications. For instance, you could build a workflow for new leads that uses a combination of automated emails and personal phone calls or video conferencing.

    Other personalised elements to consider for your workflows could include information sessions, campus tours, webinars or even 1:1 meetings that provide candidates with the opportunity to meet the admissions team and ask questions.

    3. Transparency and communication

    Transparency and communication during the admissions process is important for keeping prospective students informed and confident in the decision-making. Your student portal comes into play here - ensure that it is personalised with customised content relating to the individual’s programme of choice and needs, with clear timelines and the steps involved in the admissions process.

    A good higher education admissions portal will enable the admissions team to send personalised messages through the portal when an individual archives a milestone or requires some additional support.

    4. Leverage chatbots and AI assistance

    Virtual assistants or university chatbots can help admissions departments to save time spent on answering common questions: a chatbot can provide an immediate response to a direct enquiry. Outsourcing common questions to chatbots in this way can free up time that can be reallocated to solving more complex queries or situations.

    The lead up to the new academic year is when chatbots become particularly useful. Candidates are full of questions relating to courses, fees, accommodation and enrollment. It's a very busy time for admissions departments, and deploying a chatbot for common queries can prove invaluable.

    Ultimately, it’s about providing choice. How can applicants get in touch with you? Can they reach your institution via email, messaging and  phone? With prospective students living in different time zones and with different responsibilities - be it work, school or childcare - having different modes of communication is much appreciated.

    5. Provide personalised feedback to rejected candidates  

    Many of us can relate to the frustration of being turned down for a job after an interview and not knowing why! Wherever possible, university admissions departments should provide personalised feedback to applicants who aren’t admitted.

    Personal feedback can help an individual to understand how they can improve next time, and it also demonstrates a duty of care and commitment to growth. Some institutions may even take the time to recommend programs that might better suit the candidate.

    At a time when technology continues to evolve rapidly, the human element remains as vital as ever. Success in admissions hinges on striking a balance between the two in order to attract and retain the best-fit candidates, and create an academic environment that has the individual's best interests at heart.

    By utilising technology for efficiency and embracing the human element for personalisation, higher education institutions can continue to shape the leaders of tomorrow while fostering meaningful connections today.

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