For most colleges and universities, little has changed about their admissions processes over the last few decades. While some elements advanced by moving online, such as requesting information and filling out applications, most steps have otherwise remained the same. That includes mailing informational materials, calling students, leaving messages, scheduling appointments, sending follow-up messages and so on.
The problem with the above approach is it involves a lot of manual work, which isn’t very efficient or effective. Admissions representatives could have far more impact without being burdened by such menial tasks. According to Trever Marshall, director of product management and analytics services at Collegis Education, technology is the key to unleashing your admission team’s full potential.
While there are many digital solutions that can aid in managing your admissions team, it’s important to think about technology in a holistic way. Layering in new tools won’t be effective if there are larger issues to address, so it’s important to take a step back and assess your needs.
4 Steps toward more sophisticated admissions processes
Marshall recommends a phased approach to incorporating technology that can help any admissions team improve their processes to work toward enrollment goals.
1. Stabilize to address performance problems
Before purchasing any new tool, it’s critical to remedy fundamental performance issues that stem from foundational technology. It’s possible that institution-wide infrastructure issues may require bolstering the network to mitigate outages or migrating to cloud-based data centers to improve security. Once any core technology issues have been addressed, it’s time to consider whether there are performance problems related to key software.
“Start with the central tool you use,” Marshall suggests. “In admissions, that’s the [customer relationship management system] CRM.” He adds that it’s important to evaluate whether the current CRM is the right one. If not, making a business case for a new system isn’t as difficult as you might expect.
“In almost all cases, there’s already a line item in the admissions budget for a CRM,” Marshall explains. “That’s established, so it’s pretty easy to convince an institution to invest or change.”
2. Consolidate to reduce switching costs
The next phase in the journey toward more efficient admissions processes is to determine how to consolidate all the disparate tools your team uses outside of the CRM. It could be there are distinct tools for text messages, phone calls, emails and so on. In these cases, admissions representatives are sacrificing valuable time when they have to constantly switch from one platform to another.
“How can you bring those other systems closer to the CRM so you can stay there and conduct your job there?” Marshall asks. It could be as simple as identifying what capabilities and tools your CRM supports.
3. Automate to drive further efficiencies
Working in admissions typically involves a fair number of tasks that are repetitive and straightforward. There’s no reason for skilled team members to waste their time on simply checking off to-do items when they could be engaging in work that actually improves the student experience. Start thinking about which tasks can be automated.
For me, automation is not a means to replace people – it’s a way to reallocate that valuable human capital in higher-quality, higher-converting areas of the funnel. Take them out of the top end of the funnel and focus that time on the application phase where you can make a much bigger impact on enrollment.Trever Marshall
What kinds of tasks can be automated? Think physically dialing phone numbers and sending standard messages via email and text message. Start with addressing just one problem area, piloting a tool and then scaling from there.
4. Embed artificial intelligence (AI) to become more effective
Integrating AI into applications when possible is a final phase that can really help bolster your admissions processes. It’s becoming feasible to leverage AI, such as chatbots, to segment people into different audiences based on their characteristics and preferences. With this type of technology in place, you can start to identify the next best message to send to a particular student.
“Now you can start to deliver intelligent, personalized outreach within the admissions process versus trigger-based, one-size-fits-all approaches,” Marshall adds.
Technology solutions that can augment college admissions
Digital tools are constantly evolving. There are more solutions than ever, and this trend will almost certainly continue. These are just a handful of ideas that can help augment your admissions efforts.
1. Highly personalized marketing
Marketing and admissions efforts must work in tandem to be effective, and personalization is especially critical. So when a prospective student clicks on an ad intended to generate awareness, it should feed into what they experience at the consideration level and every stage after. Consider website personalization as an example.
“If a student visited the financial aid section of the website, you can design an experience that delivers them a specific page the next time they come back,” Marshall says, adding this is possible even without relying on third-party data.
2. Automated communications
Nearly everyone has gone through off-putting experiences with telemarketing calls. While the idea of automated phone dialing might sound akin to this impersonal tactic, there are some very smart solutions available. Auto-dialers are capable of delivering a prerecorded message as well as connecting the call to an actual admissions representative. If the call is answered, the admissions team member is able to engage with the prospect on the other end in real time.
“If the person doesn’t pick up the phone, this is where there’s a whole world of opportunity,” Marshall says. “Now, you can leave an automated voicemail, and that then sets an automated disposition in the CRM to say that you left a voicemail.”
If you’re strategic about consolidating tools within your CRM, an auto-dialer can also seamlessly integrate with email and text message capabilities. With these tools working in tandem, an unanswered call can automatically trigger emails and text messages.
Of course, there are other ways to kick off text message and/or email automation plans. You can craft campaigns that focus on the application milestones, important events, reengaging prospects who’ve lost interest and so on.
3. AI-powered chatbots
“A lot of people think of chatbots as these shiny FAQ toys when, in reality, they’re becoming very sophisticated,” Marshall explains. “It’s much more engaging to talk to a bot than it is to receive a generic text message.”
Chatbots can be great tools for answering students’ questions, sometimes even when representatives are available. And evidence suggests people are generally quite accepting of these AI-driven tools, provided there’s no attempt to hide the fact that they’re interacting with a bot.
While many chatbots are web based, there are also AI text bots. They’re deployed to prospects via text message, offering to answer questions. Text bots can be especially useful for students because that contact can be saved and treated as a virtual assistant.
“You can reach out through text message at any time and at any point in the funnel,” Marshall says. “The bot will be there to have a conversation.”
4. Predictive modeling
Like professionals in many other industries, higher education leaders recognize that predictive modeling can be incredibly valuable. Some colleges and universities are already leveraging this type of technology to help identify students at risk of dropping out. When a student is flagged in the learning management system (LMS) or something similar, the school is able to intervene by connecting students to different resources.
But it’s also possible to leverage this type of technology during the admissions process to determine who is and isn’t likely to enroll. Marshall explains this would work by assigning some sort of score to every admitted student. Both those who are incredibly unlikely to enroll and those who are incredibly likely to enroll could be delivered a purely automated experience with human off-ramps only if needed.
“For those who are on the fence, that’s where we want to deploy human capital,” Marshall says. “That’s where we want someone to step in and make the case for the college.”
Prioritize technology to improve your admissions efforts
Leveraging technology isn’t about removing the human element from admissions – far from it. But it does remove the need for admissions staff to complete so many repetitive, time-consuming tasks. By embracing digital solutions, you can empower your team to focus their talents on engaging with and supporting students.
To learn more about how to effectively connect with students at every touchpoint, check out our infographic “Studying the Prospective Student Journey: 8 Stages of the College Decision Process.”