Delivering the Booking Experience Today’s Students Expect with an Online Application Portal
Date posted: May 29, 2019
Many of today’s students will do most of their shopping online. They buy products, order services, make appointments, and plan vacations all at the click of a few buttons. As ecommerce has become a bigger part of our everyday lives, businesses of all kinds have worked to make it easier for consumers to get whatever they need, whenever they need it.
So, when a prospect is looking to apply to a school online, they will naturally expect the same level of service they receive from other businesses. This means delivering a simple, transparent, and all-inclusive booking experience that allows them to move through the process quickly and easily, all from the comfort of their own home.
Unfortunately, this is one area where the education sector can somewhat lag behind other industries, with many schools still relying on outdated and offline methodologies to collect and process applications, supporting documents, and fee payments.
A tailor-made online application portal can make this process easier, quicker, and more satisfying for prospects. Keep reading to find out how.
Reviewing the Current Booking Experience Your School Provides
When considering whether you need to invest in an application portal, the best place to start is by reviewing what your website currently offers. This can include forms for those looking to make inquiries, schedule interviews or meetings, get quotes, and make applications.
Ideally, mechanisms to move forward at every point in the process should be fully available on your website and easy for prospects to access. It’s possible, of course, that there are certain parts of your application process that are not completed online. Your school may require prospects to send completed applications and supporting documents by post, for instance, or arrange fee payments independently through a financial institution.
If this is the case, investigate whether streamlining these processes through your website, either in whole or in part, is a possibility for your school. This will help to ensure that your site provides the best user experience possible, creating a frictionless and intuitive path towards conversion.
Building the Perfect Online Application Forms for Your School
Creating a good online application form can be especially challenging for schools, and there are a number of different components that you need to get right to make the experience as easy and intuitive as possible for your prospects.
Perhaps the most common problem that schools face is the length of the forms. As much as you might try to limit the information you ask for to the essentials, you will most likely need a lot of details from a prospect in order to process their application properly. This can result in forms which are fairly long and can be off-putting for applicants.
One way to make the process a little easier is to group information and questions into different sections and break the form down step by step. This makes it more logical for applicants to understand and navigate. If your online application system allows for it, you could also offer the option for users to create an account and save incomplete forms, so that they can return to their application later if they are unable to complete it in one sitting.
Example: HEM’s Application Portal presents applications in a step-by-step format, and offers the option for prospects to save their progress as they go along.
Aside from the content of your application forms, how they are designed and styled can also make a huge difference to how they are perceived. An aesthetically pleasing form that is branded with your school’s colours and logo will instantly appear more professional and impressive than a plain white design.
Example: Institutions can add their school colours and logo to their form design settings in HEM’s portal.
It’s also crucial to use a responsive design template. Mobile users often have trouble completing forms that are designed primarily for desktop, as it can result in fields that are hard to read, difficult to click on, or even completely unfillable from a mobile device. Ensuring a mobile-friendly design will lessen the likelihood of dropped applications.
Offering a One-Stop Online Application Process for Your Prospects
While basic forms can be built on a number of different platforms, there are some aspects of student application and booking processes which require more specialized tools. For instance, if you need any supporting materials from applicants, such as copies of qualifications, transcripts, or personal documents like passports, it might be worth considering investing in an online application portal which supports file uploads. In addition, incorporating an e-signature tool can be a valuable timesaver if you require students to sign off on their application.
Example: The e-signature option on HEM’s platform.
Additionally, if your process requires applicants to pay an application fee, or even to pay their course fees upon booking, it’s a huge advantage to be able to process the payment as they make the application, rather than having them do it through another avenue. Many application systems offer the option to integrate popular payment gateways like Stripe or PayPal, so that applicants can pay any fees required securely and easily.
Integrating features like this into your applications will allow prospects to do everything they need to do to book a place on one of your courses through a single online channel, making enrolling as convenient and stress-free as possible.
Providing Online Application Options for Different Audiences
It’s also important to ensure that your online application process caters to all of your school’s audiences. For instance, if you have a large number of international applicants, it may be worth considering making your forms available in different languages.
You may also want to customize your process if you deal with education agencies. Your agents may need the ability to create and manage applications for multiple students, or make applications to different campuses and locations.
Example: HEM’s Application Portal offers a specific login for agents, allowing them to create unique accounts and manage applications for multiple students.
Similarly, K-12 institutions and language schools offering programs for children may also want to make it possible for parents to make applications on behalf of more than one child. Professional development programs may also need to deal with group bookings from companies.
Making your process as audience-specific as possible will eliminate a lot of potential problems, while also demonstrating to your audience that your team has thought carefully about their needs and requirements.
Providing Quotes for Prospective Students on Your Website
For consumers, there are few things more frustrating than a website which is unclear about the costs of its products and services. Whether by making information about pricing hard to find, or by failing to make extra charges or fees clear, brands which do not provide users with a clear picture of what they will be paying can lose business quickly. Those that offer detailed, all-inclusive information, on the other hand, build trust with their audience, and cultivate an image of honesty, transparency, and excellent service.
With prospects across all areas of the education sector becoming increasingly mindful of the cost of financing their studies in recent years, having this kind of transparency can be a huge plus for schools. Many now add free quote generators to their website which allow prospects to get a full, all-inclusive price for their courses or programs, as well any sundry expenses that may need to be accounted for in their budget.
This kind of tool can be particularly important for schools that:
– Offer courses which vary in price depending on content or duration
– Charge different prices at certain times of year
– Provide additional services for students like accommodation or airport transfers
– Attract parents, agents, or companies who may want to price bookings for multiple students
The key to building a free quote tool effectively is to factor in every possible cost that would be payable to your school, and build in enough flexibility that users can get a quote for exactly the package they are looking for. For instance, a language school might offer airport pick-up, extra activities and excursions, accommodation, and even exams for additional fees, and would need to include all of these options in their quotes. You may also need to ensure that your prices are adjusted for high season if applicable.
When used well, this kind of feature can also function as a useful conversion tool, and many schools will prompt prospects to move to directly to booking when they deliver their final quote.
Example: HEM’s free quote tool can be customized to account for accommodation, transfer options, registration and materials fees, or any other additional expenses. The personalized quote breakdown can then be emailed to the prospect, or they can move directly to making an application.
Syncing Your Online Application System with Your CRM and Marketing Automation Software
To make it easier to manage and process your bookings, it’s also vital that your application portal is able to integrate with other existing systems your admissions department might be using, such as CRM and marketing automation software.
This will enable you to match data from applications to existing leads so that their stage can be changed in your CRM. You can even build workflows for applicants who have been accepted, and send them automated emails to welcome them to your school.
Integrating these systems will also ensure that any data you collect on application completion and success rates in your portal is harmonized with the data you are collecting in your CRM, ensuring more accurate reporting and measurement.
Example: Mautic CRM can be integrated with application portals, and allows schools to monitor applications from students and agents.
While it can often seem difficult for schools to find ways make their booking processes more straightforward, it is always possible to strive for improvement. By following the tips outlined here, and considering investing in a customized online application system for schools, you can come close to matching the ease and convenience offered by online vendors in other industries, and give your students the service they want and deserve.