How to Digitize the Admissions Process with an Online Application Portal
Date posted: April 8, 2020
The global spread of COVID-19 has given rise to a seemingly endless stream of questions, with many centering around a school’s ability to recruit and enroll students without any in-person contact.
If your school’s admissions process still involves paper, or if your digital application still needs streamlining, you may be especially wary at this time. After all, without an efficient online application process, how will you transform prospects into students?
Fortunately, we’re also living in a time where it’s more than possible to digitize every element of higher education, from classes to resources to the application process itself. Investing in these initiatives will not only help your school in the short term – you’ll also reap benefits that last beyond the current conditions.
If you’re looking for a quick, convenient, and comprehensive solution for your application process, this blog will show you how to implement a system that meets your school’s needs during this difficult time.
Why Go Digital? Benefits of Online Application Systems for Schools
Even at the best of times, it’s good practice for schools to make the application process as smooth and simple as possible for prospective students.
As our European Client Representative, Katharina Benecke, says: “We live in a digital era where people are accustomed to being able to do everything online. Why should education be any different? Most prospects find schools online anyway, so it’s just a logical next step to apply online as well.”
Even when students can travel freely, it can be difficult to submit papers and drop off documents in person or through the mail. If you recruit students that aren’t in your immediate vicinity it can be highly inconvenient – or even impossible – for them to submit their application. The solution, as Katharina states, is digitizing the application process.
Example: Higher Education Marketing’s Student Application Portal. Our online portal is custom-built with schools in mind.
Online application systems also boast benefits for your admissions staff. When everything is online, you no longer have to deal with overflowing file folders and can eliminate some administrative overhead. In addition, it’s much easier to assess the ROI of your recruitment efforts when you have an automatic tally of how many applications are started and submitted.
These benefits for prospects and staff members hold true any time of year, but given the current situation in the education sector, it’s even more important that you pull out all the stops when recruiting new students. It’s imperative that your school offers an online application process during this time – but it should also be as seamless as possible in order to make sure your school stands out amidst increasing competition.
Planning Your School’s Transition to an Online Application Portal
Before you go digital, it’s important to take stock of the components that make up your school’s current application process. This way, you can select the software that best suits your school’s needs.
If your school offers separate application forms for different campuses, courses, and programs, it’s important to start this process by assessing these elements. Ask yourself whether it would make sense to consolidate and combine any of these applications, or if your school requires additional forms.
Example: The University of Manitoba’s 2020 application schedule. As you can see, the school has one central form for its Winter 2020 program and separate applications for those interested in medicine and law.
You should also note any additional forms – like parking requests or accommodation applications – that prospects need to fill out in order to become students. Do you require applicants to submit any supporting documents? Keep that in mind as well.
Another key step is to assess whether any actors, other than students, play a part in your application process. For instance, do agents or parents submit applications on behalf of your students? If so, you’ll want to make sure you find a digital solution that makes the process easy for these individuals.
Example: The Agencies section of HEM’s Student Application Portal. HEM’s portal allows agents and parents to create their own accounts and submit multiple applications, which your school can easily monitor.
Finding the Right Online Application System for Your School
There are many different software options for a school looking to digitize and optimize its application process, but it’s important to choose one that meets all of your criteria.
If your application process still involves manual components, perhaps the simplest option is to offer an online application form on your school’s site. Likely your website already offers some sort of online forms, so it wouldn’t take much time or effort to create.
However, standalone forms have their shortcomings – although they can be difficult to see unless you put yourself in your prospects’ shoes.
Imagine you begin filling out a lengthy application form until you reach the point where you’re asked to provide your social security number or upload a scanned photo of your passport. For many prospects, this information may not be easily accessible, and they may have to go searching for it – not to mention having to go to the trouble of scanning a document and converting it to the right file format. As a result, it could take hours – or even days – to complete the application.
If the school uses a simple online form, you also risk having to start the process all over again if you navigate out of the browser or turn off your computer. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to have to start from scratch after spending a long time filling out the form?
Data indicates that many prospects don’t submit their application after abandoning it, so schools should ensure that their application process doesn’t exacerbate this problem. With an application portal, however, applicants don’t have to worry about losing the information they’ve filled out. Prospects can create their own account, save their application as they go, and return to it at any given time. The same goes for agents and parents.
Example: The homepage of HEM’s Application Portal where prospects can create their account. You can customize this page in accordance with your school’s branding.
The process of filling out an application itself is also easier with a student application portal. Looking at a never-ending list of form fields can be overwhelming, but a portal allows you to divide your application into sections to make the process look much more manageable for prospects.
Example: HEM’s stepped application builder, which allows you to create custom categories.
An application portal also makes the admissions process a lot easier for your staff. Instead of having to manually keep track of various form submissions on your website, which can already be difficult to manage, you have all application submissions saved and stored on a separate system. If you integrate your portal with a CRM, this process becomes infinitely easier – but more on that later.
Creating and Optimizing Form Fields in your Student Application Portal
Your school already has its own application forms (whether they’re on paper or online), but the process of digitizing and optimizing your applications offers you the opportunity to update them in order to gather information more effectively.
You can start by dividing the information you require into sections. This will help build a new framework for your application. Common categories include:
- Personal information
- Academic information
- Work experience
From there, you can begin optimizing individual form fields. If your current application form requires prospects to write out full answers to each question, this step can make the process a whole lot easier and faster. Dropdown menus, checkboxes, and responsive form fields can greatly improve your application form.
Example: A sample application form from HEM’s Portal.
Depending on the question, the ideal form type may differ. If you ask prospects to select which country they’re from, a dropdown menu may be best because there is a finite number of options to choose from. If you ask open-ended questions, however, a short answer field may be best. In addition, yes/no questions can be easily answered using checkboxes.
These steps may seem simple, but the devil is in the details. Your online application is a crucial step in the admissions process that you shouldn’t skimp on. With a student application portal, you have the flexibility to create the perfect application forms for your school.
Customizing Your School’s Online Application Design
As with any digital marketing endeavor – whether that be designing a landing page or creating social media posts – it’s important to make sure it corresponds to your school’s brand.
While a bland application form likely isn’t a make-or-break factor for prospects, a well-designed form can have a positive impact on the application process. Since classes are likely to take place online until COVID-19 is under control, it’s important for prospects to see that your school is ahead of the digital curve – and you can demonstrate that by offering a pristine online application.
With HEM’s Application Portal, you can easily customize your forms with your school’s logo, colours, and branding elements to create a sophisticated and cohesive online application experience.
Example: The Settings menu in HEM’s Portal. You can edit and alter your applications as you please.
Digitizing Additional Elements in the Application Process
Even if your school already offers an online application form, you may require prospects to manually complete tasks too, such as mailing in documents or paying the application fee in person.
If you want to digitize your school’s application process, you’re best to go all the way. Having your application process segmented over multiple mediums will only make it more complicated for students. With an online application portal, schools can gather everything they need at once.
In addition to the application itself, you may want to give prospects the opportunity to generate a quote even before they go on to apply. A quotation tool allows prospects to find out what pricing options are available to them and better prepare for their upcoming studies. It also demonstrates your school’s transparency when it comes to costs.
Given the difficult economic situation facing the world today, it is especially important. Your school will likely be receiving inquiries about tuition costs from current and future students alike during this period, so it can be highly beneficial to direct prospective students to an online quote builder where they can assess and compare fees themselves.
With HEM’s Portal, students can calculate how much their dream course costs by customizing different accommodation options, program dates, and any additional add-ons.
Example: The quote feature in HEM’s Application Portal.
After prospective students have made their selections in HEM’s quote builder, they will receive a full cost breakdown and can have their quote emailed to them or go straight to booking:
An electronic signature, or e-signature as it’s commonly known, is a legally binding way to obtain a signature online. If you want to digitize your application process, but need students to sign and agree to certain terms to finalize enrollment, an e-signature is the perfect solution.
On HEM’s portal, you can create a custom terms and conditions form which prospects can sign off on, as well as obtain a prospect’s signature by having them write it out with their finger or a mouse. Having two e-signature options – one designed for a computer, the other for a mouse or tablet – makes it easy for prospects to fill out their application form on any device they choose.
Example: The e-signature feature in action on HEM’s Application Portal.
Another pesky part of the digitization process is enabling online document uploads. With files of varying sizes in various formats, it can be difficult to find a digital solution that accommodates your school’s needs.
Since HEM’s application portal is customized to the education sector, we know the kinds of documents you’re dealing with – including passport copies, transcripts, letters of recommendation, visa documentation, and more – and our portal is more than capable of uploading them.
Example: The document upload feature on HEM’s Application Portal, which allows prospects to drag and drop their documents.
Schools can also customize what type of documents they require students to upload as well as which file formats are acceptable. The portal supports pdf, .docx, png, jpeg, and other popular file types.
Example: The advanced form builder in HEM’s Application Portal.
Integrating Online Payments to Your Student Application Portal
Like document uploads, online payments are a part of the digitization process that can cause anxiety for schools – as well as students. Both parties want a safe way of sharing cash, and HEM’s Application Portal offers numerous payment integrations to fit your prospects’ needs.
From PayPal and credit card providers to popular online gateways like Stripe, your students have plenty of safe payment options when using HEM’s Application Portal:
If you want to allow prospects to pay their fees in installments, Flywire is a great payment option for prospects – which can also be integrated to HEM’s Application Portal. Flywire is tailored to the education sector and even allows students to make payments on the go through its downloadable app.
Integrating Your Online Application Portal to a CRM
If you’re looking to update your application process, adopting an online method is a crucial first step. But if you truly want to optimize your admissions efforts, it’s important that your school follows up with those that started but didn’t finish their applications, creates workflows for enrolled students, and monitors the overall success of its recruitment efforts.
Although these tasks may seem different from one another, they can all be easily completed if you integrate your application portal to a customer relationship management (CRM) system. This way, anyone who creates an account in your portal is automatically added to your CRM. Katharina Benecke notes that “sales and admissions staff can easily monitor an applicant’s progress in their own CRM or by using HEM’s custom Mautic CRM for education.”
Example: The contact database in HEM’s Mautic CRM.
HEM’s Mautic CRM makes it easy for schools to segment prospects by application status and create workflows to nurture them towards enrollment or get them excited about their future studies.
Example: Sample segments in Mautic.
Another important benefit of integrating your application portal with Mautic is the robust monitoring tools you have access to.
In Mautic, you can compare the number of prospects that began applications to the number of completed applications using the Stages report:
In addition, Mautic’s Enrollment Report gives schools in-depth information about enrolled students over a given time period, such as which program they applied to and which channel brought them to your school:
With this information, your school can not only assess the effectiveness of its application process – you also gain insight into your digital marketing strategy at large. While looking at micro metrics like email opens and social media ‘likes’ are important, many schools miss the big picture when it comes to assessing the number of applications they generated, and how they generated them.