Driving Application Completion

Application-samplesFor contemporary admissions offices, ‘multi’ is key to developing a comprehensive set of materials to attract and enroll students. These include multi-platform inquiry response, multi-media promotional materials, and multiple messaging variants for different subsets of students. With the growing ability to accommodate more students in more ways, it is vital that schools develop a multimedia strategy for their most important utility—the application.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the ways in which schools can use their media mix—print, digital, mobile and more—to increase their application rate, assist in application completion, and capture more information more effectively. While all formats will be discussed, we’re paying special attention to mobile technologies due to the high rate of usage in millennial teens.

Thinking Mobile

It is vital to ensure that your school’s application is optimized for mobile viewing, easy to understand and fill out in both landscape and portrait orientations, and savable for incremental completion. Additionally, your mobile application should be integrated with your chosen enrollment platform so counselors can properly follow up with applicants and parents to provide informed guidance. These considerations are among the more compulsory best-practices in modern mobile application implementation and follow-up.

Application-phoneTake a look for yourself and see how your application looks on a smartphone. Is it something that a 17-year-old high school student would want to fill out—or even could fill out—in a single sitting? Colleges are moving to offer mobile-friendly applications in order to increase enrollment volumes and gain an advantage on their competition. But the application itself is just the beginning of developing a successful mobile-based enrollment program.

Thinking mobile begins with the idea that rather than being locked into the pen-andpaper model of decades past, college applications should reflect the best user experience (UX) and UXbased design a school can produce. Beyond being the first vital step a student takes towards enrollment, the application experience has the potential to signal what a student can expect from the rest of the admissions process and the college itself: does this school value clarity? Ease of use? Communication? Is my time important to them? And, most importantly, are they supporting my ability to provide a complete application in a correct and timely manner? Students typically apply to colleges in clusters—how does your application compare to your competitors? And once that application has been completed, how does a student know what to do next? What follows is a more in-depth exploration of how these considerations can be prepared and deployed for schools wishing to update their application to accommodate the mobile generation.

Savable Application and Application Completion

One hallmark of the 21st-century mobile-ready application is the idea that it is ‘savable’ and can be completed incrementally. While we firmly suggest that the best applications ask only the most necessary questions to make an application decision (leaving secondary and tertiary concerns for follow-up), applications are by nature among the most complex and demanding official forms many teenagers have confronted in their young lives. Making that form something they can open, close, and return to seamlessly should be considered a requirement. This is especially helpful considering how students might use multiple platforms to complete a single application—for example, completing rote personal information on a phone and then transitioning to a laptop to upload an essay file.

Not all ‘savable’ apps are equal. Is your app only savable by a button click? How visible is the button? And does the act of saving require a section to be completed before it’s recorded? The best iteration of savability that we have seen is one where all fields are automatically saved once information has been entered, without any additional intervention required from the user. The benefits of this system are numerous: students can track their “Percent Completed” in real time, have information instantly verified, and never worry about losing progress. Going a step further, if the application can ‘pull’ information stored on the database of record for a student directly into their application, much of the rote work can be skipped and you can advertise that you have “already completed X% of the application” as an incentive for potential applicants. In psychological terms, this is called “The Endowed Progress Effect,” whereby someone is more likely to engage and complete a task when steps have been pre-emptively taken to advance that person beyond the typical starting point. “Complete your application” can seem less daunting than “Begin your application.”

Beyond the savable fields of the application itself, your admissions process may demand supplemental items to qualify an application as complete – letters of recommendation, transcripts, deposits, essays and so on. Mobile-users may find this to be a barrier, as document location, storage and upload isn’t as intuitive on phones as it is on personal computers. Again, this is why we suggest making the transition between platforms a priority. Additionally, tracking what has been received by your office through a visual checklist can save students from anxiety and your office from an inundation of phonecalls. While a student is directly responsible for items like essays, having transcripts sent or medical records released clouds the degree to which a student can be confident that materials are in receipt. It’s up to your school to determine which items are required, which can be waived, and how you can best let a student know what remains outstanding and is preventing application review. A web-based checklist that you can control through your enrollment platform in real time is the most responsive option, and can be supplemented with print versions sent on a postcard or enclosed in your application package.

Active Follow-up for Incomplete Applications

If a checklist can be construed as passive assistance geared towards encouraging application completion, then follow-up phone calls, texts and emails are the checklist’s active counterparts. Having a savable checklist allows you to track ‘stalled’ applications— those which have been started but haven’t been completed within a certain timeframe—and utilize active follow-up measures to explore the stall and help with completion. Consider the advantage of having active access to each student directly through their mobile device—a quick text or call creates a personal connection, takes very little time, and is almost impossible to ignore. 97% of text messages are read, and so it should be no wonder as to why text messages encouraging application completion will find their mark.

Further, an automated marketing plan can deliver active application assistance on a precise schedule or in coordination with associated events (an application event at the school, for example), meaning students can get support without requiring direct intervention from your staff. A well-timed textblast or email advertising an approaching scholarship deadline might have a more immediate resonance and inspire a more energetic response than relying on the existence of a checklist to provide the reminder. Active and passive assistance, provided across platforms, is at the heart of what makes multimedia admissions such a flexible approach.

Parent Communication

Parents of prospective students are vital members of the application completion process, and can be incorporated into your digital plan. By collecting mobile numbers and email addresses for parents and guardians, you can design similar follow-up campaigns to those discussed for students— namely: reminders, checklists, invitations and alerts. Additionally, a special parent section on a mobileoptimized website can make it easy for busy parents to browse the status of their child’s application and research incentives like financial aid without requiring them to navigate a larger website for scattered information. If a parent understands that their child stands to receive extra financial aid for meeting a submission deadline, you can be sure that they will be motivated to actively assist their child to meet that deadline.

We’ve covered parental communication plans in the past, but to reiterate, it is vital to obtain emails and phone numbers for parents whenever possible. If you’re using a savable application, it provides a great opportunity to capture this information. Positioning it early in the savable application increases the likelihood that it will be filled in on the first pass by a student, prior to a ‘stall out’ caused by unknown information. Once that information is in your system, you can use it as part of your admissions strategy to compel application completion. Starting a positive relationship with parents early can make a difference post-acceptance.

Creative Ways to Court Mobile-Friendly Students

As technology continues to affect the standards of operation for schools across the country, the role and form of traditional applications must evolve with it. For instance, Goucher College—a liberal arts college located in Maryland—made the bold move to waive their application completely and encourages potential applicants to take a 2 minute introductory video of themselves on their cell phone as their college application. This strategy may be unheard of, but it is certainly interesting because it allows for students to be creative and gives them an opportunity to express themselves in a way other than academics. Jose Antonio Bowen, the president of Goucher College, says that this can be an effective strategy because most, if not all, high school students have cell phones and instead of tracking their past academic successes, the introductory video allows Goucher College to assess their future potential. President Bowen’s decision to embrace mobile to this extent is an experiment worth tracking, but it is also inarguably a step in the right direction towards making the college application process something that mobile users can viably choose.

Auditing Your Plan

Multimedia readiness is a priority for colleges. For schools looking to increase penetrance, decrease workload for admissions staff, and elevate yield, a comprehensive multimedia strategy is ineluctable. The best way to begin (or revise) your approach to multimedia admissions marketing is to simply audit it yourself—explore your website, your application, your Facebook and Twitter accounts on your mobile device or tablet. Explore it on a desktop. Try to explore what information you can find purely through your print collateral. Note where your campaigns intersect and support each other (and definitely note any discrepancies between media). Check for redundant information, too—are students being overloaded with print and email that say exactly the same thing without considering the advantages and disadvantages of each medium? Having an understanding of what is being sent to students, how it’s reaching them, and why a particular medium is being used for a particular message can help you make small adjustments that produce significant results.

Redefining the Multimedia Application

Perhaps the most important move a school can make is to reconsider what an application is. Clearly, the application process has evolved immensely in light of digital and mobile advancements in the last decade. And while digital tools certainly do not eliminate the utility of print applications, the application as a single, concrete thing has been complicated. For schools using CRM-integrated applications, an application is just one set of fields that need to be populated to qualify a student as ready for review. As we can see with savable applications, these fields do not necessarily need to be completed in order, or even all at once. So, rather than think of the application as a monolith, a single thing that needs to be completed over the course of a stressful hour, schools using a multimedia approach to application and application completion have the flexibility to ask for student information in a variety of ways, all the time advancing them towards application qualification. Why settle for populating an online or paper application with a few points of data collected from a student’s first point of inquiry when you can continuously collect that data in short forms, questionnaires and conversations. There’s no doubt that a student who sits down to finally apply and sees that 80% of the required information is already collected and organized will go on to complete the very little work left.

Students can carry your entire enrollment marketing campaign with them in their pocket, and engage with it on their own terms. With some work, they can have the same experience with your application—mobile-optimized, CRM-integrated, multi-platform, and designed for ease of completion.