The Future of the College Application

Jul 27, 2017

Preparation for this year’s EMP Summit has us thinking: How we interact with prospective students has changed. Shouldn’t the college application change, too?

We’re no futurists, but we’ve spent more than two decades helping over 7,000 programs on over 800 campuses navigate an evolving admissions landscape. The data that we’ve collected, and the interactions we’ve had along the way, keep us forward focused. The insight we’ve gained has highlighted trends that will change admissions processes — and guided us through developing the tools and services that those in the field require.

So, what can we expect from college applications in the next few years? How does the future college application differ from the one we relied on when we built yesterday’s classes?

We predict a more comprehensive, holistic approach to finding best-fit students — one that requires an application that moves beyond qualitative blinders, focuses on user experience and places more emphasis on the “why” of our admissions strategies.

Qualitative data will offer valuable context

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) uses the term “non-traditional” to refer to students who aren’t your “typical” undergraduates. Each year, our applicant pools include a greater percentage of students that fit into this group. 

How must colleges innovate their applications to better support our new applicant pools? The Common Application’s Jenny Rickard has an idea: Providing a dynamic and robust application for this important, but often-unrecognized group of learners will promote inclusiveness and expand educational opportunity.”

Specifically, The Common Application is working with Liaison to release a new application tailored to meet the needs of today’s increasingly diverse transfer applicants. It will come complete with features that help applicants communicate the value of unique backgrounds. Additionally, it’ll weed out irrelevant questions — no more asking adults with kids of their own to provide their parents’ or guardian’s financial information.

User experience will drive the process

Research shows that people generally lose concentration after just eight seconds. Yet we’re still expecting applicants to complete a frustrating, multi-step application for each of their schools of interest.  

More efficient processes can help. “Applying to college is time consuming and stressful. The frustrations of small inconveniences, like a labor-intensive process for requesting transcripts, add up,” said our own George Haddad when explaining why Liaison partnered with Parchment to streamline the process by which transcripts are submitted to our Centralized Application Services (CAS™).

There’s opportunity to provide a better user experience before prospective students reach the application stage as well. Offering students information about all available opportunities and a single application for applying to multiple programs in one place — creating a “marketplace” for academic programs — will help students make more informed decisions about the schools to which they apply. Removing frustration and inefficiency from the process means students can dedicate more time and effort to choosing which programs best meet their goals and provide the best first impression possible for these programs. This is part of what inspired Liaison’s work with over 30 health education associations to create discipline-wide CAS solutions. The subsequent rollout of EngineeringCAS, BusinessCAS and ArchCAS speaks to the applicability of this approach across disciplines.

More “Is this the best strategy?” and less “It’s what we’ve always done.”

“Under a radical redesign of the [high school transcript] — being led by dozens of private schools nationwide — the practice of listing courses and grades could come to an end,” reported The Boston Globe in “What if your high school transcripts didn’t include grades?” The article goes on to explain that the movement is focused on giving admissions officers a way to “do a better job of predicting which students will thrive in higher education and ultimately in the workplace.”  

Transcripts aren’t the only traditional component of the college application with value that’s being questioned these days. “Research has confirmed what many schools have long suspected: Test scores do not always predict which students will excel after reaching campus,” shared the U.S. News & World Report in an article that guides students through applying to “test-optional” colleges. As of summer 2017, FairTest reports over 950 accredited colleges and universities do not use ACT/SAT scores to admit substantial numbers of students into their bachelor programs. 

Some application components like test scores may be on their way out, but others will stick around after undergoing changes that make their outcomes more valuable.

For instance, the on-campus interview and written essay used to be one of the only available tools to support holistic assessment of applicants. Companies like Kira Talent, the Toronto-based tech company that recently partnered with Liaison to integrate their interactive timed video and written components with Liaison’s CAS solutions, wants to change how these are approached. Kira combines video and written assessments with existing admissions requirements to help applicants tell their stories. Their innovative approach helps institutions “receive an unscripted, unrehearsed answer and see how applicants think on their feet to evaluate for program fit more efficiently than ever before.” Kira believes that “excellent students are missed by admissions teams every year because of their test scores and transcripts, even if they have a great deal to contribute to the classroom.”

At Liaison, we agree that a multidimensional application will help. The good news: We can build it. We have the technology for that.  

Building the best classes — yesterday, today and tomorrow  

Tomorrow’s application looks and acts different than today’s.

It leverages tech innovations to empower admissions officers, helping them consider grades and coursework as a part of their admissions process while giving weight to applicants’ unique attributes, aspirations and experiences as well.

It provides a better user experience while driving access to higher education for students from diverse backgrounds.

One component that remains the same: the admissions officers behind it who are dedicated to building the best classes possible.

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Over the last three decades, Liaison has helped over 40,000 programs on more than 1,200 campuses more effectively manage admissions through its Centralized Application Service (CAS™) technology and complementary application processing and support services. The higher education technology leader supports its partner institutions’ total enrollment goals by pairing CAS with its Enrollment Marketing (EM) platform as well as the recently acquired TargetX (CRM) and advanced analytics software Othot.