“Landing the Grad Student”: The Critical Role of Admissions Efficiency

Chelsea HoffmanVice President November 17, 2023
Admissions Efficiency in Graduate Admissions: Woman looking at her phone to see a message.
Graduate students are more likely to enroll at the program that admits them first.

Enrollment is everyone’s obligation, and good university leaders embrace the responsibility. What are you doing in your role to positively affect the admissions process?

In today’s rapidly evolving higher education landscape, university leaders must recognize the pivotal role of efficient admissions processes in securing and maintaining competitive advantage. Why? Because we have never served a generation of students whose expectations were more specific (read our 2023 Graduate Student Recruitment Report to learn what students expect). We have also never operated in an environment with as much competition. The first interaction with a prospective student can significantly influence their commitment, and every step that follows – right through the admissions decision process and timeline – will impact their willingness to enroll in your program. This makes a student-centric, efficient, and personalized admissions process not just an option, but a necessity.

Where do you start? Based on my years overseeing admissions operations, I think you should review your admissions process and consider the following:

  1. Does your admissions decision process involve multiple parties?
  2. What is the typical amount of time until students are notified of admissions decisions for both rolling and fixed admissions?
  3. Does your process require unnecessary steps or documentation?

RNL’s soon-to-be-released 2023 Graduate Marketing and Recruitment Practices report will present many insightful findings from the underpinning survey of graduate program marketers and recruiters. As I reviewed them and thought about my own experiences as an enrollment and operations leader, I know that the report profiles critical elements of current practices in graduate recruitment operations, such as centralization, personalization, and providing a student-centric admissions experience that embraces the “urgency” that students expect.

The tables below present a summary of the responses received from more than 220 marketers and recruiters responsible for graduate programs.

Who makes admissions decisions? Small Mid-Size Large All
A mix of these stakeholders 45% 59% 60% 55%
Academic program directors/coordinators 18% 25% 23% 22%
Program faculty 25% 11% 17% 17%
Admissions department 11% 5% 0% 5%
What is the typical amount of time until students
are notified of admission? (Rolling Admissions)
Small Mid-Size Large All
Within 24 hours 10% 7% 12% 9%
2-3 days 22% 18% 9% 16%
4-7 days 15% 16% 28% 19%
8-14 days 20% 27% 12% 20%
15-30 days 17% 18% 28% 21%
Longer than a month 17% 14% 12% 14%
What is the typical amount of time until students
are notified of admission? (Fixed Admissions)
Small Mid-Size Large All
Within 24 hours 16% 13% 8% 12%
2-3 days 16% 21% 8% 15%
4-7 days 13% 23% 5% 14%
8-14 days 13% 15% 16% 14%
15-30 days 25% 13% 16% 17%
Longer than a month 19% 17% 47% 27%

When comparing practitioner responses to consumer (student) expectations, it is clear that there are operational shortfalls, providing opportunities for improvement (and enrollment growth) at institutions willing to examine their current operations. RNL’s 2023 Graduate Student Recruitment Report revealed that 86 percent of prospective graduate students expect to receive a response to their inquiries within 24 hours. Prior studies indicate that 85 percent of graduate program applicants are likely to enroll at the first school that accepts them. Furthermore, more than 70 percent of graduate students apply to two or more institutions.

These statistics underscore the importance of a rapid admissions process in securing student commitments. However, the practitioner survey also highlights a challenge: admissions decisions often involve a diverse group of stakeholders, including admissions staff, faculty, and program directors. While this ensures a comprehensive evaluation process, it can also lead to slower decision-making, particularly in larger institutions.

Streamline the admissions process

For enrollment leaders, these findings signal an urgent need to streamline the admissions process. Here are four critical areas of focus:

  1. Redesign of decision-making hierarchies to facilitate faster admissions decisions. I know from my own experience that this is a challenging endeavor, but it is the cornerstone of all other improvements. This redesign will likely involve delegating specific responsibilities to specialized teams or employing automated systems for certain procedural steps.
  2. Evaluate all the current steps in the admissions (and documentation) process and determine which are not necessary for effective application evaluation. This will speed up your process and significantly enhance the applicant experience. This approach is not about lowering standards, but about eliminating barriers that don’t meaningfully contribute to evaluating a candidate’s suitability.
  3. Adopt newtechnology, particularly automation capabilities and artificial intelligence (AI). AI can significantly speed up decision-making by assisting in preliminary screenings and providing data-driven insights. Such technological integration not only enhances the efficiency of the admissions process but also contributes to its accuracy and effectiveness.
  4. Communication with candidates is another critical element. Prompt and effective communication strategies are essential in keeping prospective students engaged and informed. Investing in systems enabling quick and personalized communication with applicants can greatly enhance the overall recruitment experience.

Actionable strategies for university leaders

To effectively respond to these insights, university leaders are encouraged to undertake several key initiatives:

Redesign admissions workflows: Assess and modify admissions workflows to minimize delays. This may include automating specific steps or reallocating tasks among specialized teams.

Remove unnecessary steps and documentation: By focusing on essential requirements and streamlining the application journey, universities can increase applicant satisfaction and, in turn, boost enrollment rates. Adapting to the needs and preferences of modern students is key to making an institution a preferred destination for graduate education.

Embrace technology partnerships: Explore collaborations with technology providers who can offer solutions to streamline the admissions process. This approach not only accelerates decision-making but also introduces a level of precision and efficiency that manual processes may lack.

Focus on staff development: Provide comprehensive training for staff and faculty involved in admissions decisions. Educating them about the impact of rapid admissions on enrollment and equipping them with the necessary tools and knowledge is essential for the successful implementation of these strategies.

Continuously monitor and adapt: Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the admissions process and remain open to adapting strategies as needed. This agile approach ensures that the institution stays responsive to the evolving landscape of graduate student recruitment.

Final thoughts

The link between the speed of admissions decisions and student enrollment serves as a crucial insight for leaders in higher education. Universities can significantly enhance their graduate student recruitment efforts by focusing on streamlining decision-making processes, leveraging technology, and prioritizing effective communication. This, in turn, positively impacts overall enrollment initiatives, aligning them with the dynamic needs of today’s higher education landscape.

What are your best strategies for streamlining admissions? Which technologies should you leverage? Talk with our graduate enrollment experts to learn what success programs are doing to engage students and move them more quickly to enrolling. Contact us for a complimentary consultation.

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About the Author

Chelsea Hoffman

An experienced enrollment leader who has helped grow innovative education programs, Chelsea Hoffman is an expert in enrollment strategy that harnesses technology to create a better student experience. Chelsea works with colleges and universities to...

Read more about Chelsea's experience and expertise

Reach Chelsea by e-mail at Chelsea.Hoffman@RuffaloNL.com.

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