virtual learning

How modern universities ensure a successful admissions season

What makes for a successful admissions season? I’ve worked in the admissions office at James Madison University (JMU) for the past 20 years and I can tell you it all boils down to two things: the strength of the freshman applicant pool, and the ease and simplicity of the process for all parties involved.

Technology has streamlined the arduous admissions process in higher education.

First, you need to ensure you recruit enough strong applicants to fill the freshman class. This year, JMU received 25,000 undergraduate applications, and with only 4,170 openings for incoming freshmen there was no need to obtain more applications.

What we always want are strong applicants – students who are informed and genuinely invested in attending our institution – quality over quantity, if you will. This means each prospective student visits the website, does the research, decides on the “right” college fit and then applies.

Sounds simple, right? I believe the college search process should be approached as a part-time job for high school seniors in that they should invest the appropriate time and resources into researching and applying to colleges, and submitting sincere applications.

If students can just check a few more boxes to submit a few more applications, then they’re taking the easy way out.

Many schools maintain that the more applications they receive – and the more applicants they can deny – the more selective they appear. JMU does not subscribe to this notion.

A competitive college should receive plenty of applications on its own merit – receiving more doesn’t necessarily make a school more selective. This is especially true when those extra applications are the result of high school students merely checking an extra box on their electronic applications.

See page 2 for more on technology’s role in admissions…

When it gets to the point where a student decides to apply to your school on a whim, because you’re just one more box to tick, then I think we have a problem.

Once you’ve figured out how to recruit good quality applicants and the applications start flooding in, then you have to decide how you want to process them. A successful admissions season not only hinges on application strength, but also on having a reliable online admissions technology to process your applications.

Because, let’s face it – processing and reviewing 25,000 applications is no easy task.

For the last 15 years, JMU has been partnering with a technology provider called CollegeNET to help facilitate our admissions season each year for all applicants. During that time, we have continued to benefit from their cutting edge technology while experiencing zero downtime or technical glitches.

The online admissions system is embedded in our actual school website, so that students are more apt to have actually visited our website before applying. Although the technology is CollegeNET’s, it’s branded with our school colors and logo – an effect that’s transparent and not distracting to our applicants.

One other very important factor is that the technology is user-friendly on multiple user levels (as easy to navigate for high school students as it is for admissions staff).

From a student perspective, basic application information is automatically saved in the online system, so the student does not have to re-enter their information for each school they apply to within the system. For the admissions office, the student data is downloaded directly into our student information system, so that we are able to quickly process that application and review the data as elements provided by the application.

CollegeNET’s system allows multiple reviewers online access and provides a simple, streamlined interface that facilitates the reading and evaluating of applications anytime, anywhere.

As we move further and further into the digital age, it’s important that the technologies we use can keep up – both from a student perspective and for our ease of use. For that reason, a customizable online admissions platform is a must, as it allows us to add and tweak features and functions as we need them.

Online admissions companies like CollegeNET are constantly upgrading and providing new services, staying ahead of the technology curve. One great example of this is when they helped JMU build an online portal in order to be able to post student admission decisions electronically.

Starting in 2009, incoming freshmen at JMU were able to get their admission decisions online – no more decision letters to fold, fluff, and stuff in the mail. In fact, our applicants are so technologically savvy they expect immediate notification of their application status and prefer online self-service access to their information.

Long gone are the days when we received a manila envelope in the mail that contained an applicant’s high school transcripts, standardized test results and letters of recommendation.

Honestly, I can’t say I miss them.

Joe Manning is the associate dean of admissions at James Madison University, located in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He manages the application process with his colleagues at JMU to ensure every application is complete and reviewed for admission. Joe represents the admissions community in several professional associations including the annual CollegeNET User Conference and the PeopleSoft/Oracle Admissions Product Advisory Group.

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