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Adapting Processes to Meet Students’ Expectations

The EvoLLLution | Adapting Processes to Meet Students’ Expectations
Though the back-end technology supporting university admissions have evolved significantly, taking paper out of the equation, the engagement between universities and prospective students is still effectively the same as it was 30 years ago.

Today’s students have very different expectations of their institutions than they did ten years ago. Students expect their universities to offer similar technologies and levels of engagement that they have become used to as consumers. What’s more, they expect to engage with universities in ways that are familiar to them. However, while technologies have changed, many university processes stay the same. In this interview, Jeremiah Quinlan discusses Yale’s move to join the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success and the transformation of its admissions processes to meet the expectations of today’s students.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are a few of the most significant issues with the current approach to applications and admissions across the higher education space?

Jeremiah Quinlan (JQ): Changes in technology have completely transformed the back end of the admissions process.

When I first started in admissions, we used to do everything on paper. We would get thousands of pieces of mail and we wouldn’t be able to start reading the applications during the first two weeks after the deadline because we would be sorting and assembling applications. Now, all of that has changed. I don’t end the admissions process with paper cuts all over my hands anymore.

What strikes me is that, today, technology has not similarly transformed the front end of the process at all. We are asking for the exact same thing now as when I applied to Yale a generation ago. Students today are looking at a process that does not match how they learn or want to engage learning and that causes tremendous anxiety around the admissions process and causes students to struggle to share with us authenticity and other pieces of their personality that we would like to get from them. They are not used to talking about themselves in the way that we ask and there’s a lot of work to be done to improve that.

Evo: With students applying to so many different institutions, is there an element of confusion with different institutions asking for different materials or information?

JQ: I don’t think students are confused about submitting the information each institution needs. Students are submitting essays that are over edited by many people and thus not doing the best job of sharing who they are.

Yale is in the very fortunate position where we have thousands of very academically talented applicants sending us applications. But we’re trying to select among that excellent group and there are more tools out there to help us make those selection decisions than we currently have.

Evo: How does the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success help to address these issues?

JQ: We need to be more innovative. One of the reasons that the application process hasn’t changed is there hasn’t been anything driving innovation. Even if you look at the Common Application, there have been more changes to the process in the 18 months since we’ve joined the Coalition than in the 18 years prior.

An innovative application space, where changes are being made and processes are being improved on, is better for all students.

Evo: How has the application process improved to better meet the expectations of today’s students?

JQ: We’re allowing students to upload more rich media and use video and different types of tools rather than applying with just an essay. Now they can really recognize our technology; it’s dynamic, it has responsive design, it allows them to collaborate with others.

These are all things that are happening in the admissions process these days—we have simply created the processes to allow them to do that. The technology now reflects what students want to do.

Evo: Looking beyond benefits for students, what does your institution gain from its membership to the Coalition?

JQ: We are trying to take the current applications that we have and change the inputs to allow us to make more informed decisions. The new process and technologies allow us to get better information to make our decisions.

We need to be able to change up the process to get a better understanding of who the students are before they get to our campus. The ability to do that with the current processes has been diminished.

Evo: Is there anything you would like to add about why Yale has gone down the road of being part of the Coalition and how other institutions could gain from the learning that you and your team are gaining through this changed process?

JQ: There are so many institutions getting together and doing this, all recognizing that we want to change things. It’s a great opportunity, and it’s something that we would have been unable to imagine even 18 months ago.

What’s really great is that if we can build a flexible enough technology platform, institutions can use it in different ways to meet their different needs.

This interview has been edited for length.

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