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Let’s make the college admissions process more user friendly

February 20, 2020
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The college and university admissions process has plenty of room for improvement based on experiences of two Vettd interns who spent the summer gathering data for a large project. In this blog, the interns suggest several ways to make the admissions process more user friendly.

It’s not easy to get into the top 100 college and universities. The odds are against even the best applicants. At the University of California Irvine where Kriti Garg just finished her first year, there were 97,937 applicants this year for 29,245 spots. An acceptance rate under 30%.

“During my college application process, many of my friends from various schools applied to at least 15 colleges, with one of my friends somehow applying to 27 colleges,” said Garg, an Interlake (Bellevue, WA) High School graduate who applied to 17 schools. “College class sizes haven’t increased at the same rate at which colleges are receiving applicants. This means that more students are rejected, and these students feel defeated.”

Be more specific about the ideal applicant

Garg, a computer science major with a specialty in artificial intelligence, thinks colleges should be more specific about the characteristics that make up the ideal candidate for admission.

“Colleges need to improve their transparency about the qualities and statistics of the types of students they tend to accept so that some students can seek more realistic and better options,” she said.

The frustration with the application process starts at the very beginning, said Kelly Chen, who overcame slim odds to get admitted to Yale. Only 6.2% of applicants were admitted to Yale this year, which received 36,844 applications for 1,554 spots.
Standardize on one application platform

“The number of systems used in college applications to apply to a variety of colleges can be confusing, especially when some interfaces are difficult to use,” said Chen, also an Interlake graduate who has started her freshman year remotely.

“My final gripe with the application process is the application websites themselves,” Garg said. “From what I recall, I used about 4-6 different application platforms, each one confusing in a new manner.”

Garg would like these platforms “combined into one simple platform so that anyone can easily apply and feel confident while doing so.”
Chen agrees: “A one-system-fits-all can unify the application process and reduce time and stress spent over managing all the college applications and deadlines.”

Admissions should put less emphasis on career aspirations

Chen believes college admissions departments put too much emphasis on career aspirations when it is difficult to know for sure in high school what you want to do after college graduation.

“Colleges like to see where your interests lie, and while I think it is important to have a grasp of what your future careers and goals could be, applicants might feel pressured to stick with whatever potential majors they put on their applications because they have been preparing for it since high school or even earlier,” Chen said. “However, college should be the time to explore (responsibly); there are many cases of students completely switching their majors to something they truly enjoy. Feeling free to take a year to find your interests through various classes in college will ultimately be more beneficial to students in the end.  

“Although this doesn’t particularly pertain to changing the process itself, my wish would be to change the idea that someone has to set themselves on a certain course from a younger age if their only goal is to apply for colleges.”

More time needed to read essays

Another way to improve the applicant experience is to standardize essays, Chen said, and shorten them so those reviewing can spend more time reading them.

“There are a lot of essays that one has to write depending on the number of colleges one applies to, but it is likely that all of the essays will be skimmed over by admissions officers,” said Chen who applied to 12 schools. “If the word limits and prompts could be changed (for all colleges) such that we write shorter but more impactful answers, it might allow officers to gain a better grasp over the applicant.”  

Chen has been gathering data during her internship that is helping a number of professional colleges better understand and contextualize essays throughout the admissions process. Vettd’s amazing interns continually tackle ambitious projects that help improve our AI-guided decision management solutions.

While the standardization of essays may be unlikely to happen in the near-term, Vettd is supporting admissions teams now with AI that uses natural language processing (NLP) that digs into text such as applications, cover letters, essays, reviews, etc., to understand the skills and experiences applicants describe. Admissions teams are able to gain a deeper understanding of their applicants in order to reach out to them sooner.