Enrollment Blog

Don't let unnecessary application requirements cost you enrollments

by Anika Olsen

As a former executive director of enrollment, I’m aware of just how process-oriented many of us working in college enrollment are, and I am no exception. When making my to-do list, I’m someone who adds a task that I’ve already completed just so I can literally check the box on it.

But even for me, it can quickly become frustrating when my checklist is filled with unnecessary, low-priority items.

When you think about it, college application requirements aren’t that different from a to-do checklist. And it’s worth considering: Is your college asking students to check the box on unnecessary tasks, causing frustration or even abandonment of their application? Or are the requirements truly meaningful to the admissions process?

Reducing application requirements can boost enrollment outcomes

More and more colleges and universities are revisiting their application requirements—a trend noted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) in its 2015 State of College Admissions Report. The report showed large decreases in the number of surveyed institutions that give “considerable importance” to application components such as essays, teacher recommendations, and interviews.

For colleges and universities that do reduce application requirements, it can pay off.

We analyzed Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data to understand the correlation between the number of requirements to application completion rates, admits, and enrollments. While schools in the analysis differed significantly in terms of how many requirements they had both within and across school segments, it was clear that schools with fewer requirements saw improved performance on important down-funnel enrollment metrics. This was another finding that held true across school segments.

IPEDS data shows reduced requirements result in positive impact on enrollment metrics

Some schools are going to extremes in reducing requirements

Some schools have opted to reduce application requirements to an absolute minimum for high-performing students, while still maintaining additional requirements for applicants whose profiles do not clearly suggest a good fit.

Take for example a small, private selective university in the Midwest. They admit students who meet minimum GPA and ACT score thresholds automatically, requiring no additional information. This group accounts for 76% of total applicants. The remainder are required to provide additional information, including an essay and letter of recommendation, before an admission decision can be made.

The university bases its thresholds on annual validity studies relating high school GPA and ACT scores to college success. They conduct these validity studies each year and present the results to faculty and other stakeholders to use to modify the school’s admit criteria. Based on the findings from the studies, the school has raised their GPA cutoff by 0.5 points across the past five years.

Come bearing gifts: How "swag" drives application completion

High school GPA as gold standard for admission

Always a cornerstone of admit processes, GPA is taking on new prominence.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise—many schools with extensive lists of application requirements still almost always admit students above a certain GPA threshold, regardless of whatever other information might be included in (or missing from) their application.

One private university in the Northeast uses GPA as the sole requirement. They saw an eight percentage-point increase in application completion rate after removing all other application requirements for students above a predetermined GPA threshold. And this change had no impact on first-year retention.

Another selective college in the South found GPA alone to be a better predictor of student success than either test scores alone or a combination of GPA and test score. So they removed their test score requirement for all students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, resulting in a 36% increase in completed applications the first year of adopting this revised strategy.

Positive impact of using GPA as sole requirement for two schools

You might see these examples of removing unneeded application requirements and wonder about an application addition that has recently been gaining steam: Student self-reporting. I know many of our clients have asked us about self-reporting and if it hinders or helps the application process. Well, it requires more attention and I’ll be following up with another post soon specifically about self-reporting.

Until then, make sure you check out our other tips for maximizing application completion by downloading our white paper.

Maximize application completion at your college

Download our white paper Maximizing Application Completion to learn more best practices from top performing colleges.

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