Originally published on InContext, a Lexmark website. 

audit-student-admissionsApplication cycle time. Yield rate. Target demographics.

These benchmarks are very familiar to enrollment and admissions executives because your department’s performance hinges on successful outcomes of key university metrics. These KPIs are internal metrics, meaning you’re measuring and improving internal processes.

But we’re living in the Age of the Customer, and nowhere is that more important than in the higher education setting. (After all, Generation Z invented digital self-service.) So how does one measure and improve performance in this new era? By taking the outside-in approach.

Step into the shoes of a prospective student

Have you ever looked at your admissions and enrollment process through the eyes of a potential student, filling out the application and going through the process? In the Age of the Customer, auditing and benchmarking this process from the outside-in is a critical KPI. We know students have choices, and unless you’re one of the most selective universities in the country where prospective students will jump through any hoop to get in, you can’t afford to serve up a lackluster experience.

In fact, a recent U.S. News report said less than ten percent of universities surveyed enrolled more than half the students they accepted in a recent cycle. How could you improve your yield by taking a close look at how students experience your institution for the first time?

Apply for admission at your own institution

It’s time-consuming, but the information you’ll uncover is a gold mine for gaining a competitive edge and serving students to the highest standards.

Start at the beginning of the admissions process and take notes on your experiences, good and bad, from bottlenecks to frustrations to communication wins or breakdowns. Think like a student and/or her parents and consider your institution’s performance in these four key areas:

1. The application

Start your journey through the channel that gets the most applications at your institution; you can audit the experience through other channels later. For example, if most of your applications come through the Common App or your website, begin your own “enrollment” process there.


  • The length of the application and how long it takes to fill out
  • Sections that ask for the same information more than once
  • How supporting documents are requested and processed
  • Whether any part of the process is confusing for a typical user
  • If it’s easy to get instant help

2. Initial response

You’ve hit “send” on the application; now what? There’s a reason memes like this one are popular on the internet:


  • How quickly the acknowledgement is received
  • Whether the acknowledgement includes “process” information like a list of missing documents or clear “what’s next?” communication
  • How the acknowledgement makes you feel: this benchmark is a little squishy, but is the communication warm and friendly? Does it reference your school’s mascot and spirit and make you want to be a part of the student body? Does it deliver a vision for this student’s future?

3. Ongoing communication

At some point in the process, a staff member might reach out to a prospective student to gather more information or ask questions. From the student’s perspective, note:

  • The frequency and timeliness of the communication cadence (do you feel as if you’re being paid attention to or like your institution dropped of the face of a cliff after you hit “send” on the application?)
  • Whether communications anticipate and answer common student questions
  • If contact information is provided should a prospective student need help

4. Timeliness

This benchmark is the individual student’s version of your internal application cycle time metric. From the student’s point of view, timeliness hinges on how fast he or she is accepted. Individuals don’t care about your average.


  • How soon you are notified of acceptance
  • How the acceptance letter makes you feel: is it a corporate-sounding autoresponder email or letter or a warm, person-to-person welcome (even if it’s automatically generated)? Does the acceptance letter catapult your institution to the top of the list or make you feel like you’ll wait to see what else comes in?
  • Whether the acceptance letter or following communications outline next steps and deadlines very clearly so there’s no confusion for a prospective student
  • If contact information is provided should a prospective student need help

The admissions process that gets measured gets improved

How did your institution fare in your external admissions audit? You’ve likely documented some significant areas for improvement, as well as areas you can give yourself and your staff a high-five for an outstanding performance.

The next step is to take what you’ve learned and prioritize key areas for improvement. Need some inspiration? Find out how the University of Kansas improved their admissions process or learn the top 8 ways to drive greater performance in admissions using technology.

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