What are the best practices for online admission applications?

August 22, 2018 Becky McAdoo

Family submitting an online application for private school.

Is it 2019-2020 already? It's hard to believe, but for admission offices it already is! As schools welcome students to the 2018-2019 school year, admission teams are focusing on filling next year’s incoming students. The school's online application plays a significant role in this process, so let's look at the best practices for using the form in Blackbaud K–12's enrollment management system to help you prepare for the year ahead.

Hide and Seek can be a lot of fun, but not for families trying to locate your school's online admission application. Make sure the “Apply” link/button is prominently located on the school's website, the application process is adequately explained, and links to the applying page are provided wherever the application process is mentioned. There's no such thing as overkill when it comes to making it easier to access the application. 

Additionally, to make accessing the application as smooth as possible for families that are already in your database, be sure to assign a username to the parent(s), candidate, or both as soon as possible upon their entry into the system. Without a username, they’ll be directed to contact the school for help in getting to the application—a roadblock you most certainly want to avoid! 

Assign the username(s) when processing an inquiry or take advantage of the username generator to assign in bulk and send an email.  

The user name generator in Blackbaud's online application system for K-12 schools.

Educate users already in the database that their application entry point is via the “Already Have an Account” option on the application sign-in box, hence the need for an assigned username. Only users that don't already exist anywhere in your data should use the “Create an Account” link. Customize the text that appears in the sign-in box to make this clear, and if you’re using the username generator, take advantage of the email functionality as another opportunity to provide direction.

For those candidates that submit an online inquiry form, the onscreen confirmation is another avenue for providing direction on accessing the application. Taking the time to personalize the confirmation text as well as the wording in the email notification is time well spent. 

Since the online application is one of the first points of contact between your school and admission prospects, you want to make sure that it's leaving the right kind of lasting impression.  Avoid eye rolls by ensuring that previous entering years aren't available as options in the entering-year dropdown. It’s a simple task of de-selecting past years when editing the application, but it's one that's all-too-often overlooked.

Another often overlooked area that may be of great value to you is the use of custom fields configured via the Admissions Options task, which provides you with the ability to gather information that isn’t already an option on the form.  

Custom Fields in Blackbaud's Online Application System

Not only can you pull the custom fields into a block on your application, they’re available in mail merge, official notes, and can even be reported on! These custom fields also show on the applicant's record under the candidate information section for quick and easy reference.

Speaking of reporting, you can utilize a Work List to pull a list of applications started but not yet submitted. Take it a step further and send an official note in bulk right from the work list to remind potential applicants of due dates, as well as to let them know you’re available should they have questions.  

Viewing un-submitted applications in Blackbaud's online application system for K-12 schools.

As for any questions you may have regarding setting up your application, step by step information on the form can be accessed here.  

Last but not least, any online application best-practices discussion wouldn't be complete without talking about the Standard Online Application (SAO) from the Enrollment Management Association. The SAO simplifies the K–12 application process for parents by allowing them to submit a single online application to multiple, participating schools.

The best part for Blackbaud K–12 schools is that recent enhancements to our SAO integration have made it easier than ever to view and process SAO applications alongside those submitted in our enrollment management system—no double-duty in two different systems! If your school isn't running this integration, ask your account representative about it today before admissions season kicks into high gear. 

Cheers to 2019-2020!    

About the Author

Becky McAdoo

Becky is a senior customer success manager at Blackbaud. A 12-year veteran of K-12 with expertise in all of Blackbaud's school management solutions, she’s passionate at building and fostering relationships with our customers and helping them to achieve their best outcomes. Along with her husband and her ocean-loving black lab, she lives on the southern coast of Maine.

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