How AI is transforming university admissions

As we enter 2024, the student recruitment challenge continues to be at the forefront of ensuring a sustainable future for universities. Sitting at the core of this challenge is admissions, which plays a significant role in the journey of taking a student through to enrolment.

At the heart of our approach to admissions management is the recognition that admissions should always be a core strategic component to effective student recruitment. We know there is an emergent need for AI to play a larger role in analysing and understanding applicant pools. 

We spoke to Isobel Rossiter, Executive Director of Operations at QS, who leads the Admission Management teams, to capture her perspectives about the role of admissions in the current global student recruitment climate and how our AI and insights are the future for university admissions practice.

Using AI to understand applications – with a human touch

Amid an evolving landscape within higher education, it is critical for universities to understand their applicant pool and to adjust processes for different audiences. This is where technology can help.

“AI-driven methodology can help to build the understanding of the applicant pools and position the processes and communications in the most relevant way for each applicant, dependent on how likely they are to choose your university,” says Rossiter.

The QS AIDA system uses AI-based modelling combined with human judgement to help universities drive their operations with a clear understanding of their applicant pipeline, profiles, and the propensity to convert. Tailored to the individual university’s strategic priorities, AIDA models historic trends to enable a data-led, analytic approach to admissions prioritisation which optimises the time spent by the university on admissions activity.

Rossiter explains: “This manages risk of placing too much emphasis on applicants who are more speculative, or who are not aligning to the university’s admissions criteria, allowing teams to focus more time on those that are a strong fit for the institution.”

Championing diversity with AI

Diversification, which sits as a cornerstone of a robust student recruitment strategy, is understandably important to many universities. “At QS, our AIDA system supports this agenda by enabling universities to incorporate the specific pillars of their individual diversification strategy into the system,” says Rossiter.

“By outlining market and programme priorities and diversification drivers, the system can scrutinise the applicant pool to source those fitting into the specific strategic direction,” she adds. This will enable admissions teams to work rapidly and efficiently with those applicants to drive them through the conversion pipeline.

What students want

According to QS International Student Survey data, more than 40% of students want to have their application decision received in less than a week. Nearly 50% of students want to receive weekly updates from their prospective university regarding their application status.

Given such data, Rossiter points out that many universities invest significantly in their front-end marketing but then fall short in recognising how admissions plays into the student experience. “Slow turnaround times, lack of responsiveness to communications, poor provision of applicant updates and weak support through this critical stage of the pipeline, can have a student going to a competitor very quickly.”

Potential students don’t differentiate departments within universities and regard their engagement as being with ‘the university’. “The approach used by universities must align, from the first point of contact, right through, ideally to graduation and beyond.”

The QS Admissions Management service offers institutions a real chance to take strategic control of their admissions pipeline, says Rossiter. “Admissions is the quiet powerhouse of many universities and should never be underestimated. By seeing it as a the ‘make or break’ part of the decision-making pipeline for a student, it can remind a university to invest strategically in this space to ensure the optimal drive to the enrolment line.”

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