The Common App Trap
In an effort to counter declining enrollment, some Independent schools are considering the idea of implementing shared regional online admission systems that allow candidates to apply to multiple participating schools all at once, otherwise known as “Common Applications”. The idea is that a common application process will be easier, leading to increased applications and increased enrollment.

So will a common application actually help? The answer is a clear, unambiguous “maybe.” Let’s look at the pros and cons.

The Benefits

Easier on Candidates: If schools work together to have a common application process combined with a user friendly online admissions portal for candidates, the application process will be easier for those candidates that wish to apply to multiple schools. This is a definite “win” for parents and applicants.

Increased Applications: Common applications enable candidates to apply to multiple schools at once from a common admissions portal. This makes it easy for prospective students to apply to schools other than their main choice. As a result, each participating school should have access to a larger percentage of the overall applicant pool and see a “top-of-funnel” increase in applicants.

The Risks

Declining Yield: As evidenced by significant research about the impact of the Common Application on college admissions, when individual applicants apply to a larger number of schools, yield will simultaneously decline. This makes it extremely difficult to know who and how many applicants to accept to meet enrollment targets. Schools will have to accept more applicants to reach their goals, giving up control around selecting the applicants they really want.

Diluted Marketing Dollars: Most schools spend a good chunk of budget to attract great candidates, via web / mobile design, and various inbound marketing strategies. If schools re-direct their organically grown candidates to a common application system, then that marketing investment is shared with competitive schools. The power of their brand is sacrificed. A school will only capture a fraction of each dollar spent on marketing when candidates are directed to apply to several other schools. Note: This is only a risk if a school directs all applicants to apply through the common application system.

Some Win, Some Lose: Since common online applications don’t increase the overall number of applicants within a region, the total enrollment in that region probably won’t change much either (if at all). So in order for a school to increase enrollment they have to “take” applicants from other schools. Put another way, in order for one school to win, another has to lose. This is often referred to as a Zero-Sum Game.

More Work (for Similar Results): This is especially true if a school directs all applications to the common application system. Again, schools will be fighting for the same applicants. This means Admissions teams must work harder to both keep “their” first-choice applicants from being recruited away, and to recruit applicants that were originally more passionate about another school. It will also become more difficult for Admissions teams to differentiate these two groups and message appropriately. So although only some schools will win, everyone will work harder.

    “Admissions is all about relationships, not applicant numbers. The amount of additional time I would have to allocate for managing potentially “filler” applications would detract from the quality time I would have to answer questions, to engage people personally, and to ensure they have the pertinent information in order to make an educated decision.” – Cathy Lewis, Director of Admissions, Notre Dame High School of Belmont

To be a Winner with a Common Application

Protect your marketing investment. On your website, it is best to direct applicants to your own online application form and admissions system rather than the common application. You have worked hard and invested significantly to build your brand and identity. Don’t send YOUR applicants to competing schools.

Focus on communication and invest in a CRM. Getting applications is only the first step. It’s how you interact with those prospects that will make the difference. Increasing enrollment requires engaging prospective families and building a great relationship through well planned and relevant communication. A CRM or database designed specifically for admissions can make all the difference by enhancing and automating the delivery of very relevant and targeted information about your school and helping you keep track of all conversations with families.

Choose wisely. Make sure the common application solution you choose will feed data into your admissions CRM (rather than your SIS). The “SSATB Standard Application Online” and the “Gateway to Prep” online application are fantastic choices because they work as a supplement to your existing school admission system, online application and process. They bring entirely new pre-filtered applicants without all of the risks.

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