Small Changes aren’t Small Anymore.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Analytics, Concepts, Higher Education, Management, Recruitment, Research, Technology | Posted on 04-30-2008


Once upon a time, in an Admission office (let’s say… 1993), someone decided they wanted to change the early application deadline from December 1st to November 15th. This would allow them to have more time to read the early apps and make a better decision, and it would position them with the app deadlines of their competitors.

So Administration made a few phone calls, had the dates changed on the application and in the catalog for the next print cycle, informed a few people around campus, changed some wording in a few brochures, and all was good.

Enter the Internet.

You see, the Internet has changed things. At last count, over 1 year go, there were approximately 29.7 BILLION web pages out there [Boutell, Feb 2007]. That’s a lot of sites. Also, websites like to share content with each other. One AP news story can be spread across thousands of sites. A quote from someone could end up on hundreds of sites. And that picture of your daughter at the party? Spreads like wildfire.

In the instance of the Admission Office, one ‘little’ change can be a lot tougher to do than you might think.

So let’s look at the Admission Office of 2008 who wants to change the date from December 1st to November 15th, and how that little thing called the Internet might make it more difficult than sending a few emails (replacing the phone calls of 1993) to make the change.

First, do some Google searches to see the depth of your issue:

Results for “butler university” +”application deadline” = 2,450
Results for “butler university” +”december 1st” = 719
Results for “butler university” +”december 1″ = 12,000
Results for “butler university” +”dec. 1” = 3,380
Results for “butler university” +”app deadline” = 35

That’s about 18,500 pages. Now surely those won’t all need to be changed or even be relevant to your application deadline, but right away you can see the key players emerge in the first 2 pages of these searches (Only 1% of people will go to the 3rd page and beyond):

US News
Princeton Review
MSN Encarta
Business Week

So you might spend weeks trying to track down contacts for these sites, asking for updates, following up, and maybe, sometime within the year, get them changed.

But, you have all of these smaller sites. And all of these sources that WON’T be changed. Peterson’s Books on Google Books, as well as copies of the Princeton Review. PowerPoint presentations from Destination Indiana, the list goes on and on.

After that, think of all of those guidance counselors in America as well as in international locations. As much as you’d like them all to have the latest and greatest information about your school, it just doesn’t happen. There are too many schools to keep up with, so they refer to other students who have applied and that December 1 deadline. They might have a copy of our catalog, which runs 2007-2009, to refer to, but we certainly won’t reprint/resend those.

Next, think about the typical web user. The sites listed above typically have data that is 1-2 years old, so if they see an application deadline of 12/1 in 2006 or 2007, why would they think 2008 would be any different? They won’t.

Finally, take a look at the calendar and the Analytics surrounding your deadline.

See that little holiday nestled right in there? That one where people sit around and eat and watch football? Well, if you’re a high school senior, you eat, watch football, and work on college applications. Here’s a little fact for you. Our Counselor site got 4X’s the amount of traffic on November 26th (the Monday after Turkey Weekend) than the entire week before. Do you think that kids were working on their apps all weekend, and rushing in for final signatures/references/transcripts on the 26th? Seems to be the case. Wow, our applicants must rely on that weekend to get their apps done!

I have mixed feelings on the potential advantages outweighing the risk on this one, but time will tell. I think we are going to have a lot of confused students and parents, and a lot of applications postmarked December 1st this winter. This year 45% of our apps were in before 11/15, with about 60% of apps coming in before 12/1. If we can move that 15% back 2 weeks, we’ll be good to go.

Lesson? The Internet is bigger than you. It changes the way we do business. And it SHOULD change the way people think…. but it usually doesn’t. And in the end, those who understand get left to clean up the mess.

Comments posted (3)

In my experience it would take about 11 years worth of committee meetings before everyone agreed to change the application date anyway.

By that point Google will be intelligent enough to automatically enroll every student in the ideal school for them (as determined by analyzing Facebook profiles).

You’ll never get it all changed, but within a year, many of the bigger online sites will have updated info based on the surveys that are filled out by your campus personnel (as long as they have the new date). Good luck.

We must all be aware of the consequences of our actions . . .

CollegeBoard, Princeton Review, US News, Petersons… these in particular are based on (sometimes lengthy) annual surveys sent to colleges. Someone at your institution receives these surveys and (likely) submits them.

Another survey top-of-mind and not on your list is Wintergreen Orchard House, and that info feeds into quite a few other online and offline sources.

In some cases there is login info where the college’s rep can log in and make the updates directly. In other cases they are happy to update the info if you send it their way. Priority app dates are a common question on these surveys, be it early decision, early action, or simply a “priority” app date.

Yesterday I finally started jotting down an eventually comprehensive list of these “college info elsewhere” sites to check annually and contact more urgently when majors or sports are added or dropped, for instance.

CollegeView is another to add to the list.

Zinch pulls their info from somewhere.

Hobson’s owns Naviance now (a critical place to make an app date update), and they can get you login info to check and update your college data.

Between all the blog readers, we can likely generate a good list of external sites that should be on radar.

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