Understanding Admissions Software

According to the Washington Post, applicants to three private colleges recently received an unexpected and unwelcome email offer. Hackers had breached the system that stores applicant information for Oberlin College in Ohio, Grinnell College in Iowa, and Hamilton College in New York. The hackers then contacted applicants to offer them the chance to buy and view their admissions files for a fee.  Access to the applicant’s stolen confidential admissions file, including comments from admissions personnel and a tentative decision, would be provided in exchange for the payment of this fee. In other words, the emails solicited thousands of dollars from each applicant for the information that the hackers had obtained illegally. The three schools have, of course, advised applicants not to respond to the hackers.

All three colleges use Slate, a popular software package, to process and manage applicant information. No other colleges have been affected according to Alexander Clark, CEO of Technolutions, Slate’s parent company. Slate has more than 900 users, mostly graduate and undergraduate institutions, including a number of the most elite such as Yale, Harvard, Columbia, MIT, Sarah Lawrence, Emory, UNC Chapel Hill, NYU, Marquette, SUNY Albany, UT Austin, Virginia, and Northwestern.

This security breach, in and of itself, is not particularly significant to you as a future college applicant. Sensitive personal information such as that contained in Slate’s databases is disclosed voluntarily every day on a massive scale by users of Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms. Tech companies will remedy their product’s security weaknesses. Our only purpose in this post is to point out that it may be helpful to be aware of admissions software applications and how they operate, using Slate as an example.

Generically, Slate is what is known as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, a type of system pioneered by banks, which sought to bring together data on all of their relationships with an individual in one central database, including savings and checking accounts, credit and debit cards, auto loans, mortgages, and so on. Similarly, a college admissions office (AO) wants to collect all of the information it has concerning you as an applicant in one central digital file. This includes the Common, Coalition, or CAS applications as well as video interviews, school-specific essays, recommendations, results from exam score providers like ACT, AP, GMAT, GRE, IELTS, SAT, LSAT, and TOEFL, comments by admissions officials who have reviewed your file, pending decision status, and other data elements relevant to the admissions process. 

Slate’s value lies principally in the decision making that underlies its dissemination of customized information to prospective applicants and applicants, which is based on a range of triggering events. AO’s rely on Slate for many of the things they do during the long admission cycle. Enrolling a freshman class entails, among other things, much detailed, plodding work, so it’s a relief to be able use software to automate a large part of it. For example, a college’s admissions representative planning to visit a high school can use Slate to send an email and text message in advance to the 20 students who have identified themselves as prospective applicants. Last year, in support of this and similar tasks, Slate transmitted 1.6 billion emails, 7 million text messages, and helped to process 8.5 million applications for all of its users combined.

Slate, as well as other CRM packages (when appropriately modified) such as Oracle, Sage, SugarCRM, Salesforce, and TargetX, are readily customized according to each school’s preferences. You wouldn’t expect, say, Yale’s implementation of Slate to function exactly like Harvard’s. 

Slate includes an important feature called “configurable joins”, which allows users to combine any data element with any others. For example, an AO could easily pull up a table of college counselors, the names of incoming students associated with each counselor’s high school, the median grade-point average for those students, the most-popular extracurricular activities of those students, and the total number of those siblings of those students still in high school. Such capability represents relational database technology at its best.

Future applicants should be aware of the ability of CRM admissions software to track and assess the various factors of what is termed “demonstrated interest”. An AO that accesses an applicant’s file in Slate sees a series of colored dots, each representing a form of that applicant’s engagement with the school. The student may have attended this college fair on this day and opened this email link on that day, in addition to many other interactions. Such output is instantly available to the AO whenever it’s wanted. Many institutions compile student demonstrated interest data into the statistical models they use to forecast an important variable called yield, which is the percentage of students receiving offers of admission who actually go on to enroll in the school. This exercise informs the AO about which applicants are most likely to enroll if they receive an offer of admission, a way to improve the school’s yield. At many colleges, demonstrated interest information informs decisions about which applicants will be extended an offer of admission.

IvySelect, as a college admissions consulting firm specializing in Ivy League and similarly elite institutions, has assisted many students in gaining admission to a wide array of top-tier schools. We know from experience that the components of a successful application need to cohere to an appealing common theme, one that ties together and emphasizes your best attributes and potential contributions to campus life. Although IvySelect provides a range of highly valued services that will contribute to the success of your admissions campaign, our strongest contribution is in helping you to develop and communicate a winning theme throughout all of your application materials and activities.

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