How Has Technology Changed the College Admissions Process?

US News and World Report

October 26, 2011

A majority of students now submit their college applications online. Essay writing and editing is overwhelmingly done on computers, and recently we asked how students could use resources on the Web to research colleges if they couldn’t visit them. The college search and admissions processes have changed significantly in many ways over the past few years, and this week, we ask the Unigo Expert Network:

Q: How has technology changed the admissions process?

A: Technology has offered students unprecedented access, but increased the competition.
Katherine Cohen, founder and CEO, IvyWise

Thanks to the Internet, students have college information available at their fingertips. They can read through course catalogs and learn about campus activities on college websites, participate in online college fairs, and even take virtual campus tours. Students can interact with admissions officers, current students and alumni through college blogs, Twitter handles, and Facebook pages. Using the Common Application, they can apply easily to any of 456 member schools with just the press of a button. (They’ll still need to complete school-specific supplements.)

As a result, students are learning about and becoming interested in applying to many more schools. (We recommend that students apply to 10 to 12 good fit schools, but some students are applying to more than 20 schools.) As a result of this application inflation, acceptance rates have dropped at many schools, increasing the competition.

A: Use technology to your benefit.
James Montoya, vice president of higher education, The College Board

Technology has impacted the admission process in some good ways and in some ways that are not so good. Technology facilitates students applying to more colleges (even some that may not be of strong interest to them) by the push of a button, increasing the number of applications colleges receive and adding to the college admission frenzy. On the other hand, technology now allows students to learn about colleges on their own terms–having online access to the student campus newspaper, course evaluations, and student reviews of dorm food. Information that is more authentic, unfiltered, and student-centric is a real benefit.

A: Social networking and smartphones pushed the most notable changes.
Stacey Kostell, director of admissions, University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign

With the explosion of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, interested students can easily and readily learn about schools they are interested in and quickly communicate with the admissions offices. In addition, smartphones drove many admissions sites to go mobile, which makes it much simpler to do things like check your application status or sign up for a visit.

The application process has also become more electronic. At Illinois, we now allow applicants to self-report their academic record, making it much quicker for them to apply because they don’t need to have their transcripts sent, initially, by a third party. (Official transcripts must be sent after admittance.) This also frees up resources on our end. I encourage students to utilize the technology available because it is there to provide a more beneficial network for communicating and make the whole process less cumbersome.

A: Technology is a mixed blessing.
Michele Hernandez, president and founder, and

In the “old” days (three to four years ago), students simply printed out essays and mailed them to schools. Now students have to upload everything electronically, as do schools. The first year, colleges managed to lose more electronic info than they ever did paper. The next year, they took a mix of electronic and paper, but had trouble reuniting paper forms with electronic, so thousands of documents got lost or not included in student files. Now admissions readers have to read applications on a computer screen for eight to 10 hours a day, month after month.

Ironically, the Common App was supposed to simplify things: Colleges would have one generic app and students wouldn’t have to do tons of extra essays specific to each college. Unfortunately, colleges needed more information, so now most colleges have supplemental essay questions. Nowadays students are doing a Common App plus supplemental essays for each college–the same as it used to be– and it’s harder to submit extra information electronically than it was to stick it in a file. Is this progress? I’m doubtful.