This week we welcome the Director of Communications for Enrollment Management, Becky Tankersley, to the blog.
In early September, you may have noticed a change in Georgia Tech’s Undergraduate Admission website. After (many!) months of talking, planning, building, and testing, the new admission website was ready for action!
From a user’s perspective, the new website simply appeared one day. But from a development perspective, the site came to fruition after more than a year of research, planning, testing, and development.
As the launch date approached, Rick noted, “You know, I bet there’s a blog you could write about that.” As I reflected on the process and the outcome, I can see the parallels between launching a website and launching a college application. Neither process happens quickly… yet each ultimately comes to life with a quick click of a button.
As you work to prepare to launch your college applications, here are a few tips on how to plan ahead for success.
Build your team.
Website creation involves a lot of communication, and a tight-knit team to make it happen. Our team includes a Web Developer (with knowledge in coding, servers, and security); a Marketing Specialist (who researched analytics and organized content based on user navigation and data); and a Graphic Designer (who creates imagery and ensures we’re in line with brand standards). My job was to keep us all organized, creating timelines and paving the path forward through conversations with all the other people invested in the project (including admission leadership, Institute Communications, and web hosting).
Each role is different, yet each is critical to the ultimate outcome of the project.
Your action item:
Who is on your team? This is likely your first (and perhaps only) time going through the college application process. It’s critical to have a close team around you to help along the way. Your team may include a parent/guardian, high school counselor, and another trusted adult like a teacher or coach.
Talk with your team, listen to their guidance, and lean on their experience as you go through the process. Most important, be sure this is a team you can trust. There will be moments when you can’t lean on your own knowledge to find a solution, so be sure you have a good team to support you through the process.
Do your research.
Building a website isn’t as simple as creating content and hitting “upload.” We first did our research. We talked with admission leadership about what they wanted in their new website. We talked with Tech’s web team to learn about differences in platforms and servers. We did a deep dive into data, using analytics to learn which pages were used often and which ones weren’t. This data also enabled us see user paths, revealing areas where users were getting lost when trying to navigate from one point on the site to another. We completed a competitor review to determine the best practices in our industry and see what else we could implement (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?).
Your action item:
We’ve said it many times, but it’s worth saying again: do your research before submitting a college application! Here are a few places to begin:
- Dive into data. Explore the Common Data Set (CDS) for the schools on your list. The CDS allows you to look at public historical information, providing insight, perspective, and trends by looking at multiple years. Check out our previous blog on how to analyze this data on your own.
- Review mission statements. University mission statements aren’t just flowery verbiage to put on the “about us” page. Mission statements (and strategic plans), drive institutions toward their enrollment goals. Institutional missions matter, so review these statements to ensure your values align with the values of the colleges where you apply.
- Understand application plans. Early action? Early decision? Regular decision? Rolling admission? Application plans vary from college to college. Check out our podcast for insight into how these plans work.
- Know the outcomes. Some admission decisions are simply “admit” or “deny.” But in many cases, it isn’t that clear cut. Understand the variety of admission decisions you may receive from each school on your list. For example, Tech admits first-year students to both the fall and the summer terms, yet each year we talk to students are caught off guard. Doing your research now can save confusion down the road.
Create a plan.
When you’re on the cusp of a huge project, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and wonder how you’ll get from Point A to Point B (much less Points C, D, or E). Before starting the work, first create a plan—and begin with the end in mind.
We knew the admission site needed to launch the first week of September. Once we identified the completion date, we created deadlines for our tasks and goals. We then shared that timeline with other groups who would play a role in the site launch. Creating a plan made it simpler to stay on target and keep everyone on the same page.
Your action item:
Look at your research (you didn’t skip that step, right?) and write down all of your application deadlines and due dates. You may need to add in additional dates, such as when to take the SAT or ACT, or when a recommendation is due. Put these dates on your calendar, and just as important, make sure your team has those dates as well!
Don’t allow a lack of planning on your part to create stress and panic for someone else in your circle. Mistakes do happen, but if you fail to meet a deadline because you a) didn’t plan for it, or b) didn’t tell someone else about it, then that responsibility falls on you.
Check Your Progress
Once the plan was in motion, our team met on a weekly basis to check in on our progress. Each week we had new action items to complete in order to keep the project on track. Inevitably, we came across unexpected (and unplanned!) challenges. Weekly meetings enabled us to address problems and/or issues quickly, as well as keep each other accountable on our progress.
Your action item:
Schedule regular check-ins with your team to make sure you’re all on track. There may be times you need to meet more, or less, often, so adjust accordingly.
Inside tip: As you get ready to hit “submit,” be sure you aren’t doing so at the last possible minute! As application deadlines approach, we see a tremendous increase in website traffic along with phone call and email volume from panicked students. Even if you do everything right on your end, expect the unexpected! Real-life examples (that, yes, I have actually seen happen!) include power outages, Common App glitches, internet issues, natural disasters (e.g. hurricanes or wildfires), and unexpected sinus infections that keep you stuck in bed for a day or two.
Take our advice: don’t wait until the last minute!
The morning of the site launch, our web developer did some coding magic and poof! The new admission website was live. But, was the project really complete? No!
Once the site was live there was a list of follow up items to complete, such as addressing 404 errors, helping people find new links, updating email templates, and notifying our division, campus partners, and campus communicators that the site launched and to update their information accordingly.
When a project is nearing completion, I can hear the voice of one of my mentors in my head: “What does ‘done’ really mean, Becky?” It makes me think twice before declaring a project complete, as there are always a handful of follow up items to address.
Your action item:
“What does ‘done’ really mean, (insert your name here)?” Although you may have hit “submit,” you’re not really done!
Access your applicant portals once you have access to do so. Check your email for any messages regarding your application (and READ them)! Allow time for all of your documents to find their way to your application, and monitor your applicant portal for updates. In some cases, an application that is marked as “complete” is later marked “incomplete” if an application reviewer determines more information is needed. Check out my previous blog for tips on what to do while you wait for your admission decision.
Lastly, once you’ve hit submit, celebrate! It sounds cheesy, but take a moment to reflect upon the goal you just accomplished. Applying to college is no small feat—well done! And be sure you to let your team know you’ve submitted your applications, too. Better yet, let them know by saying THANK YOU.
After all, it’s a team effort!