By Booth Kyle, Lakeside School (WA)
From Memberanda, Fall 2012
I work at a school where the admission committee process is taken pretty seriously, with lots of faculty involvement and input. Our school has also seen a 50 percent increase in applications over the last five years, due in part to our conversion to a streamlined online application process. Some of our internal processes have adapted positively to our more efficient “front end”: less data entry for our staff, better and more information about our applicants early in the process, and the general sense that is easier to apply to our school than it was before. Having more applications is a good problem, but reading 50 percent more folders and having 50 percent more discussions during committee meetings wasn’t going to work. How could technology help our committee process be as efficient as the application process?
Luckily, we have four admission committees, and we chose to pilot our smallest as an “online reading” committee. We sought to have this group do all of its reading, assessing, evaluating, and voting in an online environment. We contracted with an outside vendor to design a web-based folder evaluation system that could interface with our existing admission database. Additionally, they helped us identify an appropriate scanner and accompanying scanning software which could help us get all of our application data into the system. Lastly, I appointed one of our assistant directors to manage the project. She would be pulling all of the internal levers, which included scanning, database synching, and managing the admission committee.
It worked! But it was not without challenges. Our Assistant Director may beg to differ, but the hardest part was retraining our readers in the folder-reading process. Habits and routines are hard to break, and moving from manila folders to laptop screens is easier said than done. Here are the top lessons we learned:
• Dedicating one individual’s focus to a project of this scope has advantages; that person will become an expert in the process.
• Scanning software is unbelievably smart and accurate.
• Reading scanned documents is fine, but reading digitized information (directly from the application materials) is faster.
• The job of a reader can change; since all applicants have electronic folders, you can encourage your readers to share more opinions, and focus less on writing down information that is easily accessible by the rest of the committee.
• A smart reading system can sort by a variety of categories and gives you incredible data at your key decision meetings. This sorting ability also allows committee heads to focus committee discussions on groups of applicants who are most admissible, enhancing efficiency and quality.
• Some committee members still prefer to have a piece of paper or a good old-fashioned reader sheet in their hands. As much as I like technology, I guess I’m still a bit of a traditionalist.
In the end, we preserved our faculty involvement in the process. We had better data, enhanced the flow of the reading season, were able to focus our committee discussions, and had trained one member of our office to be our online process guru. With all of these lessons learned, we enter year two with good ideas about how to take this process to the next level.