In recent months I've noticed many providers that were struggling to recruit high quality applicants. Each had specific problems but there were also some problems common to the majority of them. Some even broke the law. I suspect these problems are common with more providers than this handful.

Applications forms that confuse

By and large, in FE, application forms are designed to give providers the information that they need to enrol and subsequently produce funding reports. They aren't often designed with the applicant in mind.

Sadly, many potential applicants struggle with application forms that appear to ask for irrelevant information. Examples currently on provider websites include the following questions posed before the applicant has been permitted to indicate the course they would like to apply for, e.g. Is your household income less than £30,944?, National Insurance number?, Do you have any special dietary requirements? (a strange question for someone that wants to do an evening class), Do you have a prison record? In some cases these questions were asked before the applicant was asked for their name.

Most questions are asked for a good reason. But what impression do these questions create when they are considered more important than the applicants name or which course they are applying for?

Ask yourself if the questions you ask are vital at this stage. Are they being asked in the correct order and is the tone right. When we researched applicants some told us that the application form was off-putting or worse. One even reported the form as being offensive.

At this early stage in the relationship our potential students are still getting to know us. Some are making multiple applications and will apply to other providers. So creating the right impression is vital if they are to take a place offered at your establishment. Applications are part of a two-way process; providers can fail to match applicants' standards.

Applications forms that don't work

We mystery shopped various providers and found that many online application forms were not only confusing but were also difficult to use.
Some required a complex ID/User name and password to be used. Sometimes this wasn't emailed to the applicant. Other forms were a single page application form that seemed to scroll down the page forever!

Worse still, some didn't have a save function. So if there was a power cut the whole form was lost and had to be restated from scratch. And if it was necessary to go off and look for that elusive National Insurance number the screen had to stay live or the application was lost.

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It didn't stop there. Some online application forms wouldn't allow submission unless the applicant had included mandatory information. In one case this included a mobile phone number. So effectively without a mobile phone the applicant could not apply. How discrimatory is that?

Sure, most applicants have mobile phones. But a handful don't and it appears they are therefore barred from making online applications. Having been refused once would you then complete a handwritten form .... or would you look elsewhere?

Applications that get lost

On analysis we discovered that a small percentage of online applications never reached the provider. They were filtered out by overactive spam filters.
There are several ways to overcome this but they are only effective if implemented. The providers we spoke to didn't know they were losing applications, hadn't tested for losses, so hadn't implemented a work around.

There are simple ways to check that every application reaches the provider. Have you checked recently? Do you know how to do this?

Insecure applications

In one case we know the application forms were being set from the website to the provider via insecure email. It was relatively easy to hack into it and get the names and details of every applicant. Basic cryptography can be used to ensure your applicants details are safe. Do you know your applicants data is safe - or do you assume it is?

Admissions teams that don't communicate with marketing

Departments within organisations often work in silos. Without the Admissions team communicating with Marketing how are you sure that applications are not going missing? How does marketing know which campaigns result in applications? There are ways, but we found that most providers failed to implement them.

Retyping data into student/MIS Systems

When an online application is received by a provider it is in an electronic format. So you have to ask yourself why nearly 50% of the providers we surveyed then proceeded to print out the application forms and retyped them into the college systems. In one case they were typed twice, for two different systems. What alarmed us most was that managers were unaware of this practice.

When funding is as tight as it is today none of us can afford to lose a single applicant. So ensuring an efficient marketing and application process is essential if we are to get a good ROI on our marketing, ensure we do not lose applications and do not break the law.

Tip of the iceberg

The above are the tip of the iceberg and it is likely that many readers will know of an organisation that is making at least one of these critical errors. If this is the case, the organisation will be recruiting at a lower rate than you could. Numbers per class will be down and so will income streams.

Is your organisation making any of these errors?

Marketing consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and now works with colleges, universities and private providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US - visit: www.StefanDrew.com and http://www.providermastermind.com

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