Recruitment and retention initiative will see graduate applications move online

Earning a master's degree presents enough challenges in itself.

Applying for graduate studies shouldn't unnecessarily complicate matters before that quest even begins.

Through the Recruitment and Retention Integrated Planning (RRIP) project, an online graduate studies application process is being developed with the aim of making that task faster and more user-friendly.

"Most of the graduate students are employed and they don't have the time to work through a cumbersome paper-driven process," says Alice Miller, the assistant registrar and team leader of the online graduate application review.

Working online, graduate students are able to get an immediate response to their efforts, such as the ability to upload essential documents.

"They know exactly where they are as they go through the process," says Miller. "That isn't possible now and that's a high source of frustration for them."

Miller says the University recognized it was lagging behind other comprehensive universities in Canada by not providing an electronic graduate application process. While some universities are at differing stages in the level of service or options they provide online, "everyone is moving forward to the next level of electronic capability."

The current paper-driven application process involves massive amounts of data entry, which is not only time consuming, but makes it subject to the possibility of input errors. Looking at the experiences of other universities that have moved to an online system, Miller believes the electronic method could cut two to six weeks from the time a student applies until they receive a notice of acceptance.

That is a significant benefit for students, and in the case of international student applicants, the quicker response could prove to be a deciding factor on whether to apply or not. A current graduate student application from an international student can take upwards of three to six months to move through the system (plus an additional three months if a student visa is required). By reducing that turnaround time and streamlining the process, the U of L becomes that much more accessible.

Undergraduate students have had the benefit of an electronic application process for the past three years and Miller says the feedback from all involved has been fantastic. The biggest plus has been the ability to request transcripts electronically, vastly improving the time it takes to move applications through the system.

"As a result, we're able to make earlier offers of admission," says Miller.

The need to introduce technology into the graduate student application process had long been a priority for the Registrar's Office. With the launch of RRIP, that need quickly became a priority for the University as the team recognized it was essential to remove barriers for its graduate students.

Miller says the increase in graduate student applications as a result of a move to an electronic application process could be substantial. When another Canadian institution went electronic, its graduate studies applications ballooned from 2,300 one year to 4,100 the next.

With 373 graduate studies applications in 2010-11, Miller says they estimate the introduction of the electronic process could result in 600 to 700 applications.
The project has now become operational through the dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Dr. Robert Wood, registrar Don Hunt, and chief information officer Clark Ferguson.

This story appears in the May issue of the Legend. For a look at the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.