Want more college applications? Trusting student self-reporting may help.


Want more college applications? Trusting student self-reporting may help.

The other day, I was going through a box of old photos when I happened upon a sealed envelope containing my college transcript. It still had the registrar’s signature stamped across the flap.

I almost opened it, but then I remembered that it took a surprising amount of work to procure that official transcript in the first place, many years ago when I was applying to graduate school. I put it back down, still sealed.

That got me wondering: Why is there so much bureaucracy associated with the sharing of information about student performance?

The friction associated with submitting transcripts and test scores isn’t just a minor inconvenience. For better or worse, barriers to application completion, such as official reporting of transcripts and scores, can dissuade some applicants from submitting a completed application.

In a 2017 study of EAB Enrollment Services partner schools’ application completion rates, we found significant gaps between high and low performing schools. The bottom quartile of institutions had only 60% of students who started an application fulfill all requirements, while the top quartile had a 76% completion rate. And while not all the variance in application completion rates can be explained by reporting requirements, there are a few well defined best practices that can drive these observed differences in completion rates—like student self-reporting.

The student self-reporting option

In this age of Uber, Airbnb, and other types of radical self-service, you would think today’s more advanced technological solutions would eliminate any and all barriers to transferring official documents, whether from the test administrator or a student’s current school to a prospective college or university.

To be fair, current technology can help. For colleges and universities that work with us on application marketing and use our custom web-based application, we provide our SENDedu technology platform as a way to solicit transcripts and other documents directly from students’ high school guidance counselors. And while it does help streamline the completion process considerably, delays are inevitable, and students can ultimately feel the burden of yet another requirement.

One trend is gaining steam: Student self-reporting of grades and test scores.

Overcoming skepticism of the validity of self-reported data


of applications—one in 2,000—had to be rescinded due to inaccuracies under a self-reported application policy at the University of Illinois
of applications—one in 2,000—had to be rescinded due to inaccuracies under a self-reported application policy at the University of Illinois

While some school stakeholders can be dubious whether self-reported student performance data is valid, the evidence seems to suggest that its accuracy is very high. In one report, the University of California noted that 0.1% of applications with self-reported performance information contain consequential inaccuracies. Similarly, the University of Illinois found that only 0.05% of applications—one in 2,000—had to be rescinded due to inaccuracies.

Even with the national evidence about the validity of self-reported student data, some colleges have struggled to convince skeptical stakeholders. However, in our Maximizing Application Completion white paper, we found that pilot programs in which students self-report but also submit scores for one or two admissions cycles have been an effective bridging strategy for some institutions. These programs allowed institutions to demonstrate the validity of a self-reporting approach with the college’s own prospective student population.

Potential benefits of self-reporting

Time will tell how fast the self-reporting trend will spread. Official reporting of grades and test scores remain the norm for application processes at most schools. However, the benefits of removing this barrier are appealing, even beyond improving completion rates—boosting not just application volumes but also supporting equity goals.

One public university we profiled used its self-reporting requirements to allow a 48-hour turnaround for admissions and aid offers based on student-reported test scores and GPA. Based on the underlying assumption that early responses (“first to inbox”) convey a competitive advantage over other schools in acceptance rate, that theory is not yet proven.

The colleges and universities we talked to in our research also noted another benefit of self-reporting. Because self-reported information can be automatically incorporated into the SIS/CRM, it’s often faster and easier to process admissions offers as a result—there are no potential delays associated with manual processing of test score reports and transcripts.

In addition, there’s also a workload benefit for admissions staff. Only students who accept an admissions offer need to have their official transcripts and test score reports processed, which significantly reduces the processing burden.

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