Scanning for Answers

Graduate School, North Carolina State University
Graduate School, North Carolina State University
Program Category: 
Admissions staff felt buried by all the mailed applications awaiting them.

The good news for North Carolina State University’s graduate school: applications have been increasing by 5 percent to 10 percent per year. The bad news: it was putting a strain on already overtaxed admissions staff.

During the school’s busy season, three to five temporary workers had to be hired simply to open envelopes, scan transcripts, and then upload them into the appropriate graduate application. It took eight hours a day, four to five months straight, to process 15,000 or so applications. That supplemental labor cost around $34,000 annually, says Lindsay Gentile, graduate school director of admissions.

In 2009, NC State made a commitment to become more environmentally friendly and customer-service oriented. The graduate school’s assistant dean, Rick Liston, spearheaded a project to evaluate just how much paper was being handled and kept internally. A decision was made to tweak the application software already in use, Hobsons’ ApplyYourself, enabling students to upload their own unofficial transcripts as part of their application.

No longer would so many temporary workers have to handle that chore if the onus was placed on applicants. The self-service modification to ApplyYourself, which included allowing larger file sizes, cost only $1,000 more per year.

Reducing the turnaround time to process applications was a bigger part of the equation. The wait for mailed paper transcripts to arrive and be scanned used to take more than a month, causing delayed admissions decisions. Transcripts lost in the mail had to be re-requested and submitted. The process was long, drawn out, and labor intensive.

By eliminating much of the scanning of paper transcripts, NC State has cut the number of temporary workers hired during the busy season.

Today, students upload their unofficial transcripts and other admission documents themselves, and admissions staff are able to review the entire application the day after submission, says Gentile. Only those recommended for admission are asked to supply official, mailed transcripts?reducing the number NC State receives by more than 50 percent. Feedback from campus program directors indicates that more timely availability of transcripts speeds their evaluation and recommendation process significantly.

Last year, more than 14,000 applications were received, with more than 80 percent having uploaded unofficial transcripts. Approximately 3,800 of the 14,000 were admitted and asked for official transcripts. By eliminating much of the scanning of paper transcripts, NC State has cut the number of temporary workers hired during the busy season to two, and reduced by half the time they are required to work, for a total labor savings of more than $25,000, Gentile estimates. In addition, full-time admissions staff members no longer need to work overtime during the busy season, for an additional cost savings. -M.L.T.