For more than 100 years, the University of Birmingham has pursued and shared knowledge through world-leading research and outstanding teaching. Their encouragement of bold, independent thinking drives students to challenge themselves and achieve great things. Indeed, their commitment to unlocking potential shows—there are 10 Nobel laureates among staff and alums.
The university offers more than 350 undergraduate and over 600 postgraduate courses, including a wide range of online undergraduate and graduate short courses that allow learners to study flexibly. Because of its storied history and outstanding teaching practices, the University of Birmingham receives many admissions applications. They began recognizing that they needed to process those applications more quickly and realized that a strategic partnership would help.
Challenge: Getting Learners from Application to Classroom Efficiently
The University of Birmingham team wanted to ensure that students could enroll and begin achieving their goals quickly. However, we discovered that the time between a student requesting information and getting an offer was lengthy. Once a potential learner filled out an application, it would take 15-45 days to get them an offer. In this competitive higher education marketplace, it was vital to improve their application process.
“The postgraduate market is increasingly more competitive, so any improvements we can make to the application process would result in an enhanced admissions experience for our distance learning students,” said Kabir Ganguly, Associate Director, University of Birmingham Online. “With a more simplified and user-focused application process with a clear focus on conversion, we believed we would see an increase in distance learning start numbers.”
Luckily, the team here at Wiley has deep experience streamlining admissions processes, and we were ready to help.
Strategy: Reevaluate Admissions Applications and Develop a Response Plan
Together, we worked to tackle the university’s admissions challenges through the following three-step process:
1. Putting ourselves in the shoes of the learner
Our first order of business was to understand what the learner experienced when applying. We decided to thoroughly immerse ourselves in the application process to find out what applicants faced.
“By putting ourselves in the shoes of the user, or applicant in this case, we are in a position to understand their pain points and can make continuous improvements,” said Ganguly. “Shorter application processes increase student engagement and create momentum to move from application to offer to registration. We wanted to reduce bureaucracy and form filling to allow prospective students to focus on finding the right course for them.”
2. Analyzing competitors and immediate needs
We wanted to set the University of Birmingham up to make the best decisions, so our marketing team stepped in and analyzed the application process at schools around the United Kingdom. We found that many had simpler processes and required less information from the applicant. As such, we worked with program directors at the University of Birmingham to determine what student documentation was truly essential.
In the past, the University of Birmingham required an online application, a certificate, a hard copy of transcripts, a personal statement, and two letters of recommendation. But after evaluation, we recommended the university simplify the process. Per our suggestion, the University of Birmingham no longer immediately requests personal statements and transcripts. Instead, they require one reference or a certificate from their previous degree program. However, they still require a CV for some programs.
This streamlined process makes it easier for potential students to apply, meaning they can enroll and begin pursuing their online degrees faster than before.
3. Awarding an offer in principle
During the first few years of the partnership, the University of Birmingham saw that their offer-to-start conversion was high at around 70%, but their inquiry-to-application numbers needed some improvement. So, we developed a plan to encourage qualified students to apply.
We now award an offer in principle, a letter sent to potential students within 24-48 hours of their providing initial documentation. The letter states they are a match for their program of interest and lets them know they will likely get a spot. Information about this sped-up process is included on all landing pages and marketing materials, so applicants know what to expect and can be excited about a timely response.
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Results: A Streamlined Admissions Process That Boosts Applications and Enrollments
Since outlining and implementing our three-step plan, we’ve simplified the university’s application page. With the new process, we’ve seen the following improvements:
- Potential students can anticipate finishing their applications quickly and easily.
- Applicants are now required to submit fewer documents, so it’s easier to deliver essential admissions information to the university.
- We can now recruit for the university’s programs closer to start dates. Some programs allow students to apply up to a week before classes start.
These improvements have resulted in a considerable increase in start numbers. For example, starts for the programs we support grew 58% between March 2021 and February 2022. And, in October 2022, there was an increase of 61% from summer.
The University of Birmingham’s application to start (ATS) was consistently around 50-55% ATS during the first couple of years in the partnership. However, their ATS has steadily improved, from 53% in March 2021 to 62% in October 2022.
“We were able to do this because of the great relationships with the program directors. We have the same goals and want to support the students in any way we can, so making these adjustments was critical,” said Jessica Randell, Director of Student Recruitment.
Today, the new process is faster and simpler. The average turnaround time for an official offer is now 3.45 days, a considerable improvement over the university’s previous 45-day turnaround.
In March of 2021, the University of Birmingham lost only 15% of applicants to competitors, an amazing accomplishment. However, we were able to improve upon that number further. In February 2022, the university lost just 9.8% of applicants to other schools.
The university has also continued to improve relationships with accepted learners leading up to their start date. They now hold small offer-holder sessions between students and program directors before the start of the term. Allowing students to meet who they’ll be learning with is a great way to engage them early on.
“The Wiley team has been a great support in this process, offering suggestions, ideas, and feedback on the applicants’ experience. The data supplied by Wiley has allowed us to make evidence-based decisions to improve conversion into our programs,” said Ganguly.
Does your university need help to improve the application process? We can help create a better student application experience and enable you to reach your recruitment and enrollment goals. Learn more about our flexible enrollment services today.