Admissions testing: What you communicate is as important as the decisions you make

Admissions testing: What you communicate is as important as the decisions you makeAs many schools are finalizing their incoming class rosters for the Fall, several questions are looming for prospects, admissions staff, faculty and administration alike. As part of the admissions process, you’ve likely been trying to remove as many barriers as possible for your students. You want them to feel comfortable attending your program, whether in-person or virtually, in the Fall. One such question is admissions testing.

Regardless of whether you’ve waived the testing requirement, delayed score submissions or started offering new testing options, it’s been a series of tough decisions. But the communication surrounding it can be even trickier as it relates to protecting your brand.

Addressing concerns in your communications

Admissions testing is valued by the many stakeholders of your program, your brand and your school. While altering your admissions process may seem risky, well-crafted internal and external communications can address everyone’s concerns. Let’s examine some of them here:

  • Alumni see the test as a rite of passage. It’s a value indicator for the quality of students who are admitted and graduate into the network.
  • What about current students who just last year took the test as a requirement of the admissions process?
  • Faculty and administration see the admissions test as a predictor of self-discipline and success in some courses.
  • What precedent are you setting for the future? What are the long-term implications?

Admissions testing reality: Executive Assessment, GMAT, GRE

In March and April, Executive Assessment (EA), GMAT and GRE testing was cancelled or delayed due to COVID-19. In late April and May, online testing became widely available and it continues to be an option. Some test sites are beginning to open with safety measures in place. The online versions are designed to support candidates working to meet upcoming application deadlines. All fees for rescheduling tests have currently been waived to give greater flexibility to students and institutions alike.

Although these options offer a stop-gap and a way to continue to screen students within the admissions process, you may not have known these would have been options when you were forced to make hard decisions during the height of the Spring stay-at-home-orders. Regardless of what your program decides, it’s important to continue delivering a clear, consistent message to your prospects and stakeholders covering the why’s and how’s of what’s next.

How schools are handling admissions testing

By doing a scan of your competitors and speaking with your peers at other schools, you can find out what others are doing. Here’s a quick snapshot:

  • Test waivers on a case-by-case basis
  • Online test options for EA, GMAT and GRE
  • The option to submit expired scores (within the last 5 years)
  • Offering conditional admission, pending a test scheduled in the future
  • Giving the option to submit current test scores (even if not within the required range) and apply for a waiver
  • One-on-one consultations to discuss admissions requirements

Communication tips

While marketing has always been a key pillar in your recruiting strategy, it is even more important now. As you are making decisions about the admissions process that impact multiple stakeholders, here are some key ways to shape your communications efforts via email, digital advertising, your website and social media:

  • Stay consistent. If you’ve made a decision on new testing requirements, continue that message through the end of your current recruiting cycle. For example, if you waived a test, or changed a test type and have admitted students with those new requirements, continue on the path vs. changing the requirements now that new options are available.
  • Explain your reasoning. It’s important to communicate why you have required a test in the past, why you are changing your stance in the current environment and what you are doing to maintain the integrity and rigor of your admissions process.
  • Acknowledge that the future is unknown. While you can’t make guarantees for the future, you can reassure your stakeholders and prospects you are doing all you can to assess the current situation and you will be adjusting your plans carefully. Although you may be concerned you are setting a precedent, it’s important to reiterate these are “unprecedented times.” Your goal is to ensure quality while the entire higher ed industry has been upended.

As you navigate this time of uncertainty, don’t hesitate to lean on partners who have experience in branding, digital marketing and messaging. GPRS can help you evaluate the industry trends, quickly shift your digital advertising and brainstorm ways to pivot your messaging to protect your most valued asset – your brand.

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