Gone are the days of flipping through semi-annual catalogs. As are the late-night informaticians and weeks of processing and shipping times. Today, we are driven by the promise of same-day delivery. In other words, we’re driven by instant gratification.
It’s not just shopping that has changed; instant access and feedback have shaped how we find our next date, our next television show and our next workout regimen. The amount of time that consumers are willing to wait has been steadily decreasing to the point of near non-existence. After an average of 22 seconds, people get frustrated that their media has not begun streaming yet. We now measure acceptable wait times as seconds or minutes vs. hours vs. days.
The consequences of waiting are significant when we carry this trend to the college shopping experience. When hundreds of thousands of students are preparing to commit to colleges across the country, the time it takes to get answers and finalize how students will pay for college can impact where they choose to study. The impact could be their top-choice institution falling further down their list.
In a recent survey of current and former college students, a clear trend was identified: Students expect the same response time and instant feedback when engaging with college financial aid offices as they expect elsewhere. When asked how long a student would wait for their first-choice school to process any financial aid form before thinking about enrolling elsewhere, 16% reported that they would begin to explore other options in two weeks or less. Extended to four weeks, 54% of respondents said they would consider enrolling at an alternative school. And when extended to eight weeks, 80% of students would think about enrolling someplace else.
Delays and frustration with the financing process do not only impact prospective students: 33% of enrolled students surveyed said they considered dropping out because of how frustrating it was to pay for college.
In the forms and paperwork-driven world of financial aid, it is common for first-time students to turn in documents that can take weeks, if not months, to review. Some colleges regularly communicate to the students selected for verification – an audit-like process for some federal aid applicants – that can take anywhere between seven and 10 weeks to review. When college enrollment continues to slide, colleges need to do everything to retain students who have been admitted.
Improvements in operational efficiency benefit both students and staff. The fewer documents students need to submit, the fewer documents staff need to review. That’s a win-win for efficiency. Every school should start by looking at its slowest and most cumbersome process: Map it out. Ask questions about every step. Consider questions like: Why are we doing this? And what happens if we stop doing this today? These insights can be powerful tools to remove unnecessary steps and requirements that build up over time.
Once you have simplified the process, thoughtful technology can further reduce the paperwork review process through automation and personalization – think back to our example of verification.
Schools like Grand Valley State and Texas A&M University have reported that they can process verification and document reviews in a matter of hours or days instead of weeks with the right technology. That ultimately allows more students to access higher education.