AI-powered admissions: Shaping the future of higher education

By allowing admissions teams to focus their efforts on evaluating the most promising candidates—ever-important in this age of “quality, right-fit enrolments”—their efforts become more concentrated, and effective as a result.
Jakub Blackman
Jakub Blackman
Jakub Blackman is Technical Solutions Director at global student engagement and conversion specialist UniQuest.

The emergence of generative AI in the last 12 months feels like a seminal moment for the future of creativity and human collaboration with machines. The higher education sector has felt this seismic change, too, with many universities already using AI or exploring its potential, such as in admissions.

We know from across our network that institutions are increasingly seeking to harness AI to help streamline and support the delivery of their applicant journeys, specifically for various aspects of the admissions process.

The emergence of intelligent and AI-based solutions has come at a critical juncture. The post-pandemic surge for university places, most keenly felt by American and British universities, meant a crucial lack of resources hamstrung many admissions teams at those institutions.

And so, this new wave of intelligent and AI-based tech services offers solutions that could work at speed and scale to improve processes and ultimately improve the applicant experience.

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One of the most resource-intensive aspects of the admissions process is reviewing applications. Ensuring entry requirements, English language certifications and varying other admissions criteria are met is a demanding target for admissions teams to deliver against consistently.

AI can play a pivotal role in enhancing this process. By allowing admissions teams to focus their efforts on evaluating the most promising candidates—ever-important in this age of “quality, right-fit enrollments”—their efforts become more concentrated, and effective as a result.

It’s something we’ve remained aware of at UniQuest. We know from across our partner network that there’s a growing demand from the sector to tap into the potential of AI and intelligent tech for improving their admissions processes.

And many are already doing this. For example, tools already exist in the market that can help universities automatically filter out applicants who don’t meet specific, predetermined criteria—helping to reduce manual intervention and accelerate application-to-offer turnaround times.

Looking forward, perhaps the best indication of the potential of AI in HE admissions is propensity modeling. Based on a decade of aggregated insights from our partner network, we’re building a model to understand what characteristics and interventions are more likely to lead to enrolment.

The need for tools like these is gently ramping up in the sector, and through our accelerator project with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and our parent company, Keystone Education Group, we’re excited to see how this type of model could be operationalized to meet challenges.

We know students leave universities if their application isn’t processed quickly enough. So, by harnessing the latest developments in admissions processing, HE institutions can stay ahead of the curve and deliver the level of service that applicants expect.

Is AI the definitive solution?

When it comes to the customer service element, institutions will put a lot of trust in something that primarily operates unsupervised. Knowing the limitations and challenges around AI today—assumptions, bias and outdated info—the primary challenge lies in guaranteeing that an AI utilized by an institution offers dependable, precise, and impartial information while upholding reputation.

For AI to autonomously provide accurate and contextually relevant content, it requires access to consistent, up-to-date knowledge. This will require a new type of integration that will include elements such as website content, prospectus data, events calendars, knowledge bases and other sources of up-to-date information, unique to each institution.

Building out the technical infrastructure to capture, store and use this knowledge to train an AI will be beyond the expertise, capabilities and resources of most admissions teams, and it’s crucial they explore the support available to them.

However, we’re dealing with high-stakes situations. Applying to university is one of the most significant decisions many people make in their lives. Alongside the usual demands on admissions teams, they need to remain empathetic. AI is not, and will never be, this.

So, as technology advances, the possibilities and obstacles associated with AI will also progress. The need for individuals skilled in harnessing AI’s potential will increase, emphasizing the importance of our sector growing in tandem with these developments while continuing to recognize the ever-important human touch to how we operate.


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