The AI-Powered Admissions Office Assistant You Never Knew You Always Wanted
College admissions can be a long and complicated process. From the initial inquiry to the first day of classes, each individual requires a shockingly high number of touchpoints to transition from prospective student to an enrolled, active and engaged member of the school community.
AI technology like chatbots enable colleges and universities to quickly and efficiently provide support for current and potential students. For many school officials, it’s an unintended benefit of adopting the software, something that the team at California State University, Long Beach (CSU Long Beach) quickly learned when implementing the AI technology.
“We went live in June, and over our first weekend, the frequently asked question that stood out for us was, ‘Where do I send my final transcripts?’” says Tim Gotimer, a Communications Specialist in CSU Long Beach’s Enrollment Services Department, who was one of the many staff members responsible for implementing Ocelot’s Chatbot at the university.
The timing, in hindsight, made sense. With most high school graduations occurring in late May and early June, CSU Long Beach’s incoming class was eager to close the high school chapter and begin the next. They turned, overwhelmingly, to the school’s chatbot to answer their questions about the final steps in the enrollment process.
It was a question that signaled the technology’s utility. While the technology was originally brought on board to primarily assist current students (when leadership in Enrollment Services saw a need for virtual, 24/7 support when pivoting to remote learning and online services during the pandemic), the team quickly learned of the tool’s abilities to serve future students, too. Moreover, the revelation helped the CSU Long Beach team understand the breadth and depth that the application could add to the end-to-end admissions and enrollment experience.
Increasing Capacity and Reducing Admissions Call Wait Times
Not only are institutions competing for the attention of potential students every academic year, but they’re also presented with the challenge of helping candidates through the application and matriculation process.
Helping students decide that they want to attend your college or university is just one small step in the path to enrollment. Along that road are many complex steps and hurdles to overcome. Not all individuals start their higher education search with the same knowledge base or access to tools and support.
Institutions must be prepared to support prospective students along their journey.
As an open-access institution that processes over 100,000 applicants each year, CSU Long Beach serves a broad range of students with varying degrees of prior knowledge about higher education. As a result, both Admissions and Financial Aid field a lot of questions. “During the summer, our phone lines are slammed,” says Nick Valdivia, Director of Financial Aid.
“Inherently, when you look at high need, first-generation students, those students tend to need the most support navigating the process,” explains Valdivia. “So because of the demographics of our students, we have an extremely high demand for our resources, whether that’s telephone, in-person, website, etc.”
The university initially launched their chatbot, named “Elbee,” with three departments: Financial Aid, Registration, and Admissions.
Now that Elbee is live, Valdivia says the tool answers almost twice as many admissions-related questions compared with other question categories like financial aid.
The CSU Long Beach team also knew that they’d hit a home run supporting prospective students when analyzing their Monday call volumes. They noticed a significant decrease in call wait times on Monday mornings — a sign that more questions were being answered via the chatbot while offices were closed.
Elbee offered a “third shift” solution to the university — 5pm – 9am and on weekends when the office is typically closed. This meant that prospective students had access to support services on weekends and in the evenings, during the times they were most frequently able to work on college applications.
Creating Synergy Between Admissions and Financial Aid
As the head of CSU Long Beach’s financial aid office, Valdivia is keenly aware that money plays an essential role in the admissions journey. At the school, 73% of students receive financial aid, and many are dependent on the funding to make a college degree possible.
“Matriculated students who lose their financial aid likely aren’t going to continue at the university,” Valdivia explains.
Financial illiteracy is a huge roadblock that many students at CSU Long Beach must overcome to complete their journey.
“By making [financial aid] information available to them in a way that’s easy to understand and hopefully solves their problems, that’s something that makes me happy to come to work every day,” he reflects.
The team recently leveraged Ocelot’s SMS Text Campaigns solution to remind non-matriculated prospective students of an upcoming FAFSA deadline. It was a way to communicate with a critical constituent group that is historically challenging to reach. Text messages are a meaningful way to engage with students and have a 98% open rate.
At a university like CSU Long Beach, where many students require financial support to attend college, both the Admissions and Financial Aid Departments are often working in tandem with one another and answering a lot of essential questions.
When prospective students have accessible information and the right tools at their fingertips, they’re able to take control of their education, ensuring that they won’t fall between the cracks.
Serving Groups With Great Needs: First Generation and International Students
While the team anticipated that Elbee would be of value to first-generation students, they were surprised to see so many international students take advantage of the technology.
With 1,000 to 1,300 international students enrolled each semester, it’s a significant population, making up approximately 4% of the student body.
The advantage of a chatbot is that it enables Admissions Departments to service all prospective students, regardless of time zone. Additionally, the application provides services in multiple languages, making information more accessible for non-native English speakers.
From Prospective Student to ‘Pomp and Circumstance’
One could argue that the admissions process isn’t just about getting students in the door, but it is also about getting them out the door, celebratorily tossing their graduation caps in the air as they exit.
Particularly for open-access institutions, an AI tool like Ocelot’s Chatbot technology is not just a way of making students’ lives easier….it also answers essential questions that help students navigate the college experience and persist throughout their educational journey.
Many hurdles for aspiring students occur in the initial admissions and enrollment process when their future home still feels foreign and intimidating.
By leveraging AI technology, universities can provide a 24/7 resource that empowers students to take control of their academic journey from day one — and beyond.
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