This article first appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Life in Estonia Magazine.
The simplification of the admission system helps to use time previously spent on paperwork to counsel students more efficiently.
Whereas the entire admissions system of Estonian universities is simplified, digitalised, and automated to the max, there are very many universities in the world where the system is still based on human labour and the reviewing of applications by hand. DreamApply software, developed in Estonia in late 2011, helps universities to implement a large and complete change in their application process. Customer satisfaction speaks for itself: out of all the customers – over 200 universities worldwide – each one who has implemented the DreamApply software has decided to keep using it.
DreamApply grew out of Dream Foundation, the previous company of its founders Märt Aro, Sten Rinne and Lauri Elevant, which helped mostly Eastern European students to apply to European universities. In the process, it became clear that university admissions systems were often a bottleneck to the entire process. Therefore, it made sense to offer the solution they had created for their internal use to the universities. DreamApply’s first client was the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. Their next challenge was large – automating the entire national university application system in Estonia for the admission of foreign students.
“When we built the system for the Estonian state, our product was still in its initial phase,” admits Lauri Elevant, co-founder of DreamApply. “But as it was successful, it has been easier for us to present our product to more client-universities after creating a national structure. The marketing of Estonian higher education has also received a fresh breath of air thanks to the statistics collected by our system. Marketing is one of our focal points and it enables us to measure how many applications are received and how many people actually arrive to study,” explains Elevant.
How complicated is it to convince universities, which are considered conservative institutions after all, to start using innovative technology? “Universities are institutions and some of them have existed for half a millennium and their activities are characterised by stability. For a large university, it is a huge challenge to implement a completely new IT system and this process is relatively long. However, once the solution is created, it lasts for a long time.”
Elevant says that their product is often the first sign of innovation for universities that are modernising their application process. “Often, until we come into play, they are literally operating with Excel tables and sending documents by e-mail. In those cases, the changes we bring are the most extensive.”
One DreamApply’s client, Leonid Markusyk, the Director of International Marketing and Recruitment at Vistula University, the largest private university in Poland, says that their work did not really change due to the coronavirus because they started working with the DA platform several years ago and the admissions process is completely digitalised. But the changes that came with transferring to DreamApply service were indeed significant.
“I can’t say that this situation has affected our daily routine too much. Our routine changed far more drastically five years ago when we implemented DreamApply, as before that we reviewed around 400 applications manually, using Excel and Word. Today our staff can focus their efforts on the most important part of recruitment – communicating with prospective students around the world,” said Markusyk.
Lauri Elevant admits that these days, electronic admissions are nothing out of this world, but to an extent, the DreamApply service fulfils this criterium. “The level of automatisation that we have reached with our product is very high. Our system can be used to make video interviews with prospective students, to scan documents, it searches for data from passport copies, and identifies plagiarism. The philosophy behind our product is that the less an admissions officer has to deal with paperwork at school, the more time (s)he will have to really work with foreign students and solve their problems.”
Coronavirus also influences the work of universities, but mainly universities are tackling the question of how to organise the learning process in the new academic year. In terms of university applications, data from DreamApply clients shows that those who have started the admissions process have received good results and the numbers are not significantly down from previous years. In the case of Italian university clients, the admission system continued to function during the height of the crisis.
Three out of the ten oldest universities in the world use DreamApply: University of Padua (founded in 1222, where Nicolaus Copernicus studied), University of Siena (founded in 1240), and the University of Macerata (founded in 1290).
Elevant says that universities need to spend more energy on marketing an communication due to the virus. Marketing tools are the highest priority in the company’s current DA development plans. It is likely that due to the fear of travel and travel restrictions, the willingness of students to study at foreign universities will decrease and universities will have to make greater efforts to attract students.
The opportunities that arise when using DreamApply to develop targeted solutions for clients are endless. For example, DreamApply created the largest student exchange system for music universities and all the conservatories in Europe joined the unified network.
Hungary also uses the DreamApply service to simplify the national application process for scholarships.
“Among the bigger systems that we have built is the national scholarship system for Hungary, which receives approximately 30,000 submitted applications every year. (For comparison, the Estonian national student admission system for international students receives on the order of 10,000 applications per year). The bigger systems present unique challenges since, due to human nature, applicants generally tend to submit all of their documents at the very last minute. This means that there is nothing happening for most of the year, and then suddenly minutes before midnight, you need to start processing seventy documents per second, without slowing down the system! The ability to scale rapidly to such deadline rushes is one of the benefits of our platform,” says Elevant.
He has statistics to prove that potential students literally act at the last minute. “Based on the statistics of the Tempus Public Foundation in Hungary, an application round for the Stipendium Hungaricum Programme, the peak of 52 application submissions per minute occurred at 23:59 CET.”
Unique opportunities of the higher education
One of the greatest success stories in DreamApply’s history is their collaboration with Study in Estonia, which is headed by the Archimedes Foundation and aims to carry out various marketing activities to promote Estonia as a great place for foreign students to study. The tools in DreamApply have been perfected to give the Estonian state as well as universities a precise overview of the efficiency of their marketing activities – it is simple to use the system to measure how many real foreign students a certain marketing activity has brought into Estonia. Also, as all Estonian universities are using a unified system, data analysis allows very precise marketing decisions that use resources efficiently and organise the events and activities that give the most advantage.
This solution makes Estonia unique in the world – no other country has anything so streamlined. According to the data received from the DreamApply system, the methods Estonia used to market itself in various target countries were thoroughly changed, and a national strategy was developed – the Strategy of Introducing Estonian Higher Education Internationally between 2015-2020. The strategy has been implemented successfully over the years and, through the active use of the tools available on DreamApply, the collaboration of the state, universities, and the private sector has led to the multiplying of the number of international students studying in Estonia. Today, 5000 international students make 11% of all university students in Estonia.
Examples of cool features
For many universities, the coolest feature of DreamApply is the fine-tuned user experience, which cuts down on their need to communicate with applicants through e-mail. All systems are built after a university’s current processes are thoroughly mapped; the information is combined with the experience gained from building similar systems for other universities and national systems.
As for features that no one else has, DreamApply has an integrated pre-recorded video interview system that allows universities to conduct thousands of screening interviews effortlessly. These days, everyone can imagine how painful a Zoom session might be if it were multiplied by a thousand! DreamApply solves this.
DreamApply also uses machine vision techniques to analyse uploaded document scans to validate and cross-compare the data with other application contents. This helps to catch fraudulent or duplicate applications, as well as simple mistakes made by applicants.
In cooperation with Turnitin, the system is also able to spot any plagiarised motivation letters, which helps to make sure that honest applicants stand out among fraudulent ones.
Last but not least, there is an in-house marketing tracking system which helps universities to track down all their marketing activities effortlessly, and develop the best strategies for their student recruitment activities.
Statistics: 60% less e-mails, 95% user satisfaction
The statistics collected by DreamApply show that it really matters to applicants how fast they receive their responses from the university. Across all of their customers, DreamApply has seen that when the university sends the applicant a positive response within three weeks, they will have a two times better conversion rate from applicant to student when compared to a response-time of approximately three months.
Secondly, there is a lot of work in student admissions. Based on hundreds of thousands of applications analysed, statistics show that to admit 100 students successfully, you might be going through more than a thousand applicants. Therefore, DreamApply’s focus is on automation.
A few key metrics reported from users:
– 67% increase in applicants over 3 years
– 60% reduction in e-mail traffic
– 40% increase in staff efficiency
– 85% users find DreamApply easy to learn, use and manage
– 95% client satisfaction
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