Simplified Application Processes

August 11, 2023

Achieving the Dream

Many college processes can feel complex and unwieldy to adult learners, particularly those with no prior college experience. These complexities often result in adult learners dropping out before they even complete the application and enrollment process. Colleges can reduce this loss by reexamining and simplifying this process: Minimize unnecessary steps, replace jargon with more accessible language, reduce handoff points to multiple departments, have a staff point person to support a caseload of students in navigating the process, and create alignment in the process for all academic, workforce, and continuing education programs.


  • Enable adult learners to apply and enroll efficiently to the community college. 
  • Reduce the staff time needed to support adult learners in applying and enrolling.
  • Minimize the number of adult learners dropping out before completing the application and enrollment process.

Strategy Features

Design User-Friendly Online Applications

The application process on a college’s website should be simple enough that many adult learners can complete the process with minimal support.

Offer Multiple Modes of Support

Offering multiple ways to access support during the application process can reduce frustration. College websites can offer just-in-time support via live chat/chatbots, freeing staff time to provide deeper support to those in need.

Use Action-Oriented Nudges

Use of behavioral nudges that prompt the student to take action throughout the process can help simplify the experience for adult learners. Emphasizing deadlines and using checklists can also reduce confusion.

Optimize Timing of Messages

Sending messages to students when they are more likely to be in a position to take action (such as outside of typical working hours) can increase the impact of your messages as students don’t have to remember to revisit the message later.

Minimize Clutter in Messages

Messages to learners sent throughout the application process should be crafted to share critical information in a simple, action-oriented way. Keeping messages short and focused can help get your message across to busy adults.

Implementation Tips

Map Your Processes

Co-create a detailed map of the student experience for your application and enrollment process. Include any additional steps required for certain student populations or programs.

Audit Your Messages to Students

Develop a list of all messages sent to students by all departments during the application and enrollment process. This can help identify duplication, times when you overburden students with messages, and unnecessary communications.

Gather Input on Your Processes

Identify complications and confusion — have a staff member or consultant go through your application process or gather feedback from adults as they go through the process themselves.

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