Data Take the Wheel: Your New Dashboard and How to Use It

As academics ourselves, we know we don’t have to sell you on the importance of data and the value of data-based decision-making. With that (and your feedback) in mind, we recently designed and launched a Program Dashboard to help you monitor your Programs’ performance at a glance (see our example below).

Dashboard insights are a powerful way to: 

  • Assess program performance in real-time by analyzing the number of ingoing and outgoing bookmarks. Ideally, your programs are receiving a good number of incoming bookmarks as well as proactively bookmarking prospective students.
  • Identify best practices and opportunities for improvement with programs that are not using the platform to its full potential. Find out what the successful programs are doing well and how others can learn from them.  
  • Develop benchmarks and an action plan for the coming year based on admission goals. Decide on target numbers for the coming year and stay tuned for our next post on how to turn your Dashboard insights into action.

We envisioned the Dashboard as a place for program users to gather all the insights you need to take action and make the most of your subscription. Here, you can monitor the programs in your account and make changes immediately. Let’s take a closer look by clicking on one of the Programs (Architecture, in this case).

The dashboard allows you to quickly monitor three key metrics.Using the Dashboard, you can easily keep tabs on three key metrics (called out in the above image):

  1. Program Profile completion – Is your profile complete and does it provide prospects with all pertinent information? Your goal here is 100% completion.
  2. Engagement with prospective students  – Is your program receiving more interest from students than your Collaborators can handle? Together, these numbers are a key indicator of how much interest a program is generating. Your target number here depends on your program size, but you should strive to maximize the number of bookmarks your program receives.
  3. Usage by Collaborators – Who are your top Collaborators? Are all of your Collaborators connecting with prospective students? Ideally, you’ve selected different kinds of Collaborators (faculty, staff and students) to answer different kinds of questions and they have all learned how to use the platform.

We built the dashboard with you (our Program users) in mind, and we hope you find it really useful. We think the new Dashboard will enhance the program user experience by making Gradschoolmatch easier to do the things you need to do to be successful. And like we said, stay tuned for our step-by-step post on how to build an action plan using the new Dashboard.

If we can help you maximize the data from this new tool, or if you have any feedback on it, please don’t hesitate to contact us . We would love to hear from you!

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Perhaps medical illustration is your graduate school niche?

Almost everybody who begins to explore their graduate school options eventually discovers the incredible diversity that exists out there. Graduate degrees are niche. Specializations exist that span a wide and colorful spectrum of opportunities. A world of options exist. People thinking about graduate school typically only apply to programs when they find ones that offer a match to their interests. Often times, they don’t know a niche even exists until they see it for the first time.

I recently exchanged a few emails with Professor John Daugherty, director of a graduate program in Biomedical Visualization at the University of Illinois-Chicago. His program recently renewed its subscription on Gradschoolmatch for another year with hopes of finding and attracting just the right students. That’s a problem every graduate program faces, irrespective of their niche.

And that’s exactly the problem Gradschoolmatch is designed to solve. Our aim is to reduce the friction out there for programs and students alike, to make it easier to find each other and then have an intelligent, high level exchange to decide on fit.

By coincidence, just today I ran across a great article in The Atlantic that describes the field of study in medical illustration and the work one can do. If you are someone with an aptitude for both art and biology, you should take a look at the article and then sign in on Gradschoolmatch to give Professor Daugherty a shout.

In fact, the article features Meredith Osborn, a graduate of UIC’s Master’s in Biomedical Visualization program. Here’s some examples the work by students in the program:

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Gradschoolmatch is to guidance like the microwave is to cooking

radarange_so_newI’m not only old enough to remember the first microwave ovens, I’m old enough to remember that they were called radar ranges. Ack! But these machines have been on my mind since the early days of the Gradschoolmatch project.

Our goal was to do what we have done: create a space where guidance happens. The conceptual premise is based upon observations that interactions with someone knowledgeable is how most people end up choosing where to attend graduate school.

At one early point we were advised by an insightful businessman that in Gradschoolmatch we may have another microwave oven story on our hands.

Briefly, in the early days, people were reticent to adopt the microwave because they had perfectly good stoves and ovens with which to accomplish the same result. Sales only grew after the microwave manufacturers were able to convince consumers that microwave cooking could be effective, not to mention quick and convenient.

A similar friction probably exists in the graduate school recruiting space. The old way of doing things is to hope enough applications fly in over the transom and that enough of them are good. At the same time, everybody agrees the status quo is crappy. Really good prospects struggle to find the right place and need our help. Many of them end up in the wrong programs. Meanwhile, seats in really good programs go unfilled.

All of the evidence indicates that one-to-one engagement with prospective students is the driver of better matriculation rates. Still, there is a lot of skepticism that something novel and innovative, like Gradschoolmatch–which promotes one-to-one engagement between programs and prospects–can be a solution.

Here are the most common reactions we get from people, and our responses.

“I don’t know how to recruit.”

You don’t have to. Just offer guidance to someone considering an advanced degree in you specialty. That’s actually very effective recruiting because you know everything about what they are looking for.

“We have a perfectly good program website.”

Great program websites are only useful when the prospects you want find them. Still, they are no replacement for the human touch.

“We have plenty of applications.”

Matriculates are more important than applications. Meanwhile, how many do you lose to other programs in your specialty?

“I don’t have enough time.”

Think of guidance as immunization against dropoutitis. You’ll spend far more time on dealing with the latter.

“Our faculty won’t get involved in recruiting.”

Did they ever have a tool that makes engagement with prospects and offering guidance so easy?

“We just buy email lists.”

The people receiving your spam don’t like spam any more than you like spam.

“Does it work?”

Absolutely. When used the way it is designed.

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You Should Know This to Write Your Best Grad School Application

things to know for the grad school applicationAre you applying to graduate school soon? Getting inside the mind of an admissions committee prior to writing up your grad school application can really help present yourself in the best possible light.

Speaking from a lot of direct experience I can distill the admissions committee mind as being pre-occupied mostly by only 3 problems. Address these questions proactively and you’ll make their job easier. Which means they’ll probably like you better. Use this insight in your narrative section, to better provide your value proposition to the committee.

Is the applicant qualified?

For most graduate programs the qualifications boil down to academic background, standardized exam scores, and relevant experiences. These take on different weights given the specialty and the level of degree. But most programs are “full packagers” or “holistic” and so all of them are important. Truly.

There is no getting around the fact that past accomplishments testify to future ability. Therefore, grades and test scores are used to evaluate if you can handle a rigorous curriculum. Work experience is used to assess how well you understand what you are about to start, your motivation, and the expertise you can bring to the table to enhance the overall program culture.

Perfect candidates have the the right undergraduate majors and coursework, high GPA’s in a challenging curriculum, high performance on the standardized exam, and have experiences that clearly express a passion for their chosen graduate specialization.

Everybody program wants the perfect candidate, but most applicants are not perfect.

Therefore, the narrative sections of your grad school application should deal head on with where you underperformed. Bad grades? Explain how you’ve grown responsible through your post-bac work experiences. Crappy exam score? Point out how hard you worked to earn your good grades. Don’t make excuses. Describe how you’ve learned and grown from mistakes.

Is the program a good fit for the applicant?

A surprising number of grad school applications are, in fact, misapplications. The application got to the right address, but the applicant doesn’t realize the program is a poor fit for them.

Why would people spend their valuable time and good money chasing after a slot in a program that doesn’t fit? Good question.

Sometimes it comes from shallow research (eg, thoughtlessly using someones “ranking” index as an application guide). Just not enough due diligence. Other times its more complex. For example, situations where a student feels obligated or even under pressure from others to pursue a degree that the program experts can clearly see the applicant really doesn’t want.

One important duty of the admissions committee is to figure that out for you. As a general rule, admissions committees at graduate programs attempt to avoid compounding a misapplication error by committing a misplacement error. But the system is far from perfect. About a quarter of all graduate students admit they ended up in the wrong programs. That’s a lot of mistakes.

When you are convinced you are a great fit, then you need to be prepared to state your case directly. Point out your qualifications explicitly. Demonstrate you’ve researched the program deeply. Describe how that program is important for the career trajectory you’ve mapped out for yourself. Be assertive. The less arrogant, naive, cliche or canned any of this reads, the better chance it comes off in your favor.

Will the applicant enroll if offered a slot?

Programs are generally careful in handing out admissions offers because graduate students actually cost money to educate. Most programs avoid over-subscribing, less they get in trouble with the university budget demons.

They have to balance that caution against making sure they get the students that they really want. Programs know that their best applicants often have other options.

Meanwhile, students hold off making decisions hoping to have all of their cards on the table before pulling the trigger.

Oftentimes, even the thought of this can lead to quirky, guessing game decision making. What I like to call “You go down there” moments; absurdities driven by uncertainty.

For example, a program may convince itself that you won’t enroll if offered, even though they want you, but they don’t make you an offer fearing it might be “wasted”. Meanwhile, they’ve misread you. You’re more open to going there than they realize…

Look, everybody should just play straight up. As an applicant, be honest about where you are leaning. Somewhere, someone anonymous on the internet wrongly advises this is a great time to play coy. Honestly, it really isn’t.

Remember, in musical chairs, there aren’t enough seats for everybody after the music stops. After you’ve started to get offers, keep in touch with the program to let them know where you stand. Send everybody your decision as soon as possible.

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“The Right Match”: How Gradschoolmatch Launched One Student’s Career

The Right Match (Diverse Issues in Higher Education, September 8, 2016).

Student who found perfect match in her new graduate program.
Source: Diverse Issues in Higher Education

“The first time Alyssa Rodriguez applied to graduate school, she ended up being waitlisted. But when no spot opened up, she began work as an associate scientist at a small biopharmaceutical company in San Diego.

“My original plan was to work in [the] industry for at least two years and then apply to graduate school again,” says Rodriguez, who graduated from the University of San Diego in 2015 with a degree in biochemistry. Once I had accepted the fact that I would not be starting graduate school in fall 2015, I started my graduate school research once again that summer.”

Only this time around, Rodriguez discovered and ultimately decided to use GradSchoolMatch.com – a new website that seeks to match prospective grad school students with graduate schools.

It only took a day before Rodriguez started to see results.

“The next day, I checked my profile and was very surprised to see that I had already received messages from various graduate school program directors,” Rodriguez says. “I was in such shock that I shared the news with my mom that programs were interested in my profile.”

Rodriguez says what surprised her the most was that she could clearly see that the messages were “not spam and that truly there were assistant deans and directors on the other end of the message.”

One of those messages came from Beth Bowman, assistant director of graduate programs in biomedical sciences at Vanderbilt University.

Bowman considers GradSchoolMatch.com a “fantastic avenue for graduate programs to get to know individual candidates in the global applicant pool.”

“This sort of individual communication not only allows programs to showcase what they have to offer, but also allows a program to individualize their communication to a specific student,” Bowman says. “Personal recruiting is the best avenue to bring students to any program and GradSchoolMatch makes this ideal recruiting strategy a reality.”

Asked if the website was simply a nice thing to have or a necessity to attract and engage candidates, Bowman says: “I think more and more, this site is getting close to being a necessity for graduate program recruiting for any program interested in getting to know their applicants.

“These days, there are so many programs on the site that a student may miss out on a program that doesn’t have a presence here.”

Bowman says the website – which is free to students – helps facilitate the diversity of candidates as well.

“In my mind, this site helps to promote diversity of candidates in the program simply by being a free site and avenue for programs and candidates to get to know each other,” Bowman says. “This helps to remove any cost barrier that is typically present in a graduate program application process.”

Bowman says the website has helped Vanderbilt by increasing the number of candidates that the school can communicate with during the application process. “We are pleased to be able to pick the candidates that fit our program best,” Bowman says.

Inside the site

GradSchoolMatch.com was started by T.J. Murphy, an associate professor of pharmacology at Emory University.

He says that the website has around 400,000 user profiles and that the number is growing daily. About 30 percent of the student users are underrepresented minorities and about 20 percent are from overseas, he says.

The students come from a range of academic disciplines and specializations, Murphy says.”

Please click here to read the complete article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education (September 8, 2016).

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