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Following the Crowd May Not Be The Best Solution for Your College Admission Process

By Jeff Hilts June 1, 2018

It is sometimes called, “The Lemming Effect,” where a group of people follow along unquestioningly with another group for no reason  - other than the fact that a majority of their peers do so.  Leaving independence behind, many choose to follow instead of taking the lead.  

Choosing a software solution for recruitment and admissions may not seem analogous to this metaphor, but when you look closely at the way people make decisions, the end result could lead you into taking a leap of faith off a cliff.people crowd walking on busy street on daytime

We examine why people follow the crowd versus taking a more individualistic approach to decision making, and how following the crowd can lead to significant problems.


Why Decisions Are Influenced By Others

Social proof has become a powerful lure. You read reviews, you see prominent people quoted in articles, and you see other people’s supportive comments on those articles.

At first glance, it is easy to get swept up in the tide and think that another college or university’s software solution might be your solution.

According to Steve Martin, a Cialdini Method Certified Trainer, Witnessing others behaving in a particular way will often lead us to “follow the crowd” in a largely automatic and unthinking fashion.”


Emphasis on the word “unthinking”! But, you aren’t just buying a shirt that can be returned if it doesn’t fit. An Admissions CRM solution is a large, long-term investment for colleges and universities, and the impact on your college admission process can be felt for years.

According to Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of the book Influence, “When making a decision, it would be nice to think that people consider all the available information in order to guide their thinking. But the reality is very often different. In the increasingly overloaded lives we lead, more than ever we need shortcuts or rules of thumb to guide our decision-making.”

In other words, people often use a principle of Consensus, or Popular is Good.  college admission process

Because most of people do not have the time to increase their knowledge of all solutions and research each and every one to measure its usefulness, they rely on signals like popularity and peer institutions to influence their decisions.

Their thought process is...If everyone else is using a particular Admissions CRM solution, there is a good chance that software is our solution and worth our attention.  

But, if this way of thinking leads you to go in with blinders on or just look at the positive reviews and not the negative ones, you could be missing the most important pieces of information about why it may not be right for you. Many times people tend to forget what makes them different from  their peers and why an "Out of the Box" solution may not be the right one for them.

The principle of Authority is an additional factor that influences people’s decision making process. When people are uncertain about a decision, they follow the lead of others that they deem to be credible and knowledgeable experts.

In other words,when they see other high-profile colleges and universities using a particular solution, they feel swayed to make the same decision.

But, here is the point on making a decision like that...Very few schools are like a Harvard, so why would their solution make sense for you?  


The Problem With Following The Crowd

When you search on the internet, the crowd will most likely lead you to “software in a box” CRMs. So, it is not surprising that colleges and universities typically gravitate there first.

At first glance, you will see positive reviews about this type of software. But when you take the time to actually dig deeper, you will find some serious negatives too...length of time to get up and running (many times a year or more), lack of customer support (little help for process specific questions), not intuitive (things are in places you wouldn’t expect and fields are not labeled per your business practice.).college admission process

And, here is the biggest complaint that you rarely hear have to pay for the CRM, even while it may take you a year or more to get it operational!  

Each college and university has its own unique needs and challenges when it comes to admissions...pressure to meet enrollment numbers, pressure to process large numbers of applications, limited time to implement a new system, limited budget, lack of internal support staff, limited IT support...or in some cases, just not knowing where to start.

The “one size fits all” concept definitely doesn’t work when it comes to colleges and universities. What works for college A, doesn’t work for college B.

So, the last thing you want to do is invest money in a software solution and then find out it doesn’t work for you. Or worse, find out that the “out of the box” software you just bought requires that your IT department has to do programming to get it implemented.  So your admissions process is in the hands of those that support the campus infrastructure.  For most schools, campus IT folks don't have the time, nor the knowledge of your process to get the systems up and running quickly.  All the while the clock is ticking and your are paying for a solution that can't even use. 

These are not topics that your "out of the box" salesperson will discuss.  Keep in mind that getting the system up and running is just half the battle, you then have to have IT people on staff to keep it going from year to year.  Take a look at the schools you are following, do a search and see how many open IT positions they have to support their "out of the box" Admissions CRM.  I think you will be quite surprised.  All of sudden you will get the feeling that following the crowd may not have been the best choice after all.

It is important to know that you have other options!

Custom Admissions Software is Often Best

It is important to really take time to assess your current process and set goals for how you want the new process to work. That way, when you start to look for a solution, you will have a better understanding of what will best meet your needs.

And, that will most likely not be the same “out of the box” CRM everyone else is using.  

A custom admissions software solution is designed to meet your exact needs, can usually be implemented in a shorter lead time and often costs less.  You should choose a partner that will work with you every step of the way and not charge you a penny until the software is up and running.

Here are the benefits of a custom CRM:

    • Upfront Consultation - A custom software solution company that is truly interested in helping you will spend time with you up front discussing your challenges and goals. They won’t try to sell you their software in a box and then disappear.  Beware of those that collect money upfront and promise to deduct their upfront consultation fees from the contract.   Look for a vendor  that values your time just as much as theirs.  Any vendor in the higher education industry should take pride in providing consultation and evaluations at no cost to you.
    • Admissions Experience - The best custom software companies hire people with admissions experience. They understand that a solution designed and developed by actual admissions people will best meet your needs. “Out of the box” CRMs typically hire IT people who aren’t experts on the admissions process. So, what makes sense to them most likely won’t be what you need.
    • college admission processCustomization - You have unique issues and challenges. You will need a unique solution that can be used throughout the whole admissions process from recruitment to yield. Who better to create your software than a company whose focus is customization?   Look for a company that is willing to invest in you and your process.  Not one that provides you a link to a download site and provides a white paper on how to make your process work with their solution.
  • Complete Implementation - With a custom software company, your software solution is designed, developed, implemented and maintained by them. With “out of the box” CRMs, you typically have to rely on your own IT department’s availability or hire additional staff to get your solution implemented, serviced and maintained.   
    • Cost - Many people don’t realize that a custom Admissions CRM is less expensive than an “out of the box” CRM. What you get with their solution is "templates in a box". But, you still need IT staff to program it to your specifications and service it. The labor cost of your in-house IT or the staff you need to hire is where their price goes through the roof.  Research other campuses and look for open positions in IT that are needed to just support the Admissions CRM.  Then take a look at the custom solution providers clients and ask them how many IT positions are required to support that system.
  • Lead Time - Custom software companies are usually more flexible with how they can allocate their staff resources, so they can usually get your software done in a quarter of the time and for about 10x less in cost.  Custom software companies are used to thinking outside of the box and are not driven by their "product roadmaps."
  • Knowledge of Best Practices - Companies that understand admissions and take the time to really know their customers’ processes  are able to advise and share best practices with you throughout your entire process.  They are acustomed to solving problems quickly.  They don't have to think - how will our software solve that problem.  They instead think, how can we solve this problem for our clients?  By leveraging previous implementations and solutions, a custom software company can help your admissions office build on best practices without you having to re-tool your entire organziation.
  • Custom Modules - The recruitment and admissions of students isn’t just about communication with prospects and students. Being able to manage the entire process from recruitment to yield benefits schools tremendously. Most “out of the box” CRMs don’t have specialty modules, such as scholarship management, event management, or travel management for your recruitment team. But the right custom software solution will have those. So, don’t settle for less than what you need. The right solution requires the right balance of CRM functionality and Admissions Processing functionality.  Look for a vendor that is first and foremost an application processing system, but has all the CRM functionality that you need.
  • Partnership - The implementation process for a new Admissions CRM is complicated enough. A quality custom software company will be your partner throughout implementation and beyond. Their sucess is directly tied to yours.  Choosing a custom vendor may take time, but it will be well worth the investment.


The decision to purchase an Admissions CRM software solution for your college or university recruitment and admissions process is a long-term investment that will have an impact for many years to come.

While it may be seem easier to follow the crowd and purchase an “out of the box” CRM, you will do your school a disservice by not seriously looking at a custom software solution as an option. You will get more than your typical CRM for less money.  

Lastly, really take the time to find out who the people are behind the solution you choose. Do they really have an understanding of the recruitment and admissions process, or are they software people just trying to sell you software? Your implementation and long-term satisfaction depend on it.


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Jeff Hilts Jeff Hilts

Jeff Hilts

Jeff is the founder, CEO, and Chief Software Architect of AdmissionPros. Jeff graduated with honors from Western Carolina University with a degree in Computer Science. AdmissionPros believes our success depends on building productive and successful relationships with our clients.

Ready to see how our custom software solutions can grow your numbers? Request a personliazed demonstration today!