The first week on any college campus is hectic, but what if there was a digital assistant available 24/7 to help new students and their families navigate the college process?
With chatbots rapidly infiltrating every aspect of our personal lives, it’s no surprise that student technology is an area ripe for bot intervention. As both students and faculty embrace bots in their personal lives for things like checking the weather, ordering pizza, or finding a cab, it’s about time that campus tech caught up.
At Unit4, we believe there are many situations on campus that a bot could help with. We’re always working on updates for our enterprise chatbot, Wanda, and we’re paying close attention to what’s happening in higher education. Here are a few of the ways we expect you might soon be interacting with bots on campus, from admissions and daily campus life all the way through to graduation.
Student to Bot: “Am I missing any documents for my application?”
Bot to Student: “Don’t forget! You still need to submit the following documents:”
During admissions, bots can help facilitate what is a complicated and stressful process. While students are applying to schools, a bot available through the Common Application or university’s website could guide them with reminders about upcoming deadlines, notifications about missing or incomplete documents, or information about scholarships and financial aid options available through federal, state, and local avenues.
Once a student is accepted, a bot could also streamline their introduction to campus life. For example, a bot could prompt the student to choose an upcoming campus orientation to attend, help them to select courses from a list of options, and suggest relevant study/social groups based on the student’s interests.
2. A welcome and campus guide
Student to Bot: “How do I get to the student center from here?”
Bot to Student: “Let me know where you want to go, and I can show you.”
Upon arriving on campus for the first time, students and parents generally have similar questions: How do we get to the dorm? Where is registration and key pick-up? What events do we need to attend?
A welcome bot could help students easily find the answers to these questions by providing schedules, maps, and campus resources. While relatively straightforward, such a bot could go a long way toward helping make the student’s first few days easier and more efficient. Virtual reality could also play an important role here, as data overlaid in the camera app could provide information about the student’s surroundings. Using GPS, sensors, and a course schedule, the bot could point out relevant buildings — using push notifications — and help students become familiar with the campus.
3. Financial aid
Student to Bot: “What information do I still need to submit for the student loans I qualify for?”
Bot to Student: “Here is what we’re currently missing to complete your application:”
Financial aid is often cited as one of the most difficult application processes to navigate. Bots could help students identify and apply for aid and help them stay on top of financial aid requirements. Once tuition, fees, and room and board are confirmed, a bot could even suggest ways in which financial aid can be apportioned and arrange payment according to the student’s wishes. Additionally, at the beginning of each term, the bot could proactively contact the student to confirm whether any changes need to be made and could even notify the student about recently announced scholarships or those they now qualify for due to any changes in their status.
4. Course sign-up and academic progress
Student to Bot: “What other Biology 300 courses are open that would fit in my schedule?”
Bot to Student: “Here are a few suggested classes that fill your major requirements:”
On many campuses across the country, signing up for classes is a challenge, with cumbersome interfaces, difficult-to-use search features, and slow systems that often crash due to the increased web traffic associated with class registration day. Bots can help streamline the process by providing up-to-date information about available classes and even suggesting which classes a student can take to fill necessary requirements. Based on the student’s major/minor, prior classes taken, and academic interests, bots will be able to easily and quickly create a suggested schedule. On a large campus, bots might warn students when travel time between classes could lead to issues and suggest alternative class times or courses that would better fit their schedules.
A student helper bot could also remind the student at regular intervals how close or far they are from achieving the scores they need to pass a class or advise them about how many classes remain to complete their major or about general education requirements the student still needs to fill.
5. Personal information and alumni relations
Student to Bot: “My new address and phone number are…”
Bot to Student: “Is this still your address and preferred contact information?”
Keeping up-to-date personal data for a campus of thousands of students is a time-consuming and error-prone task, as students move to new dorms and apartments, switch majors, and often change their communication preferences. Having a bot periodically request that students confirm their personal information can take a lot of manual data entry tasks off of office personnel and ensure that this information is up-to-date.
Such information is particularly important around graduation, as alumni programs need to keep a record of the best ways to get in touch with graduates. Automated bot prompts ensuring this information is accurate before the students leaves campus could be an important aspect of a college’s future outreach programs.
Back to campus with chatbots
As bots become increasingly integrated into our everyday lives, it’s not surprising that there are many ways campus technology can also benefit. From handling simple prompts for campus maps or lunch suggestions to more complex tasks, like suggesting courses and class schedules, bots can have a hand in making campus life more enjoyable and productive. This will go a long way toward empowering students to focus on their education and freeing faculty up to focus on their core competencies.
Be on the lookout for future additions to campus technology, and don’t be surprised if your next office administrator or bursar’s assistant is actually a bot!