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A math problem: The University of Washington receives more than 30,000 applications to its 122 graduate programs each year. Each application has, on average, 25 pages of information — including essays, transcripts and letters of recommendation. If each application were printed five times so that faculty members could review hardcopies and decide which applicants to accept, it would amount to 3.75 million pieces of paper. At a cost of 6 cents per page to print, how much would the University pay in printing alone?
$225,000. That’s how much.
But now, UW graduate programs can save money — and staff and faculty time — through an online application review process, created and implemented by the UW Graduate School. For 10 years, applicants to graduate programs have been able to submit their applications online. But once the individual programs received the applications, they had to either print hardcopies to circulate to faculty members for evaluation, or they had to manually combine PDFs and upload to a server to give others access. Both methods took graduate program staff members up to two weeks of work to prepare files for faculty reviewers, depending on the number of applications received.
Now, once an applicant files, the information is forwarded to faculty reviewers and the materials are stored online. In addition, faculty reviewers can review applications online from any location and record notes, scores and decisions directly on the application, thus speeding the review process. The system also will compile scores for each applicant that faculty review, eliminating the need to calculate by hand. The system protects applicants’ privacy by requiring a reviewer to log in securely.
If just 40 percent of the UW’s 200 graduate admission administrators switch to the online review process, the University could save 6,400 person hours next year, the Graduate School estimates.
“A faster review process means the UW will be able to make offers to the best candidates more quickly, giving the University’s graduate programs a competitive edge,” said John Drew, director of the Graduate School’s IT team, which developed the system at the request of graduate program advisors across campus.
The Foster School of Business MBA admissions office receives close to 800 applications each year, and the online review system will save “countless hours producing, sorting and tracking our hard copy application files,” said Arlo Hammontree, admissions coordinator for the MBA program.
“Key features of the new system include the ability to build score sheets, assign specific files for reviewers and monitor the progress of files in review — all online,” he said. “We believe that the new graduate application review features will save our program valuable time in addition to being more environmentally friendly by reducing our need for paper.”
Graduate programs have the option of using the online review, or continuing to work with hard copies. In addition, the online review system is flexible, with features that allow individual units to tailor the system to their programs’ requirements and processes. By November, the system will automatically compile all documents in a single PDF for each application. Drew anticipates that some programs will continue to use their hard copy processes as they get used to the system, so the savings of $225,000 in printing likely will not be realized for a few years.
The online application review is a major addition to the Graduate School’s MyGradProgram, an online tool — developed and maintained by the UW Graduate School in collaboration with graduate programs — that helps students, faculty and staff manage graduate education from application to graduation at all three UW campuses. More than 12,000 UW graduate students and 4,000 faculty and staff members have access to MyGradProgram. Through the system, more than 3,500 master’s degrees and 750 doctoral degrees are processed every year.