Enhancing Your Students' Onboarding Experience

photo of student with backpack and books overlaid with blog title

As higher education leaders continue to refine and enhance the student experience, process mapping has become a crucial component for every department at every phase of the student life cycle. Process maps help you understand your students’ experience from the first inquiry to graduation day, and summarize every interaction your institution has with a student – through either personalized communications or an automated process.

Achieving The Dream and EDUCAUSE recognized that a solid understanding of process mapping would be essential to iPASS recipients as they worked to improve integrated advising and student support.

To help with this, Swim Digital Group facilitated a process-mapping workshop at the February iPASS convening in San Francisco to demonstrate how to engage key stakeholders within your institutions to begin defining the student onboarding process. We also explained how to use this newly-defined process to mitigate and manage barriers to entry for students trying to move through the enrollment funnel. Swim worked with 36 schools to define their current process from completed application through their first advising appointment or orientation (whichever came last).

Understanding that one-size-must-fit-all when working with this many institutions, we had each college execute preliminary work that consisted of a mapping questionnaire to be completed prior to our workshop. Using the information the colleges and universities provided, we mapped their existing processes based on each and every institution.

After synthesizing our findings and working with the various institutions during the onsite workshop, we noticed a few key takeaways that every institution would find of value:

  • What vs. How: All of the teams knew what changes needed to happen to improve student success, but many struggled with how to execute.

    While it may seem scary and unfamiliar, updated technology and software is a great start — but it isn’t the answer. Understanding what features to use within the technology and who is accountable for its successful execution is paramount.

    As student populations increase and college and university personnel decrease, resources are often a challenge. In order to move forward with improving the student experience, however, it is critical to identify the gaps and road blocks, agree on who should lead the task and identify the necessary tools. This type of collaboration should always remain at the forefront to successfully execute process mapping.

  • The student is first: Fully understanding the process from start to finish requires two essential components: a cross-functional team and the commitment to put the students before processes. When you commit to both of these from the beginning, you find new and creative ways to limit the roadblocks and communication gaps that students face when trying to enroll. Through a multi-disciplinary group that is focused on the ease of student access, you avoid problems during implementation, because all stakeholders were involved from the start aligned with a common goal: your students.

  • The goal remains the same: While every college and university is different, they all have a common goal: to provide their students with the best education and experience possible.

    A solid process map creates the foundation that gives students the confidence that they can succeed at your institution. A solid enrollment and communications process supports their engagement and persistence toward pursuing their academic goals. Refining and tweaking the current methods and timing of communications allow for a stronger, more stable process to be built.

Process mapping is one of the many changes that higher education institutions begin to adopt as they look for ways to impact their students. We understand that every institution is different, including their processes. However, we believe that every institution has the ability to achieve success with a process that is built for their unique student body.

Mapping out your process is the first step to achieving greatness. For more information on process mapping and other opportunities for your institution to flourish, check out our website.


Trimeka Benjamin founded Swim Digital Group in 2009. As President of Swim, Benjamin exhibits hands-on leadership with extensive marketing and consulting experience, with a focus on higher education.