April 6, 2023


Categories: University, Department

Transforming the Student Application Process: From Paper to Digital

In the past, the student application process primarily relied on paper-based systems, often resulting in a slow and cumbersome experience for both applicants and institutions. With the advent of digital technology, educational institutions have the opportunity to revolutionize their application processes, making them more efficient, environmentally friendly, and accessible. Below, we explore the advantages, challenges, and strategies for transitioning from paper to digital application processes, using the example of a university department seeking postdoctoral students.

Advantages of Converting to a Digital Application Process

Converting the student application process from paper to digital offers numerous benefits for both applicants and institutions. One primary advantage is the significant time and cost savings resulting from reduced paper and printing expenses, as well as the streamlining of processing and response times. Digital applications can be submitted, reviewed, and stored electronically, allowing for quicker access and analysis of data.

Digitalization also enhances organization and accessibility, as electronic storage and retrieval of documents improve searchability and data analysis capabilities. This reduces the risk of lost or misplaced documents and contributes to increased accuracy through electronic form validation. Moreover, the transition to digital applications promotes environmental sustainability by decreasing paper consumption and reducing transportation and waste management costs.

Challenges and Potential Drawbacks of Digitalizing the Application Process

Despite its numerous advantages, digitalizing the application process presents some challenges and potential drawbacks. The initial investment and implementation of new software and hardware, as well as the time and resources required for staff training, may be significant. Furthermore, digitalizing sensitive student information raises data security and privacy concerns, necessitating adherence to strict data protection regulations.

Another challenge involves addressing the digital divide and accessibility issues to ensure equal access for all applicants, regardless of socioeconomic background or technological proficiency. Institutions must take steps to address potential barriers and provide alternative methods for applicants with limited digital access.

Strategies for a Successful Transition from Paper to Digital

To ensure a smooth transition from paper to digital applications, educational institutions should begin with thorough planning and assessment of their needs and resources. This includes identifying potential challenges and solutions, providing necessary staff training on new software and processes, and establishing a support system for ongoing assistance. Furthermore, it is crucial to ensure accessibility and inclusivity by implementing user-friendly interfaces and offering alternative methods for applicants with limited digital access.

Case Study: Creating a Digital Application Process for Postdoctoral Students

At Pendari, we’re currently in the process of doing this exact thing. A university department seeking postdoctoral students asked us to create a digital application process. The website housing the application makes faculty profiles available for students to browse ahead of time, enabling applicants to tailor their submissions to specific research interests. After students submit their applications, faculty members will be able to browse through the submissions and reach out to the students they want to pursue.¬†This streamlined process will significantly reduce the time and resources required by department staff to facilitate the review process, will allow faculty members greater (and immediate) direct access to candidates, and will provide applicants with a more efficient experience.


Though by now universities have transitioned to online application process, there are departments and programs who still conduct this process using PDFs, email and spreadsheets. Converting your student application process from paper to digital offers numerous benefits, including time and cost savings, enhanced organization and accessibility, improved accuracy, and environmental sustainability. However, institutions must also address the challenges and potential drawbacks of digitalization, such as initial investment and implementation costs, data security and privacy concerns, and the digital divide and accessibility issues.

By implementing thorough planning and assessment, staff training and support, and ensuring accessibility and inclusivity, educational institutions can successfully transition to digital application processes that benefit both applicants and institutions alike. Our current project we described demonstrates the potential for a well-executed digital application process to streamline and improve the experiences of both applicants and faculty members. As more educational institutions embrace digitalization, we can look forward to a more efficient and sustainable future in the realm of student applications.