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One Application per Student: Tips and Tricks for Eliminating Duplicates

Posted November 14, 2016

Tips and tricks for eliminating duplicate student applications.

Promoting fairness in your common application or unified enrollment system: 

In a common application or unified enrollment system, it is important to ensure that only one application is accepted for each eligible student. If a student had multiple applications in the system, then she would have an unfair advantage because she would receive extra chances at her preferred schools. Identifying and removing duplicate applications is therefore critical. However, since duplicate applications are submitted for a variety of reasons, both intentional and unintentional, they can be difficult to catch.

Tips for preventing, identifying, and eliminating duplicate applications:

  • Publicize the rules. Make it clear in your materials that each student can submit only one application. Some families may think that submitting multiple applications is a legitimate way to increase their child’s chances of getting into a school. Particularly in the early years of a transition to a common application or a unified enrollment system, it’s important to make it clear that while an application should include multiple school selections, it should only be submitted once. That can be a confusing new policy to explain to families. Parents are understandably eager to get their child into their preferred school, and they may not trust the system, so it’s critical to be transparent about the rules and policies regarding application submission.
  • Prevent duplicates before they occur. If you have an online application, design it so that there is a screen for duplicates before submission. For example, as you build your application management system (AMS), set up the question logic so that if someone attempts to submit a second application for the same child, there is a warning message that pops up, or the system prevents someone from advancing. Duplicate applications are often a result of multiple family members submitting an application for the same child. For example, a father might submit an application for his son, and then a few weeks later, the child’s mother submits an application not realizing that there is already one in the system.
  • Don’t delay! Begin searching for duplicates as soon as the application opens. Don’t wait until after the deadline closes to search for them. Since it may take a phone call or two to resolve questions after any duplicates are found, it’s important to start searching for duplicates right away to ensure you have enough time for resolution.
  • Run reports to search for “fuzzy matches”. It’s fairly easy to find duplicates when they have the same first name, last name, and date of birth. In that case, it’s clear that the application is for the same child. Identifying duplicates is trickier when some information on an application matches another, but not everything – a “fuzzy match”. For example, the last name and date of birth on two applications are the same, but the first name is spelled slightly differently (e.g. one application has “Angela” while the other has “Angie”). Or, on one application a last name includes a suffix (eg Jr.), but on another application there is no suffix. Searching for fuzzy matches will result in some false positives, such as a set of twins or triplets with similar names, but it is overall a more effective strategy than limiting reports to only applications which are identical.
  • Use multiple fields when searching for duplicates. In addition to first name, last name, and date of birth, it may be helpful to include address and phone number when searching for duplicates. That may have the extra benefit of identifying another related error – sibling applicants who should be linked together in the database. Additional fields to consider searching on: student information system (SIS) ID if available, current grade, and email address.
  • Define your rules ahead of time. In advance, develop clear guidance for your staff on how duplicate applications will be handled when identified. For example, if you find two applications that appear to be duplicates, but your staff is unable to reach the family in time to discuss the situation, how will you decide which application to accept? You might decide that your system will default to the last submitted application, or you might decide that you will combine applications into one so that no school choices are lost, or you might pick another route altogether. But it’s important to define the procedures ahead of time so that applications are handled consistently.
  • Keep track of how duplicates are resolved. It’s important to keep an “audit trail” of your staff’s handling of duplicate applications so that if any questions arise later, you can go back to your notes and clarify how a specific application was handled.

While not all of these best practices require technology, the right enrollment management software can go a long way toward automating these actions. For example, SchoolMint’s cloud-based enrollment solutions provide real-time reports to identify duplicate applications — including “fuzzy matches” — and track updates to each student application for later reference.

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