Higher Education in the Digital Age: A Guide to Using Cognito Forms

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Higher education institutions worldwide deal with a multitude of students and applications annually, and the sheer volume of data that needs to be managed has significantly increased over the last couple of decades. These changes were further amplified by the stresses of shifting to a completely virtual environment when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The pressures of navigating remote learning have encouraged colleges and universities to find better and more efficient ways to manage and organize their admissions and staffing processes.

Today’s students expect not only their coursework to be digital but also many aspects of their admission and enrollment processes to take place digitally. However, many universities are still operating with physical papers and stressful, cumbersome processes. In order to move towards operating at peak efficiency, universities must make changes to any inefficient processes–and the best way to accomplish this is by incorporating technology and workflow automation. In doing so, we can better organize our work and connect with others.

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What is Digital Transformation within Higher Education?

Digital transformations are necessary to make university administrative processes as efficient as possible. A digital transformation is the process of integrating technology to create or improve existing processes, operations, and culture. It involves finding different technology methods to increase efficiency, simplify daily tasks, reduce costs, and save resources. Even though the use of technology in higher education has already increased in various capacities, there is still a need for further improvement, especially within non-academic departments. The use of technology in admissions, events, and many other areas can help create stronger, more efficient collaboration between faculty members, administrative staff, and other employees.

Many institutions are hesitant to make changes using workflow automation platforms, mainly because they are resistant to spending money and time creating and learning new processes and technology. However, not making these changes can hinder their development and growth in such a technological world. Integrating technology into your frequent tasks and workflows can create a better experience for your staff and students. All this can propel your institution forward by bringing together your data, processes, and people. Integrating technology in your work enables your organization to evolve continuously by using the latest innovations while also driving the adoption of change across your institution.


71% of college administrators said digital transformation is very important for them to increase operational efficiency as well as improve student services.

The Benefits of Digitizing Higher Education Processes

Before we jump into how you can benefit by using Cognito Forms, let’s touch on how automation and digitization are important for higher education institutions. Digital technologies have always proven useful in the education system, even before the pandemic. Even though technology has been used in schools for years now, many systems and processes using technology are still quite disconnected – uncovering an area of further need when it comes to technology. As highlighted by Zipdo, “89% of higher education leaders agree that their institutions need to be more digital.” While it can feel overwhelming to replace your familiar systems with an entirely new piece of technology, looking beyond the initial growing pains and understanding long-term benefits is key. Based on our research and conversations with customers within higher education, there is an aspiration to be more digital. Still, many institutions hesitate to take a leap of faith and make those organizational changes. At the same time though, institutions are realizing that remote and hybrid learning is here to stay.

Using momentum from the pandemic can help institutions continue advancing their digital transformation efforts. Digital transformations can improve student experiences, improve staff productivity, reduce inefficiencies across departments, and increase staff collaboration. Let’s take a deeper look into each of these areas.

Better student experience

With incoming students being more technologically savvy than ever before, many universities realize the importance of meeting the expectations and needs of their students. In fact, according to the Higher Education Digital Experience Report 2022 conducted by Great State, “50% of students said that the quality of their university’s digital experience was a key factor involved in their choice of University,” while, “81% of them said that they would like their university to provide a digital experience that stays with them after they graduate.” Today’s prospective student population expects many aspects of their education and social life to be online or digital. Additionally, many students believe technology can better their overall student life, improve their academic learning abilities, and help them better connect with one another. As a university or college, the improvement of the student experience is a primary motivator for making changes and points to a huge benefit of digital transformation.

Improve productivity and reduce inefficiencies

In addition to integrating digital technology into your students’ experience, it is equally important to focus on your administrative processes. Tedious processes that require loads of time and effort are no fun for anyone. Your institution likely has several processes, and regardless of the size of your school, there are bound to be areas for improvement. Introducing digital technology into your administration’s workflows and processes can “free up resources for staff, empowering them to deliver services better and ultimately enhance the student experience,” as Times Higher Education states. As one of our customers, Diane Hausler, mentions during our interview with her, Cognito Forms has helped “[cut] the processing time in half just because I have everything in one spot, and I’m not going into different folders [looking for them].” Rather than viewing the further addition of digital technology into a university’s processes as cumbersome and unnecessary, it’s important to note that technology can reduce the burden of manual, repetitive tasks, allowing administrative staff to focus their efforts on being more collaborative and creative in their work.

Increase collaboration

From an administrative perspective, not only does technology help improve your experience and productivity, but it can also facilitate further communication within your team and help you keep track of different processes all at once. Say goodbye to sifting through files and files of papers or an inbox full of emails just to figure out what step a certain workflow is in or who oversees a process. Individuals in different roles can easily interact with each other all in one platform, without relying on a multitude of external platforms to accomplish one simple task. On the other hand, from an academic perspective, the use of technology can foster further collaboration between professors and students by building a stronger community throughout the university. As American University School of Education states, “Not only can teachers engage with students during lessons, but students can also communicate with each other.” At the end of the day, digital technology plays a huge role in cultivating a better, more engaging environment for students, professors, and administrative staff. The Higher Education Digital Experience Report 2022 says it best: “Remote [learning] doesn’t and shouldn’t mean isolated [learning].”


89% of higher education leaders agree that their institutions need to be more digital.

Online Forms with Workflow

Online form-building platforms with workflow capabilities can amplify your university’s digital transformation by giving you the ability to build custom forms to be used throughout various processes. You can use them to create student applications, event registrations, HR request forms, maintenance requests, online payments, and everything in between. The best form builders are intuitive and make it easy for anyone to build powerful solutions, regardless of their coding experience.

Workflow platforms help connect people to processes by improving the efficiency of repetitive and tedious tasks, freeing up your day for more impactful work. This could look like automatically receiving a notification email when an application is submitted or sending a PDF copy of a form submission to your cloud storage or database.

When you combine the benefits of a powerful form builder with workflow capabilities, you can create powerful solutions that meet your specific needs. You’re able to build custom forms that collect the exact data you need while also engaging the right people at the right time to interact with your data.

Cognito Forms - Easily Build Powerful Forms

Cognito Forms, combines these aspects together and can propel you forward in your digital transformation journey. Our product is easy enough for someone non-technical to quickly learn and use, yet robust enough for developers to build more in-depth solutions. We help you create more efficient data collection processes and improve the overall quality and organization of your data.

With Cognito Forms, there is no need to print, scan, attach, or retype anything. Simply open the form, fill out the information, click Submit, and everything is already stored or sent to where it needs to be. Even if you have a more complex Student Information System (SIS), you can use our data integration capabilities to send any data to whoever or wherever it needs to go.

We make it easy to build powerful solutions, from simple campus tour registrations all the way to comprehensive admissions applications. Creating forms to fit your exact needs is as simple as choosing the field you want, dragging it onto the form, and customizing the content. We’ve got everything you need to streamline your data collection process and even provide additional features to build more robust solutions.

You can use Cognito Forms within your department in so many ways, including, but not limited to:

Cognito Forms will transform your tedious, time-consuming paper processes into easy-to-use yet powerful online processes. We’ve also built several form templates that require no coding experience. Among these templates offered, there are many that have been professionally researched and intentionally built by staff here at Cognito Forms - using insights from customer interviews and usability tests. Read more about our process below.

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Our Research of Processes within Higher Education

Even though every college and university has its own individual needs, there are commonalities among the general processes being done. Some of these processes are very complex – which brings us to where our team comes in. To showcase the true power of our workflow capabilities, our team did extensive research to create templates for these complex processes. We sought to learn more about college and universities’ common processes so we could create meaningful and relevant templates that our customers can use to get up and running with their online forms and workflows quickly.

We spent an extensive amount of time exploring our higher education customers’ forms, processes, workflows, and everything they’re using our platform to accomplish. Our favorite part of our research process, though? The live, virtual interviews we conducted with customers who work in higher education – all the way from small community colleges to large state universities. These interviews gave us so much knowledge of the common processes taking place and the steps involved in each. We were able to personally interact with our customers to gain insights into what different college and university departments need and want from our platform. It’s especially exciting for us to involve our customers and have them play a role in the templates we create and release.

Leveraging this research, we now introduce our new research-based higher education templates. These aren’t your average form templates - they are backed by research with real customers. All while including powerful pre-built configurations and workflow automation features for processes common in the higher education industry. These innovative templates will help you reinvent your data collection and workflow with minimal effort.

Ways to Use Cognito Forms in Your University

Admissions applications

With today’s generation of students expecting to complete things digitally whenever possible, it’s a no-brainer that your admissions applications are a great area to focus on when working through your own digital transformation. Enrollment numbers can be affected by both the ease of applying and the overall enrollment journey – the admissions application often being one of the first steps in that journey. If your application is complicated, too complex to fill out, or if it isn’t intuitive for students to complete, you could be losing students along their enrollment journey by providing a frustrating, tedious experience.

First impressions are important and one way to make a more positive impression is by having a fully branded, easy-to-use admissions application. Simplify your enrollment process with an intuitive and efficient online admissions application and powerful workflow. Cognito Forms can help you streamline this process with:

  • Our Save & Resume feature that allows your applicants to come back to finish their submission at a later time.
  • A File Upload field to gather any necessary documentation from your applicants, such as high school transcripts.
  • Automated email notifications so your workflow runs smoothly with no communication getting left behind.
  • Data integrations so you can send information to your Student Information System (SIS) or email marketing platform.
Cognito Forms has become a part of my daily routine at work. I log in daily to check on all our different admissions forms to see what new tasks I need to complete.

Garett Inoue

Senior Associate Director of Admissions

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

How our customers have built admissions applications.

Cognito Forms is used for many different admissions-related forms - everything from the admissions application to forms for students to decline admission or submit their intent to enroll.

Many different community colleges, private universities, and public universities have created their undergraduate or graduate admissions applications using Cognito Forms. Several of these customers use Save & Resume to allow students to save their progress and return later to complete the application. File Upload fields are also used so students can upload their essays or other supporting documentation needed for admission. With our easy-to-use conditional logic, universities can show or hide fields depending on answers the student makes, creating a more personalized application experience for their prospective students.

In addition to admissions applications, Cognito Forms is also commonly used for other data collection points within admissions and the enrollment journey.

Garett Inoue, the Senior Associate Director of Admissions at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, has been using Cognito Forms since 2020. Their university offers both undergraduate and graduate programs to their 19,000+ enrolled students, so they needed an easily adaptable platform to create forms custom to their needs. When first looking for an online form builder, Garett stated, “We were very concerned about having data security and we knew [Cognito Forms] was going to be a secure product.”

Garett now uses Cognito Forms every day as he tracks several different processes connected to admissions and enrollment. In one specific form they use often, their admissions deferment form, the form’s Workflow is set up to “direct the email to the correct admissions officer based off the student’s last name. It’s getting automatically routed to the right person.”

Overall, Garett enjoys Cognito Forms and the platform has become a part of his daily work routines. “I use Cognito Forms on an everyday basis. Every day I log into Cognito Forms to check scholarship acceptances, declined admissions forms, and intent to enroll forms connected to their admissions applications. It allows me to, in one area, see what I need to do that day.”

Interested in revamping your admissions application?

If you need a robust, customizable admissions application - we’ve got you covered. Our advanced admissions application template includes an intuitive interface with a fully comprehensive set of questions already built for you. Many of those are also conditional – which enables you to create personalized application experiences for your students. This template also includes a centralized area for your admissions team to track processing tasks and communicate with one another regarding each submission.

With this template, you’ll be able to streamline your entire enrollment process from gathering completed applications, screening applicants, making admission decisions, and communicating everything with your applicants. Using Cognito Forms, you can create positive application experiences all within one easy-to-access location.


Advanced Admissions Application

  • Initial Application Review
  • Admissions Committee Voting
  • Final Decision Communication
Use this Template

Campus tour signups

Tours of your campus are often prospective students’ first steps on your campus and provide them with a first impression of their possible college experience. Tours give students the ability to immerse themselves in the campus and see first-hand what it would be like to attend your university. Most institutions understand the importance of campus tours and offer them on a regular basis. Whether you’re a community college, small private college, or large state university, campus tours likely happen frequently, which means a streamlined signup process is vital to your staff’s efficiency. Cognito Forms makes it easy to set up a campus tour reservation form that can:

  • Offer students the ability to cancel or reschedule their reservation directly within the form itself - no more calling your office to do so.
  • Loop parents or guardians into their student’s reservation so all email notifications get sent to them as well.
  • Automatically limit the number of students registering for each tour session, so you don’t need to worry about overbooking your tour guides.

How to use Cognito Forms for campus tour signups.

Meet Alli. She is the Assistant Director of Enrollment Services with Laramie County Community College. She’s been using Cognito Forms for the past five years in many different areas, such as campus tours, college orientation registrations, event signups, and more.

During our conversation with Alli, she talked about their unique individualized tour process and how they work to cater to each student’s tour with their area of academic interest. They have a dedicated staff member who takes all campus tour requests and uses the information within each submission to plan a unique tour experience for the student. This staff member contacts the faculty in the student’s area of interest to coordinate a time that works well for everyone, so Cognito Forms works well as the initial data collection to start this process.

Cognito Forms makes it easy for universities to collect prospective student information and engage multiple staff members in the same submission at the same time.

Revamp your campus tour signup process today.

Start your campus tours with our intuitive and pre-built campus tour reservation template. This template allows for quick and easy sign-ups, the option for students to add parents/guardians to be notified of the reservation, and the ability for attendees to cancel or reschedule within the form itself. It also includes Lookup fields that directly connect to a custom list of your college’s programs, so your list of available programs automatically gets updated as they change over time.


Campus Tour Reservation Form

  • Students can easily cancel or reschedule on their own
  • Automated Emails
  • Enforce Attendance Limits
Use this Template

College orientation registrations

Offering an orientation event “helps students learn more about college life and campus traditions,” as stated by U.S. News & World Report. Let’s focus on the first point of contact with orientations - the registrations. To provide students with the most seamless orientation programming, you need efficient processes for your orientation teams, student guides, advisors, and anyone else in your process to collaborate effectively. To help you achieve this, it’s important that all registrations are stored in a space anyone on the team can access, but you also need the right safeguards set up so everyone can only see the information pertinent to them.

Cognito Forms provides an easy and efficient platform for your orientation registration process - for both the students attending and your internal staff processing, planning, and hosting. Our platform enables you to:

  • Automatically draw your university’s programs list into your registration form using our Lookup fields, so you only need to update a single form when your list of available programs changes.
  • Initiate reminder emails, confirmation emails, and more with our email notifications, to bring in the right people at the right time.
  • Sort attendees by their session date or various other data points that are most helpful for your team using custom entry views.

Ready to get your students registered for orientation online?

Our college orientation registration template has been pre-built with fields to collect information that helps you plan needs-specific orientation sessions for your students. Meanwhile, the template also includes staff-only sections to help them track tasks that need to be completed during orientation preparation. You can even add a limit on how many students can register for each session and show an error message if someone tries to register for a session that is already full.


College Orientation Registration Form

  • Automated Emails
  • Conditional logic to create a personalized experience
  • Track orientation planning tasks
Use this Template

Scholarship applications

Scholarships are a very important source of financial aid for college students. Scholarship funds, which students often must apply for, can be used to cover a multitude of items such as tuition, supplies, university housing, and fees. In fact, according to the Education Data Initiative, scholarships and grants cover an average of $7,500 of annual academic costs per student.

To maximize your students’ access and ability to apply for scholarships, technology is an absolute must. Technology can help create more efficient application processes, decreasing the time it takes to complete and submit applications. In addition, according to Dr. Jasdeep Sidana with Scholarship for Future Doctors, technology can increase student access to online scholarship applications and resources and help streamline the overall recipient selection process for universities. Digitizing scholarship applications can also assist higher education institutions to further define and streamline their scholarship application processes, creating a hassle-free and efficient experience for both students and staff.

Cognito Forms makes it easy for you to get started with a digital scholarship application. Our platform can be built with a workflow that enables both students and scholarship committees to interact with the application efficiently. A few notable features include:

  • A thorough Workflow setup that reduces the need for outside communications amongst staff members and creates a streamlined process.
  • The use of a connected lookup form that you can update with all the scholarships your university offers so that those names get auto-populated in the application itself.
  • Automated email notifications with Workflow Link Sharing to alert the student when there is an update or to staff when a task needs to be completed.
I will continue to sing Cognito’s praises far and wide! It’s been a huge time saver and help to our institution.

Alli McCown

Assistant Director of Enrollment Services

Laramie County Community College

Real-life scholarship application examples

Meet Justine, the GEAR UP Manager at Laramie County Community College (LCCC). LCCC has been using Cognito Forms in various areas, including their GEAR UP Institutional Scholarship Application. GEAR UP is a federally funded grant program that assists 7th-12th graders with getting into college or pursuing other post-secondary education opportunities. Justine oversees this program’s grant and scholarship operations at LCCC and helps screen students to determine who could be a good fit for their scholarship.

During our conversation with Justine, we learned about how their scholarship application, built through Cognito Forms, has made it easy for them to efficiently collect student information all in one spot. Not only is it easier for their students to apply using a digital application rather than a paper form, but it is also easier for them to aggregate the data and use that to make an informed decision about each applicant.

Garett Inoue, another customer of ours, is the Senior Associate Director of Admissions at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. They currently use Cognito Forms for their New Warrior Scholarship, a high-achieving merit scholarship for incoming freshmen and select transfer students. After getting accepted into the university, students will typically receive an email with various scholarship opportunities, including a link to the New Warrior Scholarship Application. This application was previously provided by a third-party vendor, but the platform was difficult for the staff to navigate since they had to focus most of their efforts on updating content or retrieving documents, rather than focusing on the students themselves. Due to a couple of recent changes in their scholarship processes, they decided to move the scholarship application to Cognito Forms. This not only helps them better manage their content and documents internally but further streamlines the entire process for both students and staff.

Interested in revamping your scholarship applications?

To help you get started, we’ve created an advanced scholarship application that can easily be picked up and customized to fit your exact needs. This template not only includes a thorough scholarship application for a student to complete but it is also built with a holistic Workflow for the process as well. The Roles, Statuses, and Actions have already been set up for you, but you can modify the application to best suit your needs.


Advanced Scholarship Application

  • Initial Application Review
  • Automated Email Notifications
  • Final Decision Communication to Recipient
Use this Template

Course evaluations

Course evaluation forms are extremely useful for both students and professors. Students can share their honest feedback in a safe space, while professors can use that feedback to identify areas of improvement to foster a better student experience. According to Stanford’s advising department, course evaluations "help professors identify what is working in a particular course, and, perhaps even more importantly, what could use improvement.”

While we know the concepts of course evaluation forms and gathering feedback are important, the method in which you collect this information can also be extremely pivotal. Long gone are the days when you had to ask students to complete questionnaires on paper. Not only is this inefficient in terms of organization, but it is also extremely tedious to manually add up scores to make sense of the collected data. Digital course evaluation forms make it effortless to send out the form’s link in an email or embed it onto a web page. Additionally, using technology for your course evaluation forms enables you to aggregate your results more easily and draw insights and trends from them over time.

Cognito Forms enables you to digitize your course evaluation processes, making it easier for you and your students. With our platform, you’ll be able to:

  • Provide students with the ability to complete the form on the go.
  • Enable instructors to create completely anonymous forms to ensure a lack of bias.
  • Make it easy to set up a questionnaire-style form with our customizable Rating Scale fields.

Automate your course evaluation process today

Use our course evaluation form template to gather course feedback from students today. This template includes common course evaluation questions that can be answered using a Rating Scale that goes from “Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree.” Both the questions themselves and the scales can be easily adjusted to fit your institution’s evaluation standards.


Course Evaluation

  • Collect meaningful data using rating scales
  • Send automated emails
  • Easily gather anonymous feedback
Use this Template

Begin Your Digital Transformation Using Cognito Forms

Digitizing your higher education institution’s processes might feel overwhelming at first, but with the right tools to help guide you, it’s easy to gradually automate bits and pieces at a time. Cognito Forms’ intuitive no-code form builder and workflow capabilities make it easy for you to start automating your manual processes, reducing inefficiencies, and improving the experience for both your students and staff members. With Cognito Forms being a part of your digital transformation, you’ll find your university providing a better student experience, increasing productivity, and improving collaboration. Whether you have no technical expertise or are a seasoned developer, our powerful platform gives you the tools you need to build robust forms and workflows that boost your productivity.

Ready to transform your institution? Start your digital journey with us today!
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_Alli McCown Customer Photo_ by LCCC Marketing & Communications