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Configuration Portal Best Practices

Configuring your programs, branding, and custom content can be challenging. Here we offer suggestions on how you can advertise your program effectively and request additional information from applicants without overwhelming them.

Recommendations for Branding

The most effective branding images include an eye-catching image and your institution's branding. Ineffective branding images can be distracting, contain repetitive information (e.g., program name repeated with the already included program name and deadline), or have important parts of the image overlaid with the program name and deadline banner.

Poor Branding Image (information duplicated; text hard to read):


Good Branding Image (colorful, eye-catching image; clear institution and program name):


Recommendations for Instructions

Effective instructions are clear and concise. We also recommend including:

  • A brief overview of the institution, department, or program,
  • Clear, specific, numbered or bulleted instructions for applicants, including how to submit required items (e.g., GRE codes or international evaluations, where applicable), and
  • A brief profile of what successful applicants to this program from previous years look like.

Limit the content you provide to what's relevant to the application process. Including too much information may cause applicants to miss important details. Also, limit the number of hyperlinks you include. These take applicants away from the application. Instead, where possible, summarize the information you wish to convey on the homepage.

Poor Introductory Text (lengthy paragraph; too many hyperlinks):


Good Introductory Text (mission statement clear; bulleted points for applicant requirements):


Recommendations for Questions

When it comes to the number of questions you ask applicants, balance is important. Some programs have found that adding many questions may lead to a decrease in applications, as it requires more effort from applicants. Review your program questions and determine their importance in relation to your admissions process. Remove unnecessary questions that increase applicant effort to submit to your program.

Remember to update questions as necessary each cycle. If you ask any year-specific questions, make sure that your question and answer options are up-to-date.

If your program requires items that are optional on the core application, you can use the Questions area to prompt applicants to complete those items. For example, if your program requires three evaluations while the core application only requires two, you might ask, "We require a third evaluation. Have you submitted all three?"

Finally, if you have a required question that may not apply to all applicants, include an answer choice of “Not Applicable."

Poor Questions (duplicated questions from core application):


Good Questions (program-specific requirements):


Recommendations for Documents

When adding instructions to this page, only include instructions that deal with completing the Documents portion of the Program Materials section. Including requirements or information regarding documents collected in other areas of the application (e.g., the letters of reference collected in the core application) may confuse applicants. Broader instructions like these can be added to your branding page. Also, ensure that your instructions are clear and specific.

Applicants cannot submit their application until all of their required documents have been uploaded, so be selective of which documents you decide to make required. Requiring documents that may take greater effort to obtain (e.g., background check documents) can cause delays.

Poor Document Instructions (repetitive instructions; no directions for applicants):


Good Document Instructions (clear instructions on upload requirements for each Document type):


Recommendations for Prerequisites

There isn't an audit process that ensures the applicants have matched courses in the way you've asked them to, so provide as much guidance as needed to help avoid incorrect selections. Moreover, if your CAS uses verification, these applicant-matched prerequisites are not reviewed.

Don’t be overly specific with course numbers. For example, ANT 210 (for Anthropology) may not directly translate to a course the applicants have taken. Instead, use language like "Introduction to Anthropology."

If you want applicants to report laboratory courses, we recommend that you combine the class and laboratory as one prerequisite. For example, instead of requesting:

  • Introduction to Biology and
  • Introduction to Biology Laboratory,

You should request "Introduction to Biology with Lab." Applicants can select multiple courses for each prerequisite. This is also helpful if an applicant's transcript reports these as one course (i.e., Introduction to Biology with Lab), as the applicant won't either reselect the same course for both Introduction to Biology and Introduction to Biology Lab or leave one prerequisite blank.

Double-check that you've included all your desired prerequisites.

Poor Prerequisites (course prefixes used instead of generic course titles; separate prerequisites for labs):


Good Prerequisites (clear, generic course titles; labs combined with lecture courses):


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