Can you give us a brief history? What system were you using previously? How did you find Veracross and what convinced you to make the transition?
PETER: We started out with a homegrown FileMaker database that was developed in the mid-1990s. We tweaked it to suit our needs. It was used across departments with the exceptions of the Business Office and Development, which were both using Blackbaud. I had a hand in customizing the Admissions Office piece of this database and liked that I had control over the changes needed rather than outsourcing assistance or creating tickets with a vendor. Functionally, it worked for what it was at the time, but having so many cooks in the kitchen of data became nightmarish. Consistency was nonexistent and the data input was culturally unruly and hard to manage between offices.
JOANNE: Yes, there were definitely significant limitations and one of the biggest was the year-end rollover process. It was time consuming and difficult and essentially required the user to copy all files and rename them. Archiving was just terrible. That was one of the driving things pushing us to move to a new system.
PETER: We had a dream of the “one ring to rule them all” database that would function across all departments and unify our data. Additionally, during the years that we had been using FileMaker, we became aware of technical evolution that we didn’t have access to. Websites and data products had new features and capabilities, so we knew it was time to investigate our options. So, when a product called Veracross came in, I was willing to give audience and at least see a demo.
Can you tell us about the transition and the early years of using Veracross?
PETER: Well, there isn’t a school out there that will tell you they had an easy transition from one information system to another. It’s just a hard process. There’s a lot of work to be done and it can be overwhelming. Lucky for us, we had Joanne who really made it happen for us without significant issue.
JOANNE: We definitely had some early growing pains with the product, but unlike a lot of vendors where problems are brushed off or only framed as user error, Veracross listened to us. Not only did they listen, but they accepted our feedback and we saw it integrated into the evolution of the product. Truly, we came on board in the infancy of Veracross and the product has just been improving ever since. Specifically, we saw SSAT integration vastly improve based on our conversations.
What kept you with Veracross in the early days of the product?
PETER: I would say that Veracross had – and still has – a willingness to listen and to acknowledge issues. There were some significant things that needed improvement, but Veracross heard us and made adjustments.
JOANNE: We had a meeting with the senior leadership at Veracross, which felt like a turning point. They were very interested in learning what needed to be done and wanted to understand workflows. That was really promising. We felt like this was a true partnership rather than just a vendor relationship. Specifically, Veracross was very responsive concerning the admissions portal. In fact, the product as it stands, really reflects our direct feedback and that partnership we forged.
KELLY: Yes, even now when I look at the most recent update of the admissions portal, it has a whole new slate of customization abilities and options. These were things that we, and I’m sure other schools, wanted and Veracross responded to.
Kelly, what does your use of Veracross look like day-to-day?
KELLY: We’re working 100% in Veracross. The admissions cycle changes as the year goes on, so that focus shifts. For example, at the beginning of the year, I am spending significant time in the admissions calendar scheduling interviews. Once applications start rolling in, I move on to the application checklists and monitoring responses. Keeping track of student visas, running queries about the needs of our international students, pulling data for other staff, those kinds of items make up a lot of my workflows as well.
What makes the Veracross Admissions module uniquely helpful for Taft?
KELLY: I think one of the biggest benefits is the fact that the data is live, which enables us to pivot and respond swiftly and accurately. That responsiveness is helpful on our end as well as the student end. Changes made are immediately available and viewable. It’s a true hub. I would say that the biggest advantage is the customization options and the way we can pick and choose the data that we want to collect or the pieces we can turn off or leave out. In Veracross, each school can model their portal after their own unique workflows and data culture
Can you describe your communication workflow with applicants?
KELLY: We use the Composer feature for everything we possibly can because it’s such an easy tool to gather everyone that we need to communicate with in one place. We can grab the group and send really sleek and professional looking communication without additional effort. The students and guardians will get it at the same time and we can be confident in that delivery.
JOANNE: I think Composer has been the biggest boom for Admissions. It really changed the game and upped efficiency in a major way. The data and the communication are in the same place. That in itself is huge.
KELLY: The ability to design queries and merge fields, etc. has cut down on so much legwork and made it possible to easily create more complex communications. Our Resident Director was able to send out letters to accepted students with their housing information, room numbers, and roommate information just by pulling and merging student data into individual emails. That was huge! Every student got the information at the same time. It was just great.
Are there other Veracross features that the admissions office finds particularly valuable?
JOANNE: For me, it’s the ability to be completely paperless. All the data is there.
KELLY: Yes, the record is robust and consistent, so we don’t need to house paper files anymore. Even when items come in hardcopy, we just scan them into the Files section. All information has a home.
JOANNE: And the connection between our positive experience and the parent/student user experience being positive as well, that’s major. The ability for users to move through the whole process online – from application to enrollment is a massive benefit and guardians really enjoy that.
KELLY: I would also add that the ability for users to just switch tabs to various portals has been a source of a lot of positive feedback. If a parent already has a student in the school, they can toggle back and forth between application for a new student and managing a current student’s account. That has a lot of value.
What would you say to a school considering Veracross?
PETER: Well, I firstly caution anyone considering a new database that the work will be intense. There are significant change pains. But I truly find the robustness of the system worth the effort. The ability to get information, sort it in a variety of ways, communicate with consistency across departments, I’m very pleased. I’m convinced there is not a better product out there.
JOANNE: I can personally vouch that the amount of office staff work reduced since switching to Veracross is significant. That’s been a really big thing for us. A huge benefit.
KELLY: I would happily vouch for Veracross to anyone interested. The system saves me time on a daily basis and the team behind it stands apart from any other I’ve worked with before. It’s a partnership that has simplified my workflow and lessened stress even in the busiest times. Choosing a school information system is a big decision and our Admissions department is all the better for choosing Veracross.