Chatbots: allies of students and applicants
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Whether it is to get an information, make an appointment or fill in some paperwork, students send emails or call the administrative staff of their university on a regular basis. These numerous requests sometimes lead to longer response times as the university’s administration office needs to answer each student separately, devoting them a lot of time when they could be focusing on other more complicated tasks. In addition, many applicants or future students seeking information tend to contact the administration office thus making the list of people to respond to even longer. Yet, many of these queries are repetitive from one student to another and from one candidate to another.
A chatbot is a conversational robot programmed to instantly reply to users’ questions. Chatbots can answer simple questions as well as complex ones. They sometimes enable support team members to choose to handle the conversation themselves if the chatbot is unable to answer its users’ questions, to find an information or to solve a problem for them. Implementing a chatbot into the different communication channels of a university’s administrative service (e.g. a website, a mailbox, etc.) can help dealing with repetitive questions from students and candidates by automating most answers. It is also worth noting that, according to a study conducted by Gartner, millennials prefer speaking to a chatbot and obtaining instantaneous answers to their questions, than speaking to a human interlocutor and having to wait for their reply. In this context, there are multiple use cases for a chatbot. Let’s explore some of them.
Answering students questions
As the year goes by, students’ queries evolve a lot. For example, in September, many students have questions concerning their schedules. In April, however, they are more focused on their final exams and on finding an internship. As a consequence, a chatbot specifically designed to support university students should be able to answer a great number of questions and to cover a wide range of topics.
Use case n°1 - Schedules and academic calendar
At the beginning of the academic year, many students have questions concerning their schedules and courses. Some ask to be transferred in a different study group when others want to switch university courses. Implementing a chatbot which would give access to their schedule to each student would allow them to better organise their daily work and therefore to be more efficient. Similarly, students need to have access to the academic calendar at any time all year long to be able to organise their academic year and be aware of the dates of the final exams.
Use case n°2 - Contacting the administrative staff or a professor
Even though a chatbot should be able to answer most queries, it will not succeed in handling the most complex requests. It is essential for students to still be able to directly contact and make an appointment with a member of the administrative staff. The chatbot therefore needs to communicate the opening hours, email and phone number of the administration office. This same chatbot could also help students find one of their professors’ contact information in case they need an information concerning the course, the assignments or the final exams.
Use case n°3 - Career hub
Many students are preoccupied with finding an internship, a student job or a first employment. It is therefore interesting to integrate a link to the university’s career center in the chatbot. Adding the possibility to contact and make an appointment with a careers counsellor could also be very useful.
Use case n°4 - International students and exchange
Some students do not speak at all, or at least do not speak very well, the language of the country they are studying in. Attending university in a different country can be very disarming and one might start to feel lonely. Offering these students the possibility to use the chatbot in the language they are most comfortable with could help them a lot. When they are away from home, in an unfamiliar environment, having a chatbot in various languages would make them feel supported and understood all along their studies or academic exchange. Similarly, this chatbot could help students willing to go abroad by providing them with information about exchange programmes, partner universities, living and studying abroad, and the contact information of the international mobility office.
Answering applicants questions
Each year, during the enrolment period, universities’ administrative staff receive a wide amount of emails and calls from applicants and future students. The implementation of a chatbot in a university would not only free up staff time, but also help reduce the concern of applicants and future students by providing them with instant and around-the-clock assistance.
Use case n°1 - Simple questions and information request
A chatbot can easily answer basic questions. Multiple example scenarios can be entered in the chatbot in order for it to be able to answer a wide range of questions such as: “How many student societies are there?”, “What is the campus like?” or “When can I send my application form?”. Depending on the questions, the chatbot can either give a direct answer or re-direct the applicants to an internal web page or external website with the information they are looking for. This type of chatbot can answer applicants’ main questions and cover many topics: applications, scholarship, campus, student societies, sports facilities, etc. When the chatbot is unable to answer the applicant’s question, it redirects the user toward a member of the university’s administrative staff for them to personally handle the request. Many candidates would also most certainly welcome the opportunity to be able to contact a student ambassador to ask them questions about student life in general.
Use case n°2 - Applying to university and searching for an accommodation
A chatbot could also help with two major sources of stress for most applicants, namely: applying to university and finding a student accommodation. Firstly, the chatbot could answer multiple questions concerning the different steps of an application. By being connected to one of the university’s API, the chatbot could also allow applicants to follow their application status 24 hours a day. When it comes to finding a student accommodation, a chatbot could recommend housing search websites, as well as student housings depending on a few criteria entered by the applicants.
To conclude, implementing a chatbot into a university’ administrative service can only be beneficial. It will not only free up staff time by automating repetitive tasks, but also answer questions of students and applicants. Nevertheless, it is essential for students and applicants to still be able to directly contact a member of the administrative staff when their answer is complex or they couldn’t find the information or help they were looking for. In the future, could chatbots be implemented in other university departments such as libraries and cafeterias in order to provide valuable help to students and free up staff time?