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Keeping Pace with TechnologyThe Graduate School

The Challenge: Updating a Worldwide Application System

Applications for Penn State’s graduate programs come from around the world. Prospective students apply for over 150 different programs.  The Graduate School needed to make this system accessible, and able to provide timely responses, worldwide.  They then needed to update the system to keep up with changing technology opportunities, expectations, and requirements.

The Solution: GRADS and the Online Application Process

The Graduate School first addressed this issue in 1999, when the need for an online application was identified. At that time, an electronic application that would download information into the Integrated Student Information System (ISIS) was developed. At the same time, the graduate admission process was decentralized: individual program offices would review applications while the Graduate School coordinated the process and ensured that applicants met certain standards. In conjunction with decentralization, GRADS, the Graduate Admissions Decision System, was developed. GRADS allowed graduate program staff to view electronic applications, download applicant data into their own program databases, and work with the data. Changes to information in GRADS were instantly updated in ISIS.

An Example of Continuous Improvement at Penn State

1999: GRADS and first graduate online and downloadable (pdf) applications developed
2001: Paper graduate application discontinued
2007: Downloadable graduate application discontinued
2008: Second generation online graduate application developed

As a result of these initiatives, The Graduate School stopped using a paper application in 2001, and discontinued an online downloadable application in 2007. Minor changes to the online application were made as needed. The number of paper applications declined from 15,806 in 1999 to 9,439 when they were discontinued in 2001. While downloadable applications in pdf format were available, they were not widely used in place of the paper applications. In the same time frame, online applications rose from 702 in 1999 to 7,046 in 2001 and to 17,515 in 2005. Additionally, while the total number of applications grew, the size of the staff in the Graduate Enrollment Services Office remained about the same. Jobs shifted from data entry to tasks such as reviewing foreign school transcripts.

Indicative of the impact technology has had on this and other processes in the past decade, in 1999, online applications represented 4.1% of the total received. In 2007, they were 96.1%. But by 2007, advances in technology, expectations, and security requirements required major revisions to the original online application.

Screenprint of applicationIn 2008, a new version of the online application made possible: prospective students uploading documents required in the application process, such as a resume and writing sample; references uploading recommendation letters; and secure processing of the application fee via credit card and e-checks. Also, program staff can customize questions on the application to reflect their specific program, and view a digital portfolio of the application materials. The team continues to meet regularly to review system performance and identify components of the next phase of the online application process.


For more information about the online Graduate School Application for Admission, visit or contact Cindy Nicosia ( or Chris Brown (

March 2009
Regina Vasilatos-Younken
Regina Vasilatos-Younken,
Senior Associate Dean, The Graduate School
"The new online Graduate Application is a dynamic interface ..."more

   Regina Vasilatos-Younken

Team Co-chairs:
   Chris Brown
   Cindy Nicosia

   Heather Duty
   Marilyn Engle
   Judy Evok
   Jodi Johnson
   Dmitry Podkuiko

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