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Märt Aro, Co-founder, DreamApply

Launched in 2011, Estonian-based DreamApply is an admission management system that is gaining popularity with universities and governments across Europe. We sit down with co-founder Märt Aro to hear about how the system works and could be used as the national admissions platform for countries across Europe.

The PIE: Tell us about your background? How did you get involved in the industry?

Often universities think that recruitment ends with creating the offer letter, but it’s not true

MA: In 2000, I studied in Belgium because I was interested in the language and culture but really I learned about Estonian culture and myself and what’s important to me. At the time I was working in youth organisations focused on complimentary education but I had no idea how to make money out of it. After my experience in Belgium I felt studying abroad was something everyone should do.

“I studied in Belgium because I was interested in the language and culture but really I learned about Estonian culture and myself”

At the end of 2004 I was approached by a Danish university to help with their marketing so that’s when I established my first company.

The PIE: How did the idea of DreamApply come about?

MA: After a few years marketing for universities we developed our own CRM to manage all the students who were interested in studying abroad which ended up being the first prototype. Quite soon we saw that the biggest problem for the universities isn’t having good quality marketing campaigns, it’s interacting with the students in a proper way. In 2008 we started to prepare the system for universities. We were already familiar with the admissions in more than 100 universities thanks to our marketing background and we dedicated thousands of research hours to develop a streamlined system.

The PIE: So, DreamApply is a student admission platform but how does it work?

MA: We focus on the moment the student becomes interested in the university until the moment they step in the door, so we try to help universities process all areas of admissions. In the broad picture we’re helping with communications management, marketing management, admissions and enrolments management and third party management.

In our annual feedback meeting with Helsinki University they said they had 50% less administration work than the previous year thanks to the system we built for them.

The PIE: And how many partners do you have now?

MA: We have 82 systems running on the DreamApply platform.

The PIE: And because you’re an Estonian company, I assume more of your clients are from Eastern Europe?

MA: Mostly in Eastern Europe yes, but our most northern client is Helsinki University and from the West we have universities in Greece, Austria and Turkey.

The PIE: Tell me about how the platform helps students.

MA: Students need all the information nicely streamlined in one place and in the right sized package. If you give them too little information then they can’t make their decisions, if they get too much it’s overwhelming and they give up. We did a lot of research into what kind of information students needs to get in which stage of admission.

“If you’re a university who really wants to be international, but you fail three to five times along any of these contact points it’s very likely the student won’t come to you”

The PIE: How does the platform facilitate communications?

MA: Admissions people are overwhelmed by all kinds of things coming in to them starting with documents landing at different times and they need to somehow put them into the right folders. In a very normal process there can be 27 contact points but it can be even more in case the student has problems. This is all done as much as possible automatically.

The PIE: What types of contact does that include?

MA: They might ask for more information about a programme, then they might ask about costs and scholarships, then how to apply. Individually the questions are very simple and you don’t spend much time on each one but if you look at the whole package that needs to be gone through with each student it’s a lot of work.

If you’re a university who really wants to be international, but you fail three to five times along any of these contact points it’s very likely the student won’t come to you. Often universities think that recruitment ends with creating the offer letter, but it’s not true. After the offer letter you still need to keep in touch with the student to make sure they don’t feel deserted. It’s so obvious but so many universities fail to acknowledge what a normal human interaction should be.

The PIE: Do you think that’s because of a lack of resources or they really don’t know?

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