12 College Experiences that Can Be Improved with a Mobile App

College student using an iPad.

Although it’s been several years since I graduated from college, I recently wrapped up my Master’s degree, and was surprised to find that many of the processes that I found confusing and aggravating as an undergrad hadn’t changed much in the years since graduation.

Switching between email and messaging apps, fighting for appointments with advisors, and remembering multiple system logins are just a few of the little inconveniences that made me think to myself, “There has to be a better way to do this.”

It’s not surprising that 94% of college-aged students own a smartphone, and the percentage of students who use their phones 6-10 hours a day has increased from 35% to 40%. Why not put some of that time in front of a smartphone screen to good use by streamlining more of the college experience?

Here are 12 elements of university life that can be improved by the introduction of native mobile applications:

1.Class scheduling

Anyone who has had to register for classes within the past few years will remember how stressful it was to research class descriptions, identify your registration requirements, remember your registration appointments, and snag a spot in the popular classes that all of your friends were taking.

Building scheduling functionality for a mobile application forces institutions to simplify the user experience, which can be confusing for new and returning students alike.

A mobile schedule-building interface complete with registration and waitlist notifications can also be used to manage RSVPs for club meetings, fitness center classes, on-campus concerts, and speaking engagements.

2. Grades

Even though I was in my late twenties when I attended grad school, I still found myself anxiously logging in to my student account multiple times a day to check out my grades at the end of the semester.

Having a central resource on my phone that would not only notify me when my grades had been posted, but also allow me to see what those grades are would be reason enough for me to download my university’s app and keep it on my home screen for the duration of my program.

3. Academic advising

For those of us with popular majors, academic advising appointments were pretty hard to come by, even if you just needed a few questions answered.

Adding live chat capabilities to an application will allow students to use mobile messaging (a feature they’re currently leveraging more than email) to get the answers they need faster than if they waited for an appointment.

4. Mobile payments

Even in 2017, to pay an invoice from my student account, I had to visit one system to find out my bill was due, another to view my balance, another to verify my payment method, and yet another to process my payment. None of this could be done from my phone.

Removing as much friction from the payment process as possible will increase on-time payments, reduce costs by eliminating postage for paper bills, and make students’ lives easier to manage.

5. Public safety

I’m not proud to admit it, but there were times when I should have called for an escort home from the library late at night when I just...didn’t. Looking up contact information, making a phone call, and waiting for an indeterminate amount of time made the whole process a daunting and inconvenient.

Over 75% of college-aged students prefer text over talk. Instead of forcing a generation of students who hates making phone calls to do so, put available safety resources into a centralized mobile app, where assistance can be requested via mobile message.

Furthermore, in the case of a public safety emergency or a weather-related closure, a push notification is going to be read faster (and by more students) than an email, as less than ¼ of all emails are opened within an hour of delivery.

6. Navigation

The mobile campus tour is but one of the ways that institutions can leverage location-based mobile technology.

For instance, when I was an undergrad, I knew where all of my classes were, but I didn’t discover my favorite running trail or the cool concert venue down the street until my senior year. Help students, visitors, and alumni explore local landmarks, find parking, and navigate their commutes by incorporating these features into an interactive map.

7. Course reviews

Although most evaluations are conducted via the web, online course evaluations actually have a lower response rate than paper ones.

By moving these evaluations into a mobile application, however, students can complete them wherever they are (even in class!), instructors can trigger push notifications (instead of email reminders) to increase response rates, and administrators can deliver incentives (bookstore coupons, local business discounts, etc.) in one centralized location.

8. Career center communication

Again, real-time alerts and instant communication capabilities are what make this content a better fit for a mobile app than a static website.

Notifications when an employer is visiting campus and mock video chat interviews are just a few ways to encourage students to engage more with their career centers.

9. Housing 

Offering both on-campus and off-campus search capabilities from a mobile device can be a tremendous way to add value and build trust with students.

Facilitating roommate connections and furniture swaps are other housing-related pain points that can be addressed with in-app searches, messaging, and payment options.

10. Textbook order and delivery

According to a US Public Interest Research Group study, 65% of college students have foregone purchasing a textbook for a class, despite the fact that 94% of those students were concerned that not making the purchase would hurt their grade.

Populating an app with a list of required material and integrating with textbook rental sites addresses both the convenience and the cost factors that prevent students from preparing adequately for class.

11. Athletics and events

Turning collegiate sports scores, news updates, and schedules into push notifications for fans is a great way to engage community members, students, and alumni, wherever they are in the world.

Beyond sports, however, collegiate events like graduation and new student orientation are desperately in need of a centralized source of information. Coordinating thousands of students, families, and faculty members is much easier when the information they need is available in one place and is sending alerts in real time.

12. Identification

19% of college students lose their ID cards every year, which means that these students not only have to pay to replace them, but they also may be going without access to dining halls, fitness centers, libraries, and more while they’re waiting.

Eliminating the need for the physical ID card can be a huge competitive advantage for tech-minded universities, and with mobile payment integrations, can also encourage students to patronize more on-campus businesses.

Regardless of who your target audience is, customer-centric design is key when approaching a mobile development project. What makes life difficult for students, employees, and alumni today could be an opportunity to set your institution apart in the future.