Online Admissions Solutions: Build or Buy?

October 8, 2020

It happens all the time. You (or your colleagues) have identified a software need at your school, and you need to decide whether to build it yourself or buy it from a software vendor. As 2020 progresses, and the need for virtual solutions grows, many schools are opting to move their enrollments process online. A simple task, right?

At Digistorm, we work with over 500 schools around Australia, New Zealand, the US, the UK and Asia and have seen many of them make the switch to online enrollments. There are huge benefits to having an online process — paperless administration, a better user experience for parents, and the list goes on — however implementing one can be a headache. The biggest dilemma most IT departments face when looking at online enrollments is whether to build their own system or to purchase one from a third-party (like Digistorm). 

In this post, we look at the top four considerations when you're deciding whether to build or buy your school's online enrollments solution. Read on to make your choice!



The first thing you'll need to consider is what will need to be included in your online enrollments solution. Will a simple online form that asks the prospective parent all the necessary questions suffice? For most schools in 2020, this is not the case. 

Here are some of the basic features that most admissions teams are looking for in their online enrollments solution:

  1. Some form of secure data storage, with the ability for different team members to access the data.
  2. The ability to assign weighting to different attributes to the application, such as 'sibling in school' or 'parent is a staff member'  — this is also known as lead scoring.
  3. The ability for prospective parents to upload any necessary documents directly within the form.
  4. Email reminders to finish completing the form, with an email confirmation that it has been submitted.
  5. The ability to transfer enrollment data directly into your Student Management System.
  6. Online fee payments that integrate with your school's bank.
  7. The ability to save and return to the form at another time.

In order to truly understand the scope of the form, you will need to work together with your enrollment team to find out which features they need for the form to be truly effective for them.



The next consideration on your list will be the amount you'll pay to build the enrollment solution, compared to the cost to licence a third-party software. In some cases, building may appear significantly cheaper. You don't have to pay any setup or licensing costs, so straight off the bat, building can feel like a pretty desirable option... until you factor in the cost of your own time to build and maintain the system, as well as other potential costs, such as hosting and data storage. 

On the other hand, software licensing costs can grow steeply alongside your usage. For example, your costs may be calculated by the amount of data you use, or the number of administrator licences you register for. You might also be charged significant fees to make small changes to your software. Many companies (including Digistorm) offer tiered pricing and support packages. This ensures you know exactly how much you will need to pay each year for your solution.



When you build, you are committing a significant number of man-hours to the project, which will need to be factored into your workload. You will also need to account for delays — software builds are often incredibly difficult to estimate accurately — and plan for contingencies to keep your school going while they wait.  As Scalyr mentions, "When projects take longer to finish, you're stuck spending more and more money before the application is even ready for use."

Software vendors often commit to timeframes and offer you implementation solutions to get the project up and running as quickly as possible. This doesn't mean that there won't be delays, or that you can sit back and wait for the magic to happen — not at all. Often you will need your own team to guide the implementation process, as well as complete training on how to manage it. 



Risk is a huge area of concern when it comes to enrollment systems — particularly as you are managing incredibly sensitive student data, including contact and medical information. In order to mitigate risk, you have two options:

  1. Build your enrollments system yourself, following data security best practices
  2. Thoroughly vet any third-parties about their security procedures. 

We've written extensively about both approaches in our post, 5 Strategies to Improve Data Security at Your School. At Digistorm, we certainly encourage any clients who are considering choosing us to set up and host their enrollments system to ask us the hard questions about:

  • Data collection, storage and protection
  • Managing access levels 
  • Who can gain access to your data.


The verdict

As with most Digistorm posts, there is no clear winner when it comes to the build vs. buy debate. It all comes down to your school's unique situation, your goals and your resources. If you do decide to purchase an online enrollments solution that is customized to your school, consider talking to the Digistorm sales team about Funnel. We offer an all-in-one enrollments management system that nurtures prospective families through to enrollment. 

If you're looking for more resources about online enrollments, check out these posts on the Digistorm blog: