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Berklee College of Music Takes Admissions on the Road with iPads

Managing the data that's generated by 300 domestic and 30 overseas talent auditions daily is a monumental task for Berklee College of Music's admissions staff. At any given time the college has 80 faculty and 40 staff members on the road interviewing and auditioning roughly 7,000 promising musicians annually around the world. Up until two years ago the group lugged around laptops that stored the input, comments, and decisions, then later fed information into the Boston-based school's Filemaker Go database.

The laptops served their purpose for the six teams of Berklee College of Music recruiters, according to Damien Bracken, dean of admissions, but the machines were heavy, didn't always boot up and run quickly and were cumbersome to transport through airport security lines. And because all of the prospective students' assessments and credentials had to be fed into a single, centralized database, handling the process manually wasn't an option.

"It got to point where lugging laptops around was a major inconvenience for us," said Bracken. When Apple introduced the first iPad in January 2010, and when Filemaker Go for iPad was released that July, the admission team's pain points were solved. Berklee College of Music purchased 20 of the devices and distributed them to its traveling team of recruiters.

"We did it out of practicality," Bracken said. "With a solid program in place for data collection--and with this new, portable device on the market--it just made sense to go in that direction." Other arguments in favor of moving to an iPad-based admissions system included the tablet's small size, light weight, and the fact that the devices don't have to be separated from luggage for airport screenings.

Bracken said recruiters use the iPads to capture student audition/interview information (using either the on-screen or a remote keyboard), store it in their mobile databases, upload it to the cloud-based system, and sync the gathered information with the central database. The tablets are also used for student check-in--a process that's also managed through the school's database setup.

Bracken said being able to manage the data behind hundreds of international auditions on a small, portable device has made life easier for Berklee College of Music's recruiting team. "We can capture a full picture of the student's performance and his or her strengths and upload all of the information to our home base in Boston at the end of the interview," Bracken described, "all on a small, lightweight device that's much easier to transport than a laptop."

The tablets also help the school's recruiters meet tight decision deadlines. That achievement isn't always easy to reach in light of the huge number of students that must be evaluated within a short timeframe every year. "The sheer volume of prospects sometimes hampers our ability to get those decisions out on time," said Bracken. "Being able to review audition information from a continent away, and on a portable device, has definitely helped streamline our process."

Berklee School of Music's move to an iPad-centric admissions process hasn't been without some challenges. Using the on-screen keyboard can be cumbersome, for example, and often requires double entry to ensure that the information being typed is accurate. "We'll be in the middle of typing and realize that the words are all jumbled," said Bracken, whose iPad wish list includes a device-compatible mouse. "If Apple would solve the mouse issue, adapting to the iPad would be much easier for our recruiters."

To alleviate that problem Bracken said the school has invested in a dozen remote keyboards that recruiters use to ensure accuracy and speed when typing in feedback, audition notes, and interview comments. He said the devices have also helped Berklee College of Music to maintain its "cool, hip" image.

"We get a lot of comments from students and parents when we pull out our iPads during auditions or check-in," said Bracken. "Using this type of technology is good for our image and consistent with our long-time reputation for being ahead of the curve."

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