The Curse of Knowledge with the Admissions Process

The closer we become to something, the easier it is to assume others similarly understand that subject or process.

By Steve App, Campus Sonar Business Development Manager

If I were to ask you or someone from your admissions team if prospective students generally understood the application process at your institution, you would almost certainly say yes, right? In fact, I’d be willing to bet that those of you reading this who are closest to the admissions or enrollment management department would be most likely to answer yes.

The closer we become to a subject or process, the easier it becomes to assume that others similarly understand that subject or process. This phenomenon is known as the “curse of knowledge,” and I find that it’s a common occurrence within organizations. I know I’ve fallen victim to this way of thinking. 

I found myself thinking about the curse of knowledge a few weeks back when I came across this tweet from a prospective student asking what he should do after submitting his application. “Do I wait for an email telling me what to do?” he asks.

Image of a tweet asking, "I have a question please help. I have applied to the University of X yesterday. What should I do now? Do I wait for an email telling me what to do?"

What struck me about this tweet was its simplicity. This wasn’t a question about how to impress an alumni interviewer, who to ask for a letter or recommendation, or the effect of applying to an institution without an intended major. This was a question about the entire process at its core. I submitted my application. Now what?

It would be easy to assume that students know what happens after they submit their application, but perhaps that’s a false assumption. Maybe we’re giving them too much credit. Or maybe we’re not making critical information easy enough to find and understand. Whatever the reason behind the lack of understanding, one thing is clear: if we fail to listen to our audience, we risk failing them when they need our help.