Thousands of college undergraduates around the U.S. are about to enter the next phases of their lives as they graduate. When August rolls around, those freshmen will continue their educational careers. Every student must send out applications to gain acceptance into the school of their choice. What they may not realize is just how large a role cloud computing plays in the application process. Students may also be unaware of how the cloud simplifies such an important process.

No more paper
Believe it or not, there used to be a time applications required the sending of paper, according to IBNLive contributor Yogesh Agarwal. Years ago, applicants would gather piles of paper and had to ensure the application, high school transcripts, essays, test scores, medical information and any other requirements were all accounted for.

Application process is sped up
Virtually all universities and smaller schools design and utilize an application portal. This system simplifies and increases the application process as much as possible by providing guidance through each step. Gone are the days of high school students having to hand deliver an application and the accompanying documents because everything is stored in a manageable database.

The portals, typically hosted on a dedicated infrastructure as a service platform, are also convenient. Applicants are able to start filling in required fields and if need be, save their progress and finish the process at a later time. Within many portals are other helpful instances applicants might take for granted, such as spell checker and tuition calculator.

Data storage and the cloud
Applications are not the only area where colleges implement cloud based services. According to EdTech Magazine, the cloud offers an advantage to storing the vast amounts of data from applications. High school students are increasingly applying to a growing list of colleges. For current high school seniors graduating in 2015, The New York Times said students submit an average of 10 applications. Twenty applications is now starting to be normal in some areas. With an increasing list of applications comes an increase in application materials. Some colleges and programs require extra material, such as videos and design portfolios.

The continuous growth of applications dictates colleges have more than adequate storage. A strong cloud provider should be flexible when college IT departments need more storage. For instance, the storage may be scaled up during peak application season then reduced after the deadline passes.

Applicants' data needs to protected
A number of colleges have seen sensitive student data leak due to data breaches. Student information from Auburn University was leaked in March 2015 and accessible for nearly four weeks. The University of Chicago was hit one month prior and Social Security numbers, employee identification numbers, student addresses and emails were all leaked. These attacks have highlighted the need for a strong, secure cloud platform. Gerry Santoro, a Penn State University associate professor of the Information Sciences and Technology department, cautioned that universities typically store sensitive data on local servers and have not really thought about all the places data is stored.

"Many universities can locate personal information and get it off local computers, but there are still pieces they have not been found, and those are the ones hackers find," added Santoro​, according to USA Today.

The cloud helps protect data because college IT departments are not handling that aspect of server security, as the cloud provider is. IT staffs already have much to handle, and the slightest error can lead to a breach. A cloud provider will take some of that pressure off by alleviating security worries.

Colleges and the hybrid cloud
Pepperdine University may be leading the charge for more universities to implement a hybrid cloud solution. The school's senior director of IT administration, Gerard Flynn, told EdTech Magazine contributor Calvin Hennick how the university would back up encrypted data on external hard drives for data recovery. These drives were often sitting in a storage closet collecting dust. A college's admissions review process can take weeks or months and would be crippled if a disaster occurred and data was lost with no proper recovery methods.

Many managed service providers offer a disaster recovery plan to ensure data can be restored easily. The hybrid cloud factors in because some colleges do not to totally move away from on-site legacy systems, Hennick said. As it stands, 50 percent of colleges use a hybrid model for data storage, according to a study conducted by CIO Executive Council.