Maximize Your Campus Visits
One of the ultimate victories for any admissions officer is when your prospects make that leap from computer screen to campus visit. They pick a date, you advise them on the best routes to take to campus from their location, and then you immediately fly into DEFCON 2 mode.
It’s not unwarranted to put a significant amount of effort into orchestrating campus visits down to the final millisecond—they’re often a make-or-break moment for prospective students.
What really makes up that ideal experience, though? While some of this might feel pretty obvious, it’s worth repeating. It’s ultimately the little things that can be the difference between someone who applies and someone who enrolls.
Best Foot Forward
No school is perfect and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks that there’s a single school among the 4,000 in the U.S. that is without some flaw. While misrepresenting your school isn’t a recommended practice, there’s nothing that says you have to include the least appealing building on campus in your guided tour.
This requires some planning, particularly when it comes to the routes your ambassadors will guide students and their families down. It can also extend further than that, including determining which season shows your campus in the best light and which programs offer the most charismatic welcome for guests.
Putting that best foot forward comes down to cosmetics more often than not. We all know how important the first view, the first handshake, the first greeting is. Survey the campus’ entrance, the parking lots, and the first buildings visitors experience. Beautifying these areas is a good way to ensure that their introduction to your campus is a positive one.
Remember that presentation isn’t limited to green grass, budding flowers, and trash-free streets—it also has to do with ease and convenience. Explicit signage is ideal for directing visitors’ to where they need to be. Signs should clearly direct students and their families to parking and your admissions office, all while feeling like a friendly addition to the campus.
You don’t know what you’re fighting against before the student and parents have arrived—rough flight, circuitous roads and wrong turns, a rude server they encountered at the McDonald’s when they picked up coffee. You can’t control any of that, but you can control their experience from the second they enter the campus.
Having a team of pleasant, presentable guides and admission officers wearing friendly smiles is a key part of cementing that good first impression.
The Greeting Team
While there are some aspects of your institution that can certainly speak for themselves, it’s imperative to have resources for the prospects and their families to use for support. Having an admissions counselor, student ambassadors, and a faculty member or two on-hand to answer questions is a good way to cover the bases.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that having someone with status greet visitors always feels flattering—the appearance of a Vice President/Dean/Director into the mix immediately gives the feel of a college that’s accessible. It might not always be possible, but it’s worth attempting.
Every college has their spiel—and that’s one of the problems. The application process can feel cold and distant. Getting students on campus is a great way to get them actually engaged with the process of choosing where they’ll spend the next four years of their lives.
As Steven Secura at Syracuse University discovered through close monitoring, a well-thought out campus visit elevated their yield rates significantly. In fact, of those who attended their “festive overnites,” 90% of them enrolled at the college.
Why? Because the ambassadors, admission counselors, and faculty members made the experience personal. Making the required presentation more of a meet-and-greet mixed with a storytelling event will do just that. Introduce yourself and your fellow greeters, give the overview for the day, and ditch the scripted speeches. Real people with real experiences are what sell your institution.
Training Ambassadors and Prepping Professors
Sending uncounseled students and professors into a flock of question-filled visitors is likely to end in disaster, which is what makes ambassador programs like the one created by Annette Jelinek at the University of St. Francis imperative.
Prospective students will likely feel comfortable asking current students questions that they wouldn’t ask adults, and, since the ambassadors are attaining their degree at the school, they can offer firsthand knowledge that feels genuine—with the proper training, of course!
When it comes to campus tours, try to retain that personal feel by pairing more than one ambassador if you have more than two families in a group. It’s hard to make a connection if there are too many people vying for your ambassador’s attention or too many questions being thrown his/her way. Utilize new faculty here, as well, by asking them to join the tours. Not only can they work as another resource, but they can also give feedback on the ambassadors, as well.
One of the common mistakes made is to not coach the professors as well as the students. Working with an already-enrolled student is an entirely different matter than convincing one to join that group. Keep a handy list of amicable professors in a variety of departments who love the institution and ply them with free cookies, sugary beverages, and maybe an adult drink or two afterwards, if it comes down to it.
Students really want to get face-to-face time with what maybe a prospective professor, mentor, and guide throughout their college existence. It’s important. In fact, it’s more important than having students sit through a class, if you ask some.
Loosen the Reins
There are a number of ways to create a truly impactful campus visit. A lot of them just require you to jump out of your comfort zone and just go for it. Very scientific, we know, but ultimately true.
Ask the prospective students what they do (and don’t) want to do. Make the visit a collaborative effort while still getting in what you need to.
Have two different presentations, one for students and one for their parents. It’s safe to say that they definitely are looking for different things, so why not give them two different shows?
Plan strategic lunches for casual conversation with current students and professors.
Utilize a hashtag campaign for the visit.
Make it personal and shine your institution in the best light. You never know what might seal the deal with a prospective student!