by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Application and admit numbers are up over last year. That’s what I’ve been getting told this winter from a lot of admissions/EM leaders.
The excitement seems to quickly get replaced, though, with cautious optimism.
At the end of the day, they know what you and I both know. Conversion (yield) is the number that matters the most.
So, what’s your school’s plan as we enter the home stretch with this next class of students? More specifically, how are you going to make sure your admitted student day (ASD) events pay off?
More and more I’m hearing admitted students describe these events just like they describe a lot of college communications and campus visits – they all look and sound very similar. Admitted students get to sit through a bunch of meetings, namely ones about academics, financial aid, and orientation; they meet a few staff members and current students; they tour campus; they eat lunch; and then they go home and try to make sense of what was a six to eight-hour whirlwind.
A growing problem students and parents tell us is many of these events have become so big that it unfortunately leads to a less personalized feel.
So, let me ask you the same question again but in a different way. What’s your school’s plan to make sure that your admitted student day event doesn’t mirror everybody else’s, AND doesn’t feel so big that students (some of whom are still undecided) walk away feeling frustrated and/or confused? This generation wants and needs to see, hear, and feel something different. And they want the focus to be more on them as an individual student/family.
Armed with that knowledge, today I want to offer you eight key things to think about as you and your admissions staff colleagues discuss upcoming on-campus ASD events.
- The first 30 minutes. The start of your event can make or break the rest of the day. What kind of initial feeling is your school creating from the time a student/family parks their vehicle, to when they check-in, to when your welcome session or first block begins? It needs to be a smooth, low-pressure process that’s welcoming and gets them excited about what they’re about to experience.
- Weekends are fine, but what about weekdays? Most colleges have their admitted student day events on a Saturday. How many students and families are you missing an opportunity with because that doesn’t fit their schedule? Consider adding a weekday offering. It won’t appeal to everyone, but if I told you that making this option available could result in another 3, 5, or even 10 students enrolling, what would you say?
- Figure out your biggest problem. Building on the last bullet point, have you ever asked yourself what the most annoying/frustrating part of your admitted student day event is for your admits and their families? Maybe it’s your parking situation, or lack thereof. Maybe your campus is hard to navigate. Whatever “it” is, become a problem solver on behalf of your audience. And if you’re not sure what “it” is, I would argue that trying to get that information via a post-event survey isn’t a great strategy. Instead, consider social listening (i.e. searching social media to see what students and others said/thought). Social listening can provide actionable insight. If you’re looking for help in that area, check out what our friends over at Campus Sonar are doing.
- Give them information sessions that are different. Academic breakout sessions, talking about financial aid, and learning how to register for housing/classes are important. I’m not arguing any of that. However, when you have admitted students who still don’t know if it will be easy or hard to “fit” into your campus community, I strongly encourage you to go a little deeper in these sessions. For example, when it comes to those academic meetings, what kind of opportunities for true engagement are you creating between your admits and your faculty? Developing a level of comfort with a faculty member who may actually teach them at some point is a big positive. And what about offering a session for students that focuses on the freshmen experience (or transfer experience) and what your school does to help new students acclimate both academically and socially. A topic like that one is on the minds of most students, so why not alleviate some of their fears and take the mystery away.
- Separate the student and their parent(s). I’ve talked in previous articles about the importance of doing this at some point during the campus visit. The same value exists during an admitted student day. You need to create an unforgettable experience for everybody. Again, one of the biggest things that every single student wants is a “feeling” of fitting in. It’s hard to make that happen if the only student interaction they have is with their tour guide or with a student panel. The more current students they meet and have an actual conversation with (outside of a scheduled session), the greater the chance that they’ll connect on a personal level. Being able to ask questions of current students without mom, dad or an admission staffer around can give them that. I’ll even go so far as to tell you that allocating some time during your event where your admitted students literally do nothing but “hang out” with your current students will be a positive. On the parent side, make sure financial aid isn’t the only topic you cover in detail. Consider more in-depth discussions on topics like safety, academic advising, and outcomes.
- Create an emotional moment or connection. When it happens, that moment or connection is something that a student will remember when they make their final decision. Are you creating an atmosphere during your ASD that makes an emotional moment or connection possible? Here are three quick examples that I’ve seen work on different campuses. The school President has the students and families over to his or her house to play games and socialize not only with him or her, but other people in the community such as recent graduates and influential business leaders; A carnival type party with various activities and competitions, food trucks, a DJ, and more; An interactive family feud type event.
- Strategic 1-on-1 time with an admissions counselor. Allotting specific time for an individual meeting between a student/family (especially any undecided students) and their admissions counselor (or at worst an admissions staff member) is critical. And just to be clear, I’m not referring to small talk that occurs throughout the day. Now, from a time standpoint I understand that it’s highly unlikely you’ll meet 1-on-1 with every student/family that attends your ASD. It’s about being strategic. Some need extra love and attention from you more than others. Do you know who they are?
- Remind them they’re a priority, and ask them if they’re ready to commit/deposit. In my article last week I talked about “closing” and how you can make it less stressful. Click that link if you missed it or want a quick refresher. A lot of counselors continue to assume that once a student has been admitted it’s obvious how much their school wants them. That isn’t always the case. They need to hear it again…now more than ever, actually. If you’ve built a relationship with a student/parent(s) and you know that the student has all the information they need (both from your school and other colleges still being considered) to make an informed decision, go ahead and ask them if they’re ready to submit their deposit/commit/become a (insert your school mascot’s name). How you ask is up to you. I just want to make sure that you ask. Please keep in mind, though, that if you haven’t consistently communicated with the student, and you don’t have a feel for their timeline, then the student may not be ready to be asked.
Admitted student day events are a key component of the college recruitment cycle. Consider having a discussion in your office about one or more of these ideas today.
If you have a question about today’s article, go ahead and email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org