By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Last month I shared the results of how 31,000 high school seniors were feeling about their college search. The massive survey project that we partnered with Niche on produced some pretty eye opening feedback.
Along with those insights, I provided a number of recommendations on what you could do now as you work to put together this next class of students. If you missed all of that, you can check it out here.
Part of the survey included asking seniors to expand on their feelings and thoughts about things like how they’ve adjusted their college search due to COVID-19, the different fears and anxiety they have, and advice for improving the whole virtual experience – events, info sessions, and tours.
As I’ve been digging through more than 1,400 pages of qualitative feedback, a number of important themes have emerged that I want you to be aware of. My hope is you’ll take this information and make it part of your recruiting conversations, as well as your virtual event planning.
- As a result of COVID-19, this group of high school seniors has been looking at, and in many cases applying or considering applying to, more colleges that are closer to home. Let’s talk about why. Besides not having to go far to return home next fall if they had to do online learning, a lot of students are also thinking about the what-ifs. What if I get sick, or what if I have to help with a family member who becomes ill.
- Seniors are also paying close attention to how the students and faculty at colleges they’re considering are feeling about, and responding to, various COVID-19 related restrictions and rules – including how schools are handling their on-campus COVID testing. In the words of one student, “Colleges that have handled it gracefully seem more appealing because I know they can take action to keep me safe.” It’s crucial that you and your colleagues are prepared to talk about this topic, not just with students, but also parents and other family members.
- More students this year are saying they will wait to visit colleges and universities until they see where they get accepted.
- Every year I bring up the importance of asking and talking about fear. That’s because 92% of students are feeling fear or anxiety right now – the biggest of which include not being able to afford the college they want, and making the wrong decision. Another increasing fear to keep in mind is the fear of not getting accepted. Getting “rejected” as seniors call it is also a contributing factor to lower application numbers right now. Students are worried their essay and/or list of accomplishments and activities won’t be strong enough, so they’re hitting the pause button on applying.
- Other fears that students are starting to talk more about include not choosing the right major, whether their degree will actually get them the job they want after graduation, and fear of not being able to keep up with college course work. Talking about fear in a way that feels personal and feels like you’re being sympathetic to their situation is always a smart strategy. Here’s more on how you can do that.
- If you want more students to attend your virtual event, a chance to earn another scholarship or receive a visit scholarship would significantly motivate them. Seniors are also more likely to participate if they receive an application fee waiver, fee waiver code, some other prize, or a personal invite from their admissions counselor.
- Students offered all kinds of suggestions when it comes to improving your virtual event/visit experience. Let’s focus on your pre-event planning, outreach and format. Besides a personal invite that explains why/how attending the event will benefit them, highlight in your email, text, or postcard how long your event will last. And remember, shorter is almost always better in their minds. According to our survey research, 79% of students aren’t willing to participate in a virtual event that lasts longer than 45 minutes.
- Consider adding a spot on the registration form where a student can tell you the number one question they have about your school or the college search process in general. Take those questions submitted beforehand and have current students or an admissions counselor answer the most common ones during your event.
- Talk to your presenters about the importance of being energetic, enthusiastic, and excited. Students immediately notice a lack of energy and it’s one of their biggest frustrations.
- In previous articles I’ve encouraged you to segment your virtual events based on a student’s stage, the academic program they’re interested in, or groups such as out-of-state students and first-generation students. Smaller, more segmented events allow students to make connections with other students who have similar interests and backgrounds. Those connections are something this senior class is really missing due to COVID-19. And here’s one more reason to keep your events smaller –students tell us they’d be more willing to ask in person questions rather than “in the chat box” when it’s a smaller group.
- Speaking of Q&A, I would even encourage you to consider a virtual event that features no PowerPoint slides and nothing but Q&A with a few current students and/or an admissions counselor or two.
- Student life/activities, financial aid, and dorms/housing were the top three things students want to learn about most during a college or university’s virtual event or virtual information session. Would it surprise you to know that a lot of students want you to talk about the food on campus as well as other eating options nearby? They’re definitely curious about the menus and meal plans your school offers. And when it comes to scholarships and how those can bring down the cost of the college, this senior class told us it’s annoying when a college brushes over outside scholarships by telling them to contact their high school guidance office. They want you to help them understand how to find other scholarship resources online and in their local community.
- Building off that last bullet point, when it comes to your dorms/housing, students strongly prefer a live walking tour done by a current student versus a pre-recorded video or pictures. Seeing everything in real time gives them a better feel for your campus environment. You could even do a live tour that uses interactive polls as a way to engage attendees and allow them to pick where the tour goes next.
- It’s also important that your virtual information session/event has some built in discussion from current students as to why they chose to apply. Prospective students want a clearer understanding of what makes your college or university unique and how things like your classes, professors, or campus atmosphere are different. Repeating the same generalized facts and figures that are on your school’s website and in the various brochures you send isn’t helpful. In the words of one senior, “Don’t just focus on admissions process. Explain what makes your college different because most admissions counselors say very similar things. Why would I choose this college over another similar one?”
If this article was helpful, go ahead and forward it to someone else on your campus who you think might also benefit from reading it.
And if you’re interested in more articles like this with tips and strategies you can use right away, you can find them here in our Admissions BLOG.