By Ethan Penland, Director of Admissions Services
5 minute read
Jeremy and I continue to receive a steady stream of questions surrounding admitted student events. Whether it’s discussing who should be involved, what the structure should be, or what the programming should look like, colleges remain eager about hosting them.
Perhaps this eagerness involves the fact that more schools are gaining the ability to host them in person for the first time in a couple of years. For others, it could very well be that this is a new concept and recruitment tactic. And, for a few others, these events are a make-or-break opportunity for meeting their enrollment goals.
Regardless of the reasons, anyone having an admitted student event wants to make a good impression and make it a meaningful experience for prospective students and their families. With that in mind, here are a few strategies to consider as you’re building or redefining your admitted student events:
Be more engaging and less informative – Let’s say there’s a movie that you’re excited to see. You go to the theater, grab your popcorn, snacks, and soda. You sit down, excited to watch the film, but out walks an aisle attendant in front of the big screen and begins telling you information about the plot line of the movie, how and where it was shot, how it ends, and if you can expect a sequel. They end up speaking the entire time that you were supposed to be watching the movie. Not as exciting as watching the movie, huh? You expected to engage with the movie, not to be informed about it.
The same idea applies to your admitted student events. These students are excited to be there–to engage with different people from your school. Sharing information is necessary to some degree, but it should not be their entire experience. If students are listening more than engaging at your events, go back to the drawing board to identify ways for them to engage with other prospective students, current students, and other staff members.
Give them concurrent options – Not every student is interested in learning or experiencing the same things or even needs to learn or experience the same things at your events. So, why would you not create opportunities for them to discover what they want? To a degree, think of it as a conference. You have particular sessions you are eager to attend and others you could care less about. Students are similar in that fashion, and by you providing options for them to self-select, it feels more personalized.
Parents need their own space – I have been saying for a while that the college search process is just as much of an experience for the parent(s) as it is for their child. An admitted event should acknowledge that. Give them their own sessions for engagement or information. There are two major reasons for this: First, parents want to consume information tailored for them, plain and simple. And second, if you have programming tailored for parents and students are having to sit through it with them, the student will mentally check out. Separate the parents from the students for those reasons, but also consider this. Separating them in the programming is a soft lead-in into the parents entrusting you with their student once they finally arrive on campus in the fall.
Real experiences with real people – While parents have their own programming, give the students something they are wanting–real conversations or experiences with real students. We know that Gen Z is more likely to be motivated or influenced by authenticity than that of hype, so give them space and opportunities to have real conversations or experiences. For example, instead of catering a lunch for everyone, have a current student go eat with a group of prospective students in the dining hall during the lunch. Give them time to talk and authentically experience what it would be like to eat on campus with real students.
A central place for next steps – Okay, so your programming is going super well, and during a session or event, a student decides your institution is the place for them. Do you have an identified area that they can take action on the next steps or confirm/deposit? Whether you have this already or if you add it in, make sure you set the expectation early that they can come and complete the next steps at any point in the day. The area needs to be very visible, encouraged to be visited, and reminded to the students and parents throughout the day.
Celebrate when they act – When students decide to submit their deposit or complete the next steps, what happens next? It can vary for everyone, but there needs to be a moment of celebration. Some schools have those students ring a bell, sign a banner or wall, or get something that’s branded. Regardless of what you do, make sure you celebrate the student AND their families. Why this is so important is because the celebration becomes a lasting memory for the student and family. Furthermore, if other students and families see the celebration, they will want to have that same experience. By doing this, you create real-life influencers.
Capture and share moments – The big swing and miss by schools is they do not capture the moments throughout the events. Why is that important? If you capture real moments from these events, you can share them in future communications and on social media. Students love seeing authentic moments, and students will be motivated to attend future events.
I recognize a lot of time and effort goes into making these events happen on your campus. I also recognize that your team wants to offer the best experience possible for admitted students and their families. That is why I encourage you take time to think about the tips and topics above and to reflect on if your events are designed in a way that is meeting the needs of your admitted students when it comes to having the best experience.
If you have any questions about this article, or if you would like to have a conversation about anything mentioned, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you found this article helpful, and someone on your team or network could benefit from the read, please pass it along!