by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
“I stepped foot on campus and turned to my mother and said I am coming here.” That statement appeared on one of our recent client recruiting surveys in response to a question about the impact of campus visits.
Our ongoing focus group research on campuses around the country indicates that the “feel” of campus, and how the admissions staff treats a prospect during the visit rank atop the list of fifteen different factors in terms of influencing enrollment. That same research also suggests that while some schools are experimenting with new campus tour strategies, many colleges and universities continue to deliver virtually identical visits.
With the competition to attract prospective students at an all time high, you can’t afford not to sit down as a staff and brainstorm new ways to make your campus visits the most effective ever.
Before we discuss some strategies that can make your tour memorable, create those all-important feelings, and maximize the time your prospect and his or her family members spend on your campus, I have an important question to ask you: “Is your admissions team clearly and consistently giving recruits a reason to visit your campus?” You being interested in them and having a campus for them to come spend the day at isn’t enough anymore. Further proof of that comes from our research over the past year. According to our recruiting surveys, most prospects are visiting between 2-4 schools.
In addition to giving them a reason to visit campus, here are 8 other strategies that we’ve seen turn good visits into amazing, one-of-a-kind visits…the kind that result in recruits saying things like the opening sentence of this article.
- Make the planning of their visit more collaborative. Most schools dictate the campus visit itinerary from start to finish. Try a different approach. Let your prospects be a part of the planning process. Ask them ahead of time what they’d like to do, and what they wouldn’t. If you let them feel like they’ve helped design the visit, it should result in them feeling a little more relaxed when they arrive on campus.
- Minimize group tours. Your prospects have told us that an individual tour where the focus is on them and what they want is a big indicator of a college’s real interest in them. Regardless of your school’s size, you can and should aim for greater personal attention.
- Double up and then divide. Some colleges have student led tours while other schools use the admissions staff. Our recommendation, which is something we’re seeing more schools do successfully, is to double up. By that I mean have both a current student (ideally a freshman) and an admissions counselor begin the tour together. Not too long into the campus visit, find a way to separate the prospect from their parents. It doesn’t have to be for more than a few minutes. The reason is simple: When you separate the two parties, both are free to speak their minds. Parents can ask questions that they might not normally ask around their son or daughter. We’ve also seen situations where the parents offer usable, actionable information that will help increase a school’s chances of enrolling that recruit. Recruits on the other hand can relax and be themselves around their peers instead of awkwardly deferring to over-eager parents who gladly jump in to answer the question that you just tried to direct to their son or daughter.
- Student interaction is extremely important. Our research indicates that one of the most powerful weapons you have as a recruiter is one that a lot of schools choose to bypass during a prospect’s visit: Casual, relaxed “hang out” time with your current students. I’m talking about time outside of the tour that is non-structured where your recruit and a few of your underclassmen can just sit and talk. No counselors, no parents, no structure. Trust me, it works. Oh, and if you’re wondering what to do with the parents during this “down time,” how about organizing a discussion on a topic that parents ask about most: safety.
- Make lunch strategic. We’ve talked before about scheduling too many meetings during the campus visit as well as what I refer to as “non-impactful” meetings. Generally speaking neither works, nor do they factor heavily into the prospect’s final decision. If you want to execute an even more effective tour, invite that professor or staff member to join you at lunch. Instead of just sending the recruit and his or her family to campus dining, make lunch strategic. We’ve had clients do this with great results.
- Provide something of real, concrete value. This is going to be defined differently by each of you. There’s no right or wrong definition of “value.” I want you to come up with something that you can give your visiting recruits (and their parents) that adds value. Maybe it’s a one-on-one meeting with your school President or a successful alumnus working in the field of study your prospect is interested in. What about an information session on money management. Be creative, and if you still get stuck, ask your current students for their thoughts.
- Set up selfie opportunities. Come up with a prize to give your prospects after they take and post a campus selfie on Instagram or Twitter. Be sure and come up with a hashtag campaign ahead of time so other prospective students can experience those real, authentic moments.
- Don’t forget to ask the right questions AFTER the visit. More and more admissions counselors are beginning to realize the importance of effective questioning after their prospect visits campus. What you say to them in the first week after they visit, and the information you ask them, can not only help set you apart from your competition, but it can deliver some of the best information possible from your recruit during this critical point in the recruiting process. For example, you could ask your prospect, “Do you feel like there’s something you’re going to try and pay attention to better on your visit to another school?”
Want more specific strategies that will make your campus recruiting visits stand out from the competition? Part of our expanded workshop includes a student designed campus visit overhaul. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.