By Ethan Penland, Director of Admissions Services
4 minute read
I just returned from the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling (SACAC) annual conference, and many conversations I had or listened in on with individuals were on virtual information sessions and events. These discussions were mainly focused on the fact that admission counselors feel that virtual sessions are ineffective.
I will always be an advocate for in-person recruitment. I believe that the pandemic gave us a better understanding of the importance and power of human connection.
That said, I am not naive to believe that virtual recruitment was a fling during the pandemic. Instead, I carry the notion that it showed us that we have an untapped potential to reach students in a way we never thought possible.
So, if virtual is potentially here to stay, why do so many practitioners believe that virtual information sessions and events are under performing? Simply put, it comes down to the lack of intentionality. Too many institutions feel they have to host virtual information sessions. The best examples of virtual information sessions are being provided by schools who feel they get to make a difference by using virtual as a powerful tool to meet the needs of students.
Here are four reasons why your virtual sessions may not be performing as well as they potentially could, and what you can do to make them more effective:
The content is too generalized. The mistake I see when I visit college event web pages is that the only virtual offering available is a general information session. To be clear, you should offer virtual sessions about your school, but that shouldn’t be your only type of offering. A way to support why you need to diversify your offerings is to look and see if students are attending more than one virtual session. Are they attending just one or multiple information sessions? The likelihood is that they are only attending one. They have a general idea of you from you, but they probably feel that they could have found all of that information on the website. Instead, I encourage you to break your general information session down into specific topics so that you can create more intentional sessions that appeal to students differently. Instead of attending one session, now they have a reason to continue to return. Why? You’re now delivering intentional content that makes you a resource to the student. A few examples to help you brainstorm could be:
- What are the different types of college admission decisions (holistic, rolling, early decision, etc)
- How to make sense of a financial aid award letter
- How to write compelling essays for your application
These sessions can deliver information that students cannot easily find on your website, and because they are specific topics, it is difficult to be general when delivering content. That is what students are reporting to us when we ask them how they feel schools can deliver better virtual sessions.
It’s too focused on your school and not the student. This may sound counterintuitive, but this statement is extremely consistent in the survey responses that we collect. Students report that they feel they’re constantly being sold to during virtual events. Instead, similar to above, make the virtual sessions about helping them and not about selling your school – let your school be used as a supportive example and not the main topic of the session.
Your sessions are too long. It’s no secret that attention spans are short, but they’re especially shorter when virtual. According to the latest Tudor Collegiate Strategies and Niche data from our 2023 survey of high school juniors, the sweet spot is between 25 and 35 minutes. Interestingly enough, as students move through the admissions process, that time actually can get longer. But if you’re targeting prospects and inquiries, play it safe and trim down your offering to a digestible amount of time. Focus on delivering helpful information that causes students to take action and not fluff. This simple step will help cut down on your timing.
You’re not providing convenience. It is pretty shocking to see how many schools still offer virtual sessions in the middle of the school day. This was acceptable when everyone was home, but now you need to re-evaluate the timing of your sessions. This may take trial and error to find what is the most optimal time of day to offer, but the majority of students continue to tell us they prefer weekends in the afternoon, with the next most popular time being weekends in the morning.
Much of what I discussed is taken directly from what students share with us, but it is up to you and your institution to take what students are saying and create the opportunity for them to feel connected to you and your institution through a meaningful virtual experience. If you are able to embrace these perspectives and begin making changes, I am confident that your mindset towards virtual sessions and offerings will change in a positive way, and students will feel the same way, too.