By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
If I asked you to rate the information session that your college offers as a part of your campus visit on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is amazing and 1 is not very good), what number would you tell me?
During my travels this summer, I asked that question to various admission counselors, directors, and campus visit coordinators. What I found interesting was that most of the numbers the directors and campus visit coordinators gave me were between 7 and 8.5. Counselors, on the other hand, the ones who often lead these sessions, generally rated it between a 6 and a 7.
The bigger question is, what do prospective students and parents think of these information sessions?
I’ve read more critical feedback the past 6 to 12 months than ever before. Too many colleges are failing to differentiate themselves with these sessions that have been described as “immensely boring,” “extremely repetitive” and “the Power Point presentation of doom.” Those are direct quotes made by parents and students that I pulled from recent newspaper and blog articles.
Add it all up, and it’s clear that more attention and discussion about the topic is needed on a lot of campuses…especially considering what we know about the campus visit and the role it plays in a student’s final decision.
Today, I’m going to share some ideas on how these information sessions can provide more value to students and parents.
- Shorten it. Some information sessions last as long or even longer than the college’s walking tour of campus. If this is the first thing a prospective student and their parent(s) do when they arrive on your campus, what kind of first impression and excitement is it creating? Keeping people in a room or your gymnasium with a bunch of strangers and no bathroom breaks for an extended period of time is a bad idea.
- Spend the first few minutes creating rapport. Remember, most if not all of the people in the room don’t know each other and probably don’t know the counselor of whoever is giving the presentation. Spend the first few minutes calming their nerves by outlining the agenda and touching on the college search process as a whole (and how it’s hard, confusing, and at times scary). Validate those things and let them know that the goal of everyone on your campus today is to help each family walk away with a clearer picture of not just your college, but also the college search process as a whole.
- Incorporate social media into your presentation. According to the latest Pew Research Center statistics, 95% of Americans own a cell phone of some kind, and for 77% of them, it’s a Smartphone. The numbers are even higher when just looking at young people. If just about every single visitor to your campus has a phone and can’t put it down for an extended duration of time, why not incorporate some audience participation into your presentation…turn it into a unique contest with prizes. Keep in mind that what a student finds interesting and what a parent feels is helpful aren’t necessarily one in the same.
- Update your topics. Thanks to the internet and social media, less and less students and parents are coming to your campus for the first time knowing little to nothing about some of the “basics” of your college – academic majors, location, financial aid and the application process. When you repeat some or all of this information verbatim from Power Point slides it quickly becomes boring and offers no explanation of what really makes your college unique and different from your competitors. If you want to get and keep the attention of your visitors, namely the students, give them more information about things you know they’re thinking about but don’t want to say. Consider talking about fear and how your school helps new students adjust both academically and socially. Explain how to go about finding external scholarships to help offset the cost of college. Have a current freshman speak about what it means to live with a roommate. Have an upperclassmen talk about how your college is helping prepare him/her for a successful career after graduation. Have a parent of a current student touch on how the financial aid and admissions staff at your college helped make the entire process less stressful for their family. There’s no reason to wait until an admitted student day to have these discussions and create these interactions. Furthermore, I would argue there’s value in splitting up prospects and their parents for a short time and speaking on different topics with both groups…and then you reconvene.
- More storytelling by your speakers. The reason students and parents tell us they feel information sessions are completely scripted is because they usually are. Most counselors, tour guides, and other guest speakers need to be taught how to become better storytellers. Encouraging them to contribute personal examples is great, but not everyone knows how to turn an event or situation into an impactful story. Explaining the importance of visualization, especially when it comes to things the student or parent is about to see and do during your walking tour throughout campus is also important.
- Create 1-on-1 opportunities for families to ask questions specific to them. Believe me when I say every single student and family has questions. Many just don’t feel comfortable putting things out there in front of another family or group of families also visiting your college. Create individual situations for those questions to be answered by an admissions counselor or tour guide during the visit versus asking if anyone has questions towards the end of the information session like every other college does.
- Give them a quick break. Incorporate about 10 minutes in between the end of the information session and the beginning of the walking tour around campus. Offer your visitors a snack, a beverage, and the chance to use the restroom. It’s something little that has paid big dividends for our clients who have implemented it.
Are you already doing one or more of the 7 things I just recommended? Has it been beneficial? Whether the answer is yes or no, I’d love to hear about it if you’re willing to share. Drop me a quick email by clicking this link: firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoy the rest of your day!