by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
I recently conducted one of our effective on-campus admissions workshops for a college in the Northeast.
When it came to recapping their focus group research the most impactful discovery was that 85% of the students surveyed said the campus visit moved this particular school up, or to the top of their list. Despite those numbers, one of the school’s senior counselors wanted to discuss ways they could turn a great visit into an amazing one-of-a-kind visit, the kind that creates that “feeling” all recruits rely on to help them choose a college.
Let me ask each of you a question. “When’s the last time your admissions office took a step back and evaluated your campus visit?” Some of you might be saying to yourself, “Jeremy we haven’t had any complaints about our visits, so why spend time doing that?” A visit to your campus is number one on your prospect’s list for determining if your school is the right one for them. Our ongoing focus group research on campuses around the country indicates the face-to-face communication you have with a prospect will determine what kind of chances you have at securing their commitment to join your student body. Unfortunately, that same research also suggests that many schools are delivering virtually identical visits, and therefore not providing prospects with strong enough proof as to why their school is the right fit.
Lets back up for a minute. First and foremost, you have to give your prospects a reason to come to campus. It starts with your recruiting message. You must be telling a compelling enough story using a mix of communication that ultimately creates anticipation in their minds. Your prospects want to buy what you’re selling, but you need to give them a reason to do so. They will anticipate coming to campus if they’ve been given exciting peeks at what awaits them when they get there. This is an opportunity for you and your admissions staff to use creative thinking and paint them that picture.
O.k., back to auditing your campus visit. The first thing I encourage you to focus on has nothing to do with the tour route or your tour guide. During your walk across campus, look for things such as burnt out light bulbs, weeds, trash in stairwells and paint in need of touching up. We see little things such as these all the time when we participate in campus tours during workshops and client visits. If we see them, that means your recruits and their families notice them as well. They may seem minimal in the grand scheme of things, but I encourage you to reach out to your school’s physical plant and see if these small projects can be prioritized. The result will be more comments about your school’s “beautiful campus,” which again is something that contributes to creating that “feeling” for your recruits. The campus visit sets the tone for the rest of the recruiting process.
Now that you understand how critical every aspect of the campus visit is to successful recruiting, let’s discuss some common mistakes that colleges make when they’re hosting these visits. Keep in mind this feedback comes directly from our research with students just like those on your campus.
Too many scheduled meetings. The absolute worst thing you can do as a school is to cram as many meetings as possible into your prospect’s visit. All of that running around leads to exhaustion. Students can only take in and process so much information, so quality must be emphasized over quantity. They want to get a feel for how well they will fit in on your campus. A day full of meetings destroys that possibility. You need to carve out some down time for rest and self-exploration.
Non-Impactful meetings. I understand that certain departments at your school want to be involved in the campus visits. Here’s the problem. Students consistently tell us that sitting through a meeting with people they will likely never see again is a buzz kill. They become bored and never get a sense of how what’s being explained is beneficial to them. Most importantly, very few of these meetings factor into their final decision. One meeting I would however highly recommend you consistently block time for is with someone in your school’s career center. As the cost of higher education continues to rise, families want to know more about ROI (Return on investment).
The length of your campus tour. The average college campus tour lasts between 60 and 75 minutes. Our research, which again is feedback from students, consistently tells us this is too long. Make the time one day to join or follow a tour group and watch what happens after about 30 minutes. Students become uninterested and start to check their cell phones. Like it or not, that’s this generation of recruits. They have an extremely hard time staying focused, particularly after that first 30 minutes.
Your tour guide’s presentation. There’s two parts I want to address here. First off, your tour guides must be enthusiastic individuals who have no trouble engaging your prospects and their families. Delivering the campus tour in a dull, monotone voice is an immediate turn off. Furthermore the guide must be well educated on every part of campus, including any recent changes and additions. Finally, they must remember the importance of TMI. I’m referring to discussing social issues and personal experiences on campus that are irrelevant and inappropriate. The second key takeaway here is the worst thing your visit experience can offer a recruit is the exact same thing the last two visits they went on offered. Your tour guide’s talking points must be defined. If all they’re doing is talking about the renovation of this building, the history of that building, and so on, then that’s a problem.
Not highlighting the “why.” Every campus has the same things – dorms, a cafeteria, a place where students congregate, a library, etc. All of those things are great and they need to be highlighted, but not enough schools emphasize why each of those should matter to that specific recruit. Maybe your freshmen dorm room sizes are larger than most, or your cafeteria allows students once a week to fill up a container as full as possible with food and take it back to their dorms for later on. Wouldn’t it be worth pointing out why those things are beneficial? Doing so allows your prospect to visualize, and as we’ve stated many times previously, that’s another part of helping create that “feeling.”
No personal touches. In a previous article we discussed how personalization is the secret to increasing enrollment. You must incorporate personal touches and create a genuine welcoming environment for families. That goes for your prospect as well as mom and dad because we all know how important a role they ultimately play in their child’s decision. Welcome signs, parking spaces with their name on it, and providing background information to others who will be involved in the campus visit are good places to start. This is another chance for your counselors to be creative.
Letting them leave campus without telling them what’s next. Here’s something we see happen all the time. A school hits a home run during the campus visit. Everyone’s excited. Mom and dad along with their son or daughter get into the car and start the long drive home or to the airport. As they finish recapping the visit, the question of what’s next always arises. Too often the admissions staff doesn’t clearly lay out that next step for the recruit before they leave campus. We also advise clients to ask the prospect if they can see him or herself as a student on your campus. Failing to do one or both of these means you’re missing a giant opportunity for your school.
If your school has recently evaluated and addressed any campus visit issues, minor or major, I applaud you. Let me challenge you now not to be afraid to re-tweak things going forward. If you’re in the majority that hasn’t done so, start dissecting your visits now. Do not wait until next year. You can make easy changes quickly and effectively that will improve the overall experience for your current group of prospects.
It’s also a great idea to ask your tour guides for their input on the campus visits. Ask them what you should do more and less of. They’ve recently gone through the process and have a better feel for what today’s student wants.
Need help creating a campus experience that will allow your school to stand out from the competition? Invite us to conduct an on-campus workshop with your school in the New Year. We can help! Contact Jeremy directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.