By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
You and I both know how important the campus visit is for this generation of students. In many cases, it’s the make or break moment when your school moves up the list or falls out of contention.
All of our ongoing research at Tudor Collegiate Strategies (and that of many others in the higher ed industry) continues to show that the campus visit is where feelings are developed and connections are made that students ultimately use to help them make their final decision.
Now, let me give you some data from our work with colleges and universities across the country that may surprise you. Over the past year, 55.1% of incoming freshmen students have told us that during the college search process they only visited between 1 and 3 schools. And that percentage creeps even higher (into the low to mid 60’s) when only considering schools located in a small town or rural area.
What it all means is this – Time is at a premium for both adults and young people today. Everybody has bigger “to-do lists” and more things that they view as important to them.
Even though a campus visit would seem to be a logical and important step in the process for prospective students, we’re finding that colleges now more than ever need to make a stronger case. Just being the local college or the big name school in a state that sends out communications encouraging students to visit doesn’t consistently produce the same yield it once did.
We continue to find that many of your prospects want and need to understand WHY you want them to become a part of your campus community and HOW your school will help them transition and “fit in” so seamlessly.
Statements about a school being the “right fit” for a student get thrown around all the time. Having the academic major that a student is interested in will get their attention, but there needs to be a more detailed discussion for many to justify why they should spend their time and money traveling to your campus instead of a competitor’s.
I want you to ask yourself and your colleagues this question – Have you given your prospects a reason to visit your campus? Again, other than you being interested in them and having a campus that you think is awesome and they’d be crazy not to want to visit, what have you really given them?
Your prospects need a reason that is solidified in their mind – either one that they came up with on their own or a picture that you and your school have painted for them over a period of time. For example, if a student is interested in the Engineering program at your school, how are the classes your school offers them and the faculty that will teach them different than your competitors? What kind of a future as an Engineering graduate holding your degree will they have? If you can help define things like this for students, things that they can’t necessarily find or see on your website, it creates more excitement and curiosity.
Let’s take things a step further. How else are you going to lay the foundation for a campus visit? Consistent messaging that tells stories, gets them to visualize, and creates anticipation is without question helpful. The same can be said for building trust and cultivating the recruiting relationship over time. In fact, from the scenarios we’ve tracked involving clients that we’re helping increase campus visits, asking for a visit too soon in the college search process is something that isn’t recommended. You have to be a little patient, let that recruiting relationship build, and then ask. Otherwise you run the risk of “visit, visit, visit” becoming unnerving and overwhelming for your prospect. And, by the way, developing a recruiting relationship doesn’t have to take months if you’re using some of the strategies that I’ve discussed in previous articles.
I want to share one more thing that our ongoing focus group research has uncovered. A big motivating factor in many prospect’s decision to visit campus was the idea that there was something important to talk about, or they were going to experience something big and unique during their visit. That means you need to really focus on the idea of selling a personalized experience where both the student and their parents will have the opportunity to sit down face to face with people that can help walk them through why your school is the “right fit,” how it can be affordable, and how coming there will help prepare them for the next phase of their life.
Quite simply, what many of your prospects need is what we all need to prompt action from time to time: A “because.”
If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your colleagues and friends. And as always, thank you for your time and attention!
P.S. After the campus visit is over, do you know how to determine whether your school moved up the list or is about to fall out of contention? Here’s your answer.