Prospective students receive dozens and dozens of messages across multiple methods of communication from colleges and universities. The message is the same. “Visit us, and you will see what makes us different.”
The physical campus visit does what media messages, pictures, phone calls, virtual and online tours, etc., cannot do: it allows the student to feel what kind of a fit your college could be for them. Because the campus visit gives prospective students a glimpse of their possible future community, you want to ensure it’s a personal experience.
While you cannot appeal to each student’s every desire and whim, there are steps you can take to create the best experience possible.
Remember, you only have one chance to make a (good) first impression. Surely, you have heard this quote, or some variation of it, throughout your life. It’s incredibly true when relating to the campus visit experience.
Even before your potential student arrives, perceptions are forming. How was the ease of the registration experience? Did visitors receive timely and ample information about what to expect while they are on campus? Did you provide directions that led them to campus in a way that also displays your city and makes them feel excited about your school before their tour begins?
Think about the physical space where your prospective students come to start their visit experience. Is it welcoming and inviting? Do they know they are at your institution the moment they walk through your doors? How are they greeted and checked in for their visit? What are they given once they check in? If it’s just a packet of information, is it unique to what other colleges are giving their visitors? Give students a gift or memento that will help them be identified by the campus community that they are a visitor as well as make the student feel special (remember that they’ll remember how you made them feel). Items can be as simple as a nametag and lanyard with the institution’s colors and logo, a pre-made button, a water bottle with the university’s identification, or something specific to your college or city’s history or what you’re renowned for.
During the time your prospective students and their families are on your campus, have a plan for engagement. Familiarize yourself with prospective students before their arrival. Where are they from?
What high school do they attend? What’s their current major? What sort of activities are they involved in? Use the information to tailor the visit. Once they arrive, ask questions and share your plan. Discover what is important to them and adjust when needed. Be intentional and proactive in the visit. See if you can arrange for them to meet with a professor or sit in on a class of their desired major. Select a tour guide from their hometown or high school to give them their campus tour. Find out what activities will be occurring on campus the day of their visit and invite the prospective student to attend.
A great way to engage students during their visit is to tie in components of social media. Social media plays a key role in the recruitment of today’s student, so use it to your advantage during the campus visit. Make the experience memorable and exciting, so that prospective students want to showcase your campus to their friends on social media. Stage a “social media” area, either somewhere within your campus (perhaps a picturesque view or well-known locale) or at your Welcome Center, for students to take selfies with the swag items they collected during their time on your campus. Give students a particular hashtag so that when they post their experience of your campus to your friends, you too will be able to track and see how those messages are going out across social media platforms.
Last but not least, your university’s best assets for creating the campus visit are your tour guides. I cannot stress this enough. These current students of your institution will “make or break” the experience for the prospective student. Ensure they will “make” the visit by spending time and resources in training tour guides to have knowledge of your institution and understand the basic admissions requirements (should your tour guides be housed under the umbrellas of the Admissions office). Train guides to be storytellers because prospective students and their families often prefer to hear about an institution from a current student.
Investing time and resources to training your guides to improve the tour for prospective students and their families. It also helps you stand out when families compare different campus experiences and choose where they will apply. Again, students will most remember how you made them feel while they were visiting your campus, so be sure to make a positive first impression. Make them feel special, make them feel welcomed, and most importantly, make them feel that they are already part of the university’s family.
Assistant Director of Admissions and Welcome Center Coordinator
East Tennessee State University
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