In a matter of weeks, ambitious high school seniors went from campus tours, meeting enrollment counsellors, and anticipating their freshman year college experience — to making an almost overnight pivot of our new “shelter in place” norm due to COVID-19. Not being able to see friends in person, navigating how to complete high school courses remotely, and dealing with their senior year traditions of prom and graduation being postponed — and in some cases cancelled completely. Many seniors are in shock and may be rethinking their college selection.
Enrollment offices are scrambling to try to salvage their 2020 entering class and fall enrollment. Challenges around waiving test requirements for admissions, changing institutional start dates, and deciding whether or not traditional coursework will resume are keeping some administrators up at night.
It is definitely an uncertain time, but there are still opportunities to be a good steward to prospective students. Since having a film crew show up on campus right now to showcase your unique campus experience is not an option, here are seven tips on how to differentiate your institution in all the noise:
Reach out often. Even before you have an online engagement experience put together, let students know that what you are facing, how it may impact them, and what your institution is doing. Encourage prospective students to connect with your enrollment team via phone, Zoom meetings, instant chat or email to answer questions they might have. Make sure your team is proactively engaging and responding to prospective concerns and fears — especially about finances.
Take time to visit and connect with prospective students. Acknowledge that it is a strange and uncertain time, listen to them, talk through their fears and concerns. This is not the time to treat prospective students like a number. The narrative will have to be empathetic. Dig deep into building relationships – be human, be transparent, be honest, and be kind. Students will respond to being cared for.
Harness the power of social media with video storytelling
On campus tours aren’t just about seeing the buildings, residence halls, and cafeteria. It’s the feeling you get from being on campus, the excitement of students actively learning, talking with professors, and engaging in the experiences that creates the pulse of campus life.
Certainly don’t forget to share your virtual campus tour with prospects, but how can you take it a step further to emulate the spirit and in-person experiences while someone is sitting at home? Dig into your arsenal of photos, video, and social feeds to showcase the best of your campus experience through visual story telling.
A video compilation of past campus activities, sporting events, or other campus life events can share the spirit and personality of your campus community. Reach out to your staff videographer to see what footage they have to pull together and make a great video montage to share the essence of who and what your campus is about. It does not have to be a slick production, it just has to be heartfelt.
Share your video(s) on social media and ensure your enrollment team is ready to respond and track your social engagement. Also, take advantage of the social media accounts for your sport teams, campus clubs, fraternities, etc. so that you are able to capitalize and personalize on your prospects’ special interests. Be sure to gather your quick links and compile your resources centrally to arm your enrollment team with the information and content to personalize, monitor, and connect with your prospects.
Create department/academic greeting videos
Have your academic advisor/departments create “hello” videos – this is great way to introduce high school seniors to their major and course requirements, let them get a quick tour of the department, and showcase the day-to-day of a student. You may have video archives that could be used to share student success experiences. Maybe engage a current student in that major to participate in a quick video talking about their experience as student in that department to make it feel authentic and more personal. This can be informal. People understand the crisis that we’re in, so they don’t expect academy-award-winning footage.
Set up Zoom meetings as forums for seniors to ask questions to a panel of current students or an opportunity to meet and greet other prospects or students in the same major. Leverage current students to be your institutional ambassadors – this is a great way connect current students with prospects and tell the story of your campus experience. Send out emails invites to ensure your prospects know the date/time options, and don’t forget to send out reminders the day before or day of the meetings. Forums are a great way to make connections and build community – making friends helps ease the transition into college.
Good old-fashioned mail
Do you have a stack of t-shirts, beanies, pennants or other school memorabilia that you could send to seniors? Mail it. Quality mail, especially from a place that you are interested in, always makes people happy. It’s a nice gesture to say “we’re thinking about you” and “please remember us.”
Turn mail into digital
Getting mail can become a social media moment! Ask prospects to #hashtag pics or video of themselves in the t-shirt or displaying the memorabilia they received. Set up a specific hashtag for these seniors so they can establish a community around this search mechanism. This spreads your word and keep them excited with the response they will get or helps them track what others are doing. Make sure your social team is watching for these hashtags and responding appropriately.
Go the extra mile
Keep students on track by keeping the enrollment process simple. Reduce the barriers to access your institution – in other words don’t make it easy for a prospect to opt-out when they run into any obstacles during the enrollment process. Create a checklist or central location of resources to help prospects navigate deposits, course selection, and financial aid. Consider creating a virtual new student orientation or providing an intro to college seminar to get prospects excited about the fall. If you want to take it one step further, consider creating personal concierge — a go-to-person to help new students navigate the transition to college.
Remember, students are especially bored, worried, and afraid right now. Show you care. You might have the most active engagement you’ve ever gotten from a freshmen class right now.