Have virtual admitted students days been successful?

Whitman College experienced higher attendance and increased participation during a virtual multiweek event for accepted students and their families

More admitted students and their parents attended and actively participated in Whitman College’s multiweek virtual event than previous on-campus tours.

When compared to the 418 people who usually attend each one-day accepted students day on campus, the remote event saw 1,100 participants from 17 countries and 35 states, including the District of Columbia, ask questions in message boards and watch prerecorded videos of faculty and current students before participating in live chatrooms with them.

“This increased participation makes us realize that this might be a useful format to gain more exposure, even during years when we can have in-person events,” says Josh Jensen, vice president for enrollment and communications at the Washington state institution.

Marketing to students more effectively

During the event, the continual high turnout began to generate buzz among faculty, staff and students, and soon requests to participate in each virtual accepted students day came rolling in. “Going into this, we didn’t realize the breadth of opportunities we had at our fingertips, but, luckily, we had the flexibility to add chats and extend the program,” says Jensen. “Next time, we’ll approach this more proactively by improving communications and including more people in the process.”

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To spread the word, administrators decided to send updates about these additions via text messages. “This sounds nice in theory, but we were adding upwards of 15 sessions within a few days, and students weren’t shy to tell us that they didn’t need a text from us every day,” says Jensen. “It was a learning curve, but we now know how many texts we need to send when marketing to students about updates.”

Better understanding the needs of admitted students

Students and parents asked more intimate questions in the event’s anonymous message boards than in person, which college administrators used to improve overall communications. “People are sometimes hesitant to ask questions in group settings if they’re unsure it’s appropriate or the right thing to ask, but anonymously, they sent questions us like, ‘I lost my job, so I’m not sure if I will be able to make my decision on May 1,’ or ‘I lost my job, so I’m not sure that my financial aid is going to work,’” says Jensen.

To reflect these comments, administrators updated the coronavirus FAQ page and sent admission letters to families who had these concerns. Financial aid evaluations and deposit deadlines were also extended. “In this virtual setting, we got a clearer sense of where families are in terms of their overall mindset,” says Jenson. “Hearing our thinking and letting them know we understood was really comforting for families who are dealing with this uncertainty.”

To learn how Whitman College planned and implemented the event, click here.

For more coronavirus coverage, click here.

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