How these colleges are marketing to admitted students during COVID-19

Whitman College and Marquette University are using other methods instead of hosting in-person campus tours

College admissions departments are scrambling to identify innovative ways to convert accepted students into enrolled students, as higher ed institutions continue to cancel on-campus tours and other crucial student recruiting events due to the coronavirus. Here are two institutions that have implemented new college recruitment strategies for admitted students.

At the beginning of March, administrators at Whitman College in Washington state began planning for a weeklong virtual event to replace the original on-campus tours for students recently accepted to Whitman the month before. The Washington institution also hired a video production company to shoot new college virtual tours to help these students experience the campus in lieu of an actual tour.

“Our first priority is to help accepted students and to encourage them to enroll in the fall,” says Josh Jensen, vice president for enrollment and communications. “We knew that some people would not want to be in Washington state or gather in big groups for our in-person event, so we began thinking of how we could move quickly and replace that with a virtual event.”

Within days of coming up with this approach, college officials sent requests for proposals to companies with a short 10-day turnaround and then made their decision based on the received submissions in 48 hours. Whitman also mobilized an internal team consisting of a staff member from college admissions and another from communications to move the process forward quickly.

Creating college virtual tours and events

A student is filmed working on a laptop at Whitman College.

Whitman officials eventually chose a platform that specializes in higher ed virtual events to host the weeklong event, which will mostly involve admitted students first watching prerecorded videos of faculty and current students before participating in live chat rooms with them. “We had thought about doing more produced live-streaming, but were hesitant to count on everyone’s home connection being robust,” Jensen says. “We also didn’t know if faculty would be able to come to campus or if they should be congregating in groups.” However, the college president might host a livestream.

For the updated virtual tour, the college chose to hire a local video production company instead one from out of state due to possible traveling restrictions and these hired employees will film the campus for two weeks. “Our current virtual tour is more about the actual places and spaces,” Jensen says. “We wanted this newer content to be led by students and focus more so on the people and how the physical campus relates to them.”

An obvious challenge has been getting students to participate. “People’s decisions are changing every day,” says Jensen. “One day, a student may say he can, but then will have to leave because their parents want him home. In those cases, we have to find someone on short notice. It’s an exercise in flexibility and it’s been a pleasure to watch people step up and make it happen.”

Moving deadlines for admitted students

At Marquette University in Wisconsin, university admissions counselors are extending the deposit deadline to guarantee a spot in classes for accepted students. “We are concerned that our admitted students might not be able to make that decision to fully commit, so we are granting these extensions for all programs except for nursing,” says John M. Baworowsky, vice president for enrollment management. “Our nursing program is always filled to capacity, and if we extended the deadline, we fear that we may end up with too many nursing students in the first-year class.”

Similar to Whitman College, Marquette University is also replacing on-campus open houses and other student recruiting events by sending prerecorded videos from faculty and current students to accepted students.

“We are encouraging these videos to be filmed on iPhones because the more unpolished they look, the more authentic they will be when students see them,” says Baworowsky. “Youtube has changed our expectations of video. We don’t need Steven Spielberg to make admissions videos. There isn’t a student who would want to sit and watch a 10-minute video on our institution.”

Marquette officials decided not to put a deadline on these videos from faculty and current students. “We felt it wouldn’t be fair since everyone is in the process of moving classes online, so we are processing and pushing these videos out when we receive them,” says Baworowsky.

He adds, “There are approximately 11,000 prospective students who have been admitted and are making up their minds in the next few weeks. It’s a huge population that we would like to provide with good information and try to communicate the warmth of our campus so that they may choose to come here.”

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