How this university website continually engages admitted students during COVID-19

Also, three admissions and marketing strategies for higher ed institutions that don't have strong virtual tours or experience programs for accepted students

Due to the coronavirus, Widener University quickly replaced in-person events for accepted students by creating an admitted student website that provides continual options to engage with the community instead of just a one-day virtual event.

“We didn’t know what the daily schedules of our admitted students would look like or when they would be available, so we needed to create an ongoing experience for them,” says Courtney H. Kelly, executive director of admissions of the Pennsylvania institution. “If they wanted to do a live session, we would offer them live sessions. If they missed a livestream, then we would offer recordings.”

Widener admissions collaborated with university relations and marketing officials to design what became the Admitted Student Digital Hub using their recently redesigned website as the platform. The department also provided admissions with marketing strategies to increase student enrollment. “Our university relations and marketing department has the expertise on how to effectively deliver the right amount of information to our students on a silver platter without overwhelming them,” says Kelly.

For example, many administrators and academic chairs shared video tours of their departments to include on their admitted student website, but rather than upload every tour to the hub, admissions officials chose a select few, including a student-made video called ‘Tour with Corey.’ His tour includes various areas on campus in one video and features engaging animations and editing techniques. “It’s a fun way to get inside some of these places on campus in a different way than just a traditional tour that shares an understood experience,” says Kelly.

Marketing the admitted student website

After laying the groundwork for the hub, the university launched the site in about 10 days. “Every day and arguably every hour was important,” Kelly says.

Even though the hub would evolve, the admissions team wanted a few special events scheduled by the launch date on March 30 to help market and promote its debut. For example, the first student-led chat was scheduled on April 1 where students learned how to navigate the hub and what Widener has to offer. The university also had one-on-one appointments and live sessions ready for parents, including a Zoom conference with the financial aid director.

Recruiting college students more effectively

The university plans to use how parents and students engage with the hub for future endeavors.

During the initial launch, the university scheduled virtual events at various parts of the day to later determine what times would be more effective for recruiting college students later on. “The calendars of students and parents have changed drastically since the coronavirus, so we needed to make ourselves available,” says Kelly. Currently, effective times have been at 4:30 pm and 7 pm.

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

Related: Streamlining the international admissions process for community colleges

Related: UB op-ed: Why college is more accessible than ever

These results might also affect when and how student days are rolled out in later years. For example, the hub reaches students who are further away from Widener geographically, including international students. “Originally, our on-campus student days took place on Saturdays since Saturday isn’t a school day, but there have always been conflicts such as track meets,” she says. “Providing these ongoing options is a way that higher ed can show it is nimble and able to connect with students and families who are busy.”

How to recruit college students without engaging resources

Here are marketing strategies to increase student enrollment for colleges and universities that don’t have an admitted student website, from Tom Green, associate executive director of consulting and SEM at American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO).

1. Align opportunities for interaction with the things that matter most to students in making a decision about enrollment. The top issue is the availability and quality of academic programs. For this,  “chats” are taking place between academic departments and admitted students at institutions such as Virginia Tech. Faculty are stretched thin as they move all their teaching and research online, so not everyone will be able to host an admitted student conversation over Zoom or a webinar platform. For those who can, admitted students want to hear from and interact with the people with whom they hope to have some of the most important and impacting interactions of their lives over the next few years.

2. Create a communications plan that proactively talks about the affordability of the institution, its value (this is a key element) and the ways in which students can access aid resources. Financial aid and affordable college are a big concern in any year but it is especially concerning now, given the economic impact the pandemic has had on millions of families. Students want to know how the financial aid and admissions teams will provide financial aid counseling to students and their families, and if chats and webinars are tools that can be deployed right now.

3. Make sure the all-important back room is ready to process all needed transactions virtually. This includes advising, payments, transcripts, transfer credits, etc. and will help with recruiting college students.

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