Let’s face it, we’re living in a digital world now more than ever, but it doesn’t do most experiences justice. With traditional tours and class visits put on pause, prospective students and families may feel they are missing out on information or aren’t getting a complete view of what independent schools may have to offer.
The problem with virtual admissions.
Incoming students may not have been able to revisit the campus of their newly chosen school. They also may not have been able to form any relationships or had any interactions with current students or other students entering their class. This can be an isolating and a nerve-wracking experience for students feeling unsure about their arrival in the fall.
Even more so, some prospective students may not have been able to visit campus or speak to admissions officers. Yet, they’ll be basing most of their opinions on your school off your website or events you host during the summer. These first impressions are critical and may be amazing selling points for students — or a completely missed opportunity to attract new applicants.
As a student who has given tours of her high school alma mater, and now her college, I’ve seen the impact that an in-person tour can have on a student. I’ve received emails from students saying I sparked their interest in the school, or that they hope to one day be involved in the same clubs. Virtual tours do not allow for these same critical interactions.
Mine your student resources.
To adapt to today’s challenges, schools must make sure that their online events, digital marketing, social media and video content all tell a story. Each piece of the puzzle should weave together a descriptive narrative about the school and the student experience. It isn’t hard to do. You’ve already got the materials, and you can find it through your students.
Students each have their own unique stories to tell. They know their friends’ stories; they know their teachers’ and coaches’ stories. And they know what your school has to offer as they’ve likely taken advantage of many of your offerings. Human storytellers promote authenticity and perspective that a pamphlet or email cannot provide. You’d probably be surprised how many of your students would be interested in helping with your summer initiatives.
During my senior year of high school, as yearbook editor, I wanted to introduce a new feature to our 2017 yearbook edition. After attending a workshop, I came across a platform that allows you to embed video into the pages of your yearbook and can be accessed by all students through smartphones. QR codes or similar features can be used in viewbooks and campus maps to make the overall experience more engaging and interactive.
Organizing images and video for the yearbook was my job, but it also became a collective responsibility. After dances, spirit days, sports games and school plays, my inbox would be flooded with students sending me videos and images they had taken.
Reach out to your current students and ask them to share their videos and images with you. Content generated by your students will not only appeal to incoming students who want to see things through the eyes of their peers, but it can also paint a picture of the community that makes up your campus.
So, how do I get students’ attention?
There’s not a one-size fits all answer to what approach will work best for each school, but there are a variety of techniques that you can explore.
Virtual Tour Tips:
- Create your own virtual video tour: Using a smartphone camera, tour around campus and record a general video to show the lay of the land. There’s no need for fancy editing. Sparing transitions and showing how long it takes to get from one area of campus to another helps prospective students gain perspective of your campus and buildings. Feel daring? Have students add text or audio to the video to explain each building’s purpose. Headed to a music classroom? Have a student who plays musical instruments voiceover about their music classes and instructor! Add blurbs and fun facts to the visual components for extra engagement.
- Create a mobile tour: So you may not be able to gather hundreds of families to your campus this summer, but some may still be looking to visit. If your campus has the availability to be open for the public, encourage families to tour the grounds. Put together a mobile tour with a map included as a subcategory on your admissions page. Using text, audio and images of buildings, families can select the area of campus they are in to receive the information that would normally have been provided on a regular tour.
- “X” marks the spot: Just like pirates searching for hidden treasure, your families and students will likely be looking for a sign of where to go on your campus when exploring for the first time. It’s easy to get lost or confused when you are unfamiliar with an area, so provide them with information that’ll accompany their self-guided campus tour. Keep in mind that while your mobile tour might provide information in a clear way, it may not always be easy for visitors to find buildings. Incorporate signage on the doors of important buildings on your campus, and label it in a way that is obvious, such as “Gym building, mobile tour stop #3.” This will help in making sure your campus and mobile tour are as accessible and intertwined as possible.
- Compile student video: Often students may attend classroom visits or even try to speak with people on campus to learn more about certain programs. With everything being digital, students may not know whom to contact or where to go for the information that attracts them to your school. By uploading content created by current students to social media and YouTube, prospective students will have public access to information that may have been previously kept private. Gain permission to share your student-owned work and open more possibilities for marketing material.
- How to contact students: So, you have these great ideas for school marketing videos, but no one to create them for you. Contact students in ways that will incentivize them and maximize your resources of student talent. Getting video footage can be easy. Sending out a mass email request and providing a link to a Google Drive folder for upload can help you get the most out of the video content that already exists from your community. Work with teachers and clubs to find students in film classes or filmmaking clubs. Send out an email to inspire their creativity for video development, and maybe incentivize as an opportunity for portfolio content, resume boosters, college applications or even offer them community service hours. Remember, students are likely looking for ways to get the most out of this unusual summer.
- Make sessions shorter: Hosting information sessions for families will be vital moving forward. Having a human face share information with you is much more powerful than receiving information in an email. But, we’ve all experienced a meeting or a phone call that could have easily been summarized in an email. Attention spans are highly selective. Rather than creating a two-hour long information session for parents with the head of school, dean of students and other important school figures, break these up into smaller sessions where families can choose which to attend based on their interests, the speaker or the topic.
- Student speakers: Students want to be able to picture themselves at a school, and often, this can be determined by shared experiences they have with other students. If a prospective student is able to relate or become interested in what a current student is doing, they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging. Inviting student speakers to host information sessions on their classes, programs and projects (like the science fair) will give outsiders the opportunity to see what types of students attend your school and the programs available to them.
- College counseling sessions: It’s no secret that many prospective students are already thinking about college admissions. Having both group and private information sessions led by college counselors can engage current and prospective students, will help students prepare their college applications and gain insight on the overall application process for newcomers. Showing that your school cares about the student’s future post graduation will appear favorably to anyone anxious about going off to college.
- Invite alumni to events: Building relationships with past students is also an important aspect towards overall positive promotion. Arranging a mini-career fair is a great way to attract new students and current students, and it’s something a little different than hearing a teacher or administrator speak. Whether it be an alum who runs their own business, or a student who just completed an amazing first year at a university, having past students share their stories after high school is a great way to engage students of all ages and inspire students during a time where they may feel discouraged. Read more about strategies for hosting summertime events.
- Call students and their families: Once applications start rolling in, follow-up is key in maintaining a student’s interest in the school. Making sure that your admissions office is accessible and available to students, even when they may not be able to speak to you in person, will be critical for high yield come springtime. Millennial parents are looking for consistent communication and want to be kept in the loop. A phone call can have a larger impact than a general email, so pick up the phone and start answering questions.
- Host virtual drop-in “office hours”: Set up a recurring Zoom meeting time for families and students to drop into your virtual office hours. This can be an informal and less intimidating approach than setting up individual meetings. Families can come and go as they please, stay for the whole time or ask a few questions before heading out. Regardless of how people use this time, it’s a great opportunity to open the potential for more engagement with perspective and interested students.
Looking for help on your next big summer initiatives? Let us know.
Assisting Kalix as a Marketing Intern, Channing Capacchione is a senior studying Advertising and Sociology at Boston University where she works as a Student Admissions Representative at Boston University Admissions Center. In addition to giving tours and presentations to prospective families, Channing has interned with the Boston University Marketing department designing flyers and handouts, writing copy and aiding with website development. Prior to Boston University, Channing attended Garrison Forest School, an all-girls private school located in Owings Mills, Maryland. Her 14 years at Garrison provided her with the opportunity during high school to gain knowledge and experience working with the admissions and the communications department.
Read Channing’s most recent post to get ideas for popular digital techniques that will attract more students to your school.