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10 Admissions Strategies that Colleges and Universities Need to Adopt in the Face of the Coronavirus

College campuses are eerily quiet in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic—and the fear is that quiet could usher in an even quieter campus come fall. With the traditional sea of spring visits to colleges and universities across America canceled, the challenges of higher-ed recruiting have just entered unfamiliar territory. If you haven’t started to overhaul your promotional efforts you need to. Here are 10 things every college and university should be doing:

1. Add an admissions-specific coronavirus FAQ page: Make this page as much of a resource as possible for applicants. For instance, if one of your questions is “Are campus tours still offered?”, your answer should include a link to a virtual tour. You’ll want to provide answers to common questions like:

  • “What is the best way to reach an admissions officer right now?”
  • “Should I send documents I need to submit by mail, or is there an online option?”
  • “Will the coronavirus outbreak alter the admissions timeline in any way?”
  • “Will there be any changes to the deposit deadline?”
  • “What if my financial situation has changed?”

2. Heavily promote your virtual tour: Increase the number of places where this lives on your website and across your various channels, and send the URL to all admitted students along with a message expressing your enthusiasm at the idea of them joining you in the fall. If you don’t currently have a high-quality virtual tour experience, put this near the top of your to-do list. Have a few faculty members and students walk around campus offering a personal perspective on what they love about the school.

3. Go beyond the virtual tour: Think about what else prospective students might do during a campus visit, like sit in on a lecture or speak with other current students. How can you recast these experiences online? Have faculty member film themselves at home speaking about their department and offering a mini lecture; have a Zoom meeting or Instagram/Facebook Live session where your student ambassadors can answer student questions.

4. Give parents and applicants one-on-one attention: Offer one-on-one Zoom meetings with applicants and their parents where questions that would ordinarily be voiced during a campus visit can be answered. Reach out to them by phone. Making the extra effort can go a long way, not just in clearing up questions, but in demonstrating your dedication to your student body and forging an emotional connection with the applicant.

5. Rethink your admitted student weekend: If this is something you typically offer in the spring, don’t cancel it outright! Bring it online and offer sessions on housing communities, student life, undergrad research opportunities, presentations from department chairs, financial aid Q&As, and more. But consider the format—you probably don’t want to expect students to sit at their computer all day. Perhaps it’s better to space it out over several days, or offer parts of it on demand.

6. Involve current students: They may not be on campus anymore, but you don’t want 100% of your videos and messaging to come from your faculty and administration. Admissions-related events are in large part about helping students see themselves as a student at your school—incorporating actual students will help facilitate this.

7. Involve your prospective students, too: Consider using Instagram or Facebook polls and “ask me anything” questions as ways to field questions from applicants. Put that data to use in ways that amp up your connection to them, like a series of Instagram stories hashtagged #classof2024questions.

8. Shorter is better: The challenge of replacing in-person tours and events is scaling down the duration. What would typically last an hour or two in person can’t be reborn as an hour-long online video. Keep video messages to 10 minutes tops, but keep the topics narrow so you can film more than one and keep them targeted.

9. More is better, too: You want to be in regular communication with prospective students, ideally reaching them at least every other week via email, text message, phone, or direct mail. Give them updates on any changes introduced by coronavirus developments and promote upcoming virtual events.

10. Lessons learned: While the current focus is understandably on current and prospective Fall 2020 students, it’s also a good time to think about how the current limitations can alter your admissions process for the better. Does your student application experience in general need enhancing? Do you have a targeted communications strategy for applicants across multiple marketing channels from day 0 (initial interest) to day 100 (enrollment)? If not, it’s something to tackle once the current crisis has eased.

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