Concerns for fall college recruitment arise with COVID-19 spikes among returning football teams
As an avid college football fan (Go Blue! – sorry, not sorry, to all my Ohio-based colleagues), I have been keeping an eye on how athletics is faring bringing student athletes back to campus for pre-season. Sadly, we can extrapolate from the increasing number of student athletes testing positive for Covid-19 that the outlook is not bright for the fall. As thousands more students likely not following institutional guidelines on social distancing start on-campus classes soon, offices whose business usually involves bringing outsiders (and their germs), onto campus, need to start planning ahead. As college admissions offices start to shift their focus to recruiting the Class of 2025, the realization is quickly kicking in that the old system of traveling counselors, college fairs, high school hosted information sessions, and campus visits and tours are not in our immediate future. With these rising concerns for fall college recruitment, I’ve created a checklist of sorts for admissions offices to use as you evaluate your current recruitment strategies versus where you should be this fall.
If I were an Admissions Dean, this is what I would be asking myself:
While everyone may be a little more comfortable operating in a virtual environment than they were six months ago, how institutions shape that virtual environment will be critical for this admissions cycle.
- Is my institution’s website enough to adequately prepare high school seniors to take the leap and start their application?
- Are we prepared to replace in-person experiences in a physically-distant world?
You can find countless studies about the importance of the campus visit and tour for students making selections about where to apply and enroll in college. There are even studies that show the weather on the day of that visit has a significant effect that measure standard deviations for cloud cover. As we’re seeing more concerns for fall college recruitment, that campus visit is likely off the table for the fall, and it would not be presumptuous to assume that even spring visits may be affected by travel restrictions from another wave of Covid.
- Do I have tools ready for admissions officers to create a welcoming environment that allows campus traditions and culture to shine through and stand out from my peers?
While a website can offer a virtual tour and provide comparative information, research shows that the most indispensable part of the campus tour is the student tour guide. Gen Z students are looking for authentic information from their peers, not an institution’s shiny brochure. Following student expectations in other areas of life, colleges need to anticipate that students will now expect on-demand answers and information through their college search process. And by the way, that experience needs to feel personal and individualized, too.
- Can I connect prospective students with relatable current students to answer their questions 24/7?
As more institutions become test optional and the College Board asks institutions to offer leniency in test score submissions, there is a wide-open playing field for college recruitment. Students may have more options than ever before. Admissions offices need to prepare to capitalize on this situation and open their virtual gates wide. More than ever, institutions have the opportunity to reach students in rural or more economically diverse areas where admissions officers would not historically travel.
We also know that Gen Z students expect the ability to gather the information they care about in a highly efficient self-service environment. There’s a good chance that with so many changes and concerns for fall college recruitment, your current plan to engage prospective students does not account for the generational shifts we’re seeing highlighted by the pandemic.
- Do I have systems in place to create an engaging online community to recruit a larger and stronger applicant pool and reach people that may have never considered my institution before?
As you set up programs to support students through a non-traditional application process, we know that parents and family members offer the most influence in the college decision-making process. Ruffalo Noel Levitz reports that even armed with this information, just over 50% of parents report having communications directed to them from their child’s prospective college.
- Am I prepared to create an equally engaging experience for parents and family members without the receptions and information sessions they were once able to enjoy as part of a campus visit?
While I hope most admissions deans are prepared to respond yes to all the questions above, I feel fairly confident in saying most lean more to the no side. Leveraging technology will be every institution’s answer to recruiting the most talented and diverse candidate pool possible. If your campus is ready to take that leap, Wisr’s Virtual Welcome Center can have you prepared in a few short weeks to respond confidently that you have a modern system in place that will provide virtually the same experience for your prospective students and their families. There is only one question left that we all wait to find out: Will this be the easiest year for a student to gain admission to their first-choice college, or the most difficult?