In a recent blog post by Inside Higher Ed the author described a very telling experience with the recruitment content his prospective student daughter receives from colleges:

“…every piece of mail she gets is the same. Apparently the virtual presentations are even worse.”

Being the same isn’t inherently bad, but for institutions that benefit from differentiation, brand reinforcement, and positive user experience, it presents a huge missed opportunity to stand out with their prospective students.

Speaking of user experience, that’s pretty much the same across the board, too:

Registration form -> Zoom session -> email follow up saying “Thanks for attending!” or “Sorry we missed you!”

Sound familiar?

How did schools get here?

For the most part, institutions rarely made virtual engagement a key part of their recruitment strategies before COVID. When the time came to jump head first into virtual engagement out of necessity, speed became a more important factor than strategy, and uncertainties around the future led many admissions teams to simply try to make things work quickly using the tools they had at their disposal.

This led to folks trying to translate their in-person recruitment work into a virtual format, and running the same types of sessions with no-frills webinar software that, while very effective for internal and small meetings, lacked the scalability and impactful elements to create meaningful virtual experiences for students.

The way this played out was totally understandable in light of challenges caused by the pandemic, but obviously not ideal. Given similarities in the processes and tool sets that institutions had available, everything looked the same – same types of calendars, same forms to sign up, same looking and feeling virtual events, same underwhelming experiences for prospective students.

Now what?

Not surprisingly, taking a more thoughtful and strategic approach to virtual engagement leads to positive results (usually in the form of higher conversion and yield), and many schools are rethinking their approaches for the post-pandemic world. This will be even more important in 2021/22 than it has been the past year, as admissions shifts to a true in-person/virtual hybrid model for the first time. For many institutions, this will require revisiting and revamping much of what they did this past year. Running the same virtual events with the same content over and over will be replaced by lower quantity/higher quality live sessions, strategically deployed on-demand content (think Disney+ instead of live TV), meaningful interaction opportunities along the way to bridge the gap between in-person touch points and standard marketing and communication flows, and better follow up from more data-informed recruiters to keep prospective students moving down the funnel.

The result will be:

  • More engaged prospective students
  • Happier admissions teams
  • More predictable yield
  • Better enrollment outcomes.

Enrollment leaders were bogged down with an enormous number of unique distractions in Spring 2020. Fortunately, it is looking more and more like that won’t be the case next year. As a result, admissions teams won’t have to simply go through the motions of virtual engagement, but will be able to truly integrate it into their recruitment strategies and processes, which should make both enrollment managers and more importantly prospective students very happy.