The COVID-19 pandemic provides a unique challenge for the higher ed admissions office: even a slight drop in enrollment can be a significant change to many aspects including budget for the university.
While most institutions have been able to successfully transition students to online learning, admission leaders are still adjusting their strategies to promote new student growth and sustain retention despite the changing times.
Based on recent conversations I have had with former colleagues (which included presidents and vice presidents of enrollment and directors of admissions), here are five tips that higher ed admissions professionals should consider when recruiting prospective students.
1. Recruit Those Who Have Been Recruited (Accepted) and Connect on a Different Level
Admissions teams should take a few additional steps to ensure the expected incoming class is still onboard by conducting extra outreach to accepted students. While personal phone calls to your incoming class and online meetings are at the top of the list for admissions, consider these other options:
- Reaching out to waitlisted students
- Emailing Drop-In Time Blocks for recruiters to chat and answer questions – set up a two-hour time block for students to pop into a Zoom meeting at any time to ask questions
- Ask the academics team to record videos that can be shared with incoming class starts
- Touch-base calls need to be questions that speak specifically to the student’s adjustment and experience right now. Personalize the conversations and speak to their struggles. “How has online learning been going for you?” If applying for a campus that has a sports program, “How have you been training during quarantine?” For adult students, ask about work adjustments and family experiences. For seniors missing out on much of their senior year and getting much more time home and away from friends, so many will be antsy to be leaving for college by the fall and ready to chat about their future steps.
2. Host Virtual Open Houses, Virtual Online Orientations, and Virtual Advisor Meetings
With classes having recently transitioned to virtual, follow the same steps for admissions. Staying connected is key and be sure to incorporate the following in your virtual events:
- Highlight success stories as much as you can
- Have alumni speak to your incoming class
- Find previous video footage on campus to share
- Show student work
- Make orientation exciting
- Ask program directors to recording welcomes and/or join to speak to their excitement of working with the incoming to students
Download the free eBook: “A Unique Approach to Student Prospecting: 5 Ways to Build Your Brand as a Trusted Advisor”
3. Managing Recruitment, Admissions Committee, and Financial Aid Staff
So many campuses have discovered that admissions staff have been incredibly productive from home when given the right tools and resources. To assist with this, hold virtual meetings every morning at 9 a.m. with financial aid and admissions – all together – and start with a motivational message and end with a game plan for the day.
Assuming most staff are working remotely, have a transfer process outlined for incoming students to go from a call with admissions to financial aid with ease. Lastly, if your incoming students go through an admissions committee process, consider a revamp if needed, to move the students through faster for feedback. Here are a few thoughts to consider:
- Are SAT/ACT test scores part of normal considerations for acceptance? If so, what is the backup plan for acceptance if final testing dates were cancelled and you no longer have these results?
- If high schools and colleges are closed, is a backup plan in place to consider unofficial transcripts until official transcripts arrive?
- Make sure admission paperwork process is digitized completely.
4. Remove Technology Concerns
Should COVID-19 continue impacting operations longer than expected, or for the campuses running summer programs, make sure the incoming students feel they are still ready for online learning. A good idea is to send correspondence on technology options that are free right now (Wi-Fi included) to incoming students so they have concerns about not being prepared for online classes. Other options include emailing surveys to incoming students on what technology they currently have or need in order to be successful – compile the results and take appropriate steps.
Some campuses have ordered Chrome Books that students can borrow for success. Take advantage of the websites that are out there doing free technology checks for students and include these in correspondence. Also have faculty send items to students that normally they can only access via an on-campus lab. (Remember to check funds you may be receiving via the CARES Act.)
5. Plans for International Students
A common concern in the industry right now is that international students might not be able to get their Visa in time to start school. We cannot change this outcome, but we can be flexible so that they are still eventually a student. Make a personal connection to let them know they can extend their start date without penalties or potentially defer for a year. Also consider, can we sweeten the pot for them by securing additional scholarships through additional funding?
In closing, a college prep advisor recently shared that students are being encouraged to check back with colleges that they didn’t receive scholarships or acceptance letters from. Relating college selection to real estate, for students could it become “a buyer’s market” and “not a seller’s market”? We do not know quite yet, but it is best to be prepared to show students why your campus is the best fit and how you are here to support them.