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Creating experiences at virtual events that go beyond the table

Matthew Klingbeil

This year admissions teams have needed to find new ways to create memorable experiences for prospective students. Gone are the days of standing behind crammed tables at a college fair or your Open House trying to personally meet each prospective student. 

With these changes, opportunities have opened up for new and creative virtual experiences that will be remembered by prospective students. This starts with understanding that you need to go beyond the table. When done right, virtual experiences help your institution stand out from the crowd at a virtual event and make prospective students remember your institution and the experience. 

Over the last few months, we’ve seen how colleges and universities have gotten creative to build relationships with prospective students and to go beyond the traditional recruitment playbook. We’ve helped hundreds of institutions facilitate and create these virtual experiences that have driven students to apply and enroll even during these uncertain times. 

Here are two ideas to keep in mind to ensure that you can convert prospective students and provide a memorable virtual experience.

1. Don’t think of this as simply making an in-person experience a virtual experience

Not every in-person experience needs to become a virtual experience. However, there are tremendous opportunities in taking some of your in-person events and making them creative virtual events that will drive engagement between your institution and prospective students.

Campus Tours

Instead of uploading a video of a pre-recorded campus tour or giving the link to a self-guided tour for your virtual fair and virtual recruitment events, think about what will make prospective students get a real feel for your institution. Work with your tour guides, student leaders, faculty, and other campus partners to get a great video library together of the most important spots on campus including dorm rooms, research labs, student center, library, and more. 

This will show prospective students the personalities of your campus community. Even better, offer some of these “tour experiences” as live sessions. These can be done effectively with just an internet connection and a smartphone. This allows prospective students to see the campus in real-time with real members of your community.

Show off that historic fountain on campus, let prospective students know how great career services is with real students talking about internship opportunities, have faculty show their area of expertise with a quick interactive research presentation, or maybe let prospective students virtually join in on the fun with a student life event.

Info Sessions

Info sessions are usually key parts of any on-campus experience. However, in a virtual fair or open house setting, these become lost in the ocean other sessions. This is especially true if the presenter is relying heavily on their PowerPoint slides. 

Instead of a traditional info session, try offering shorter and more focused sessions. With more focused sessions, you are able to reach the right students at these virtual events, making each interaction more productive and tailored to the prospective student.

For example, a student who has said they are interested in journalism has a clearly stated interest in a major with your institution. Ensure that they can meet with someone from that department or a current student to talk about the major. This interaction could be the lever that drives that student to apply and/or enroll with your institution.

2. Creativity has never been more important

Our research shows that the best virtual experiences provide students with a direct line to members of your community, and with more creative virtual options students are more likely to stay around longer and interact more with an institution.

Creativity for virtual experiences is critical. As students (and parents) have made Zoom, Hangouts, and other video platforms part of their daily lives, it’s important that virtual offerings are creative and stand-out. When prospective students are attending virtual events such as fairs, open houses, or other recruitment events the number of options to attend can be overwhelming. This means that it is key to find ways to stand out.

In virtual settings, you need to draw in prospective students with a great hook and have them stay for the session and continue engaging with your institution.

Some of the best ways to stand out at this virtual events are to start with creative session titles, great cover photos, and the ability to meet with sought after members of your campus community.

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