November 18, 2021

How to create interactive virtual open houses


Chris Langone

Engaging and interactive virtual open houses are key for this year's spring recruitment.

As colleges and universities create plans to bring students to their campuses, stay virtual, or have some sort of hybrid experience, rising high school seniors are trying to figure out how to learn about an institution, experience all that it has to offer them, and decide on where they are going to spend their next four years. 

Typically, open houses provide an institution with the opportunity to highlight esteemed faculty, student leaders and athletes, the Student Center, and key points on campus that make your institution unique. Students get to feel the vibe on campus, walk through the quad, and feel like they belong on your campus and as part of your community. 

With the current uncertainty surrounding in-person events this fall, colleges and universities need to create highly engaging and interactive virtual open houses. These complex virtual events can cause some teams stress, but they shouldn’t. They are a great opportunity to highlight the benefits of your institution and to reach even more prospective students

Here is your guide to creating virtual open houses with complex and engaging breakout sessions to ensure that prospective students and parents have an experience that will make them want to apply and enroll.

1. Don’t try to replicate your in-person open house, think differently.

Many teams think that they need to digitally replicate every aspect of a typical open house. This is a big mistake. With so many distractions (from Snapchat notifications to having to walk the dog) during a virtual event, attendees won't stay at a single session for more than 30-minutes. This means that you need to think differently with the layout of a virtual open house. 

We’ve worked with many institutions to help create engaging large scale complex virtual events. Think about starting with a short Welcome Session from a key member of your community (i.e. President, Provost, VP of Student Affairs). From there, you have a lot of options to wow students. 

Following the Welcome Session, you can provide prospective students many paths to take such as:

  • A student tour guide to take them on a campus tour from their smartphone
  • Breakout sessions with various academic departments
  • Financial aid sessions
  • Q&A sessions specifically for parents 

This type of journey for a virtual open house will allow for prospective students and their families to experience all that the university has to offer in a seamless way and will set your institution apart from your competitors.

2. Create a seamless registration process.

For virtual multi-session events, it’s key to create a seamless registration process that clearly sets expectations for your virtual visitors. Virtual events require more actions from attendees to move from place to place; clearly laying out where they will be at particular times and how to get there is important. 

For example, when they register for the virtual open house show them every session that they choose from with a description and the times for each session.

Once someone is registered, they should get a detailed itinerary that gives them all of the information that they would need for the day of the virtual event. This sort of personalized engagement creates excitement leading up to the event and ensures high show-up rates.

3. Get buy-in from faculty, administrators, students, and alumni. 

For virtual open houses to be truly exciting experiences for prospective students and their families, there needs to be buy-in from across the institution. Virtual open houses provide a unique opportunity to be creative with content that is interactive and engaging. 

Virtual events give you the advantage of creating a platform for engagement with all areas of your institution. By having faculty, administrators, current students, and alumni together on one virtual platform, you are able to create truly unique and interactive virtual experiences for prospective students.

Some successful and creative ideas we have helped our clients execute during a multi-session virtual event include:

  • Faculty “TED Talks,” where faculty from various majors present the research they are working on, the benefits of the major, and the outcomes after graduation (tip: record these sessions and use them as pre-recorded content in future marketing campaigns and as on-demand virtual events)
  • 1:1 meetings with current students during the virtual open house
  • Alumni roundtables

Complex virtual events like open houses shouldn’t be intimidating. They are an opportunity to provide an amazing experience to prospective students in a new setting that opens up new ways to impress on them the value of your institution. The key is to use the right technology to help run these complex virtual events and to build content that makes prospective students want to be part of your campus community.

Learn how to recruit students all year long

By partnering with VisitDays, you’ll have the ability to connect with engaged prospective students in your territory from our network of 2M+ students and 24,000 high schools—earlier than ever before and from your desk. Chat 1:1, maintain a schedule of virtual meetings, and join college fairs or host live sessions to ensure your school is enrolling the right-fit students. Schedule a call to learn how to join.