Virtual University Open Houses for student recruitment

With the pandemic, schools have been cancelling or rolling back their usage of Open House’s and campus tours to comply with varying public health requirements for the pandemic. This is having a huge impact on their recruiting activities and really reducing the use of one of the most effective tools to influence and drive student recruitment.

The concept of the virtual open house is now being explored and implemented, but there are differing definitions and deployments. Quite a few are specially design websites that shed a more focused light on student activities, general virtual campus walk throughs and videos, or are simply scheduling a long list of zoom calls for prospective students and their parents to attend.

A good school Open House helps students and parents to meet, greet, and talk to program level faculty, program heads, and students. It gives students and parents the opportunity to directly ask questions and get a feel for the culture of an institution and the program that you can only get from talking directly to the faculty and students and walking the halls of the actual facilities you will interface with as a student.

I have personally gone through the process twice in the last 3 years of going to Provincial or State wide recruitment fairs with tens of thousands of other students and parents navigating the organized chaos of these big events, but also attending the individual school or program level open houses. I have experiencing over 30 of these school Open Houses and in some cases driving 5-6 hours and staying over night. Why? Because it can have a huge impact on your child’s decision on what school and program to settle on.

Each of my daughters applied to between 9-14 different programs each, not knowing whether they would be accepted or not knowing whether they even wanted to attend that school or program. But they were creating a mental note of their top choices and in what sorting order of priority a school sits. That order was constantly changing as they collected more information and processed what they wanted from a school and program. But that order also changed after attending an Open House. Short conversations with a Dean or Faculty or student has a direct impact and heavily influenced their perception of a program and school.

School Open Houses are a critical part of the student recruiting process and a well-planned and designed virtual Open House with a good user experience can provide a school or program with immense competitive advantage.

The first challenge is to organize an event that will have a critical mass of attendees. A school can achieve this if the event is marketed as the most efficient and convenient means of access to the key people a student or parent wants to interact directly with at a school (ie faculty, dean, residence rep, representative student, etc).

The second challenge of organizing a good Virtual Open House is effectively managing the thousands of potential conversations that ensue – both in an organized manner and spontaneously. The good news is many of these conversations can be handled efficiently in group forums and with tactically well-prepared resource material to answer the normal common questions. The key to a successful virtual Open House is enabling multiple options for engagement with school representatives to answer specific questions via scheduled meeting, open Zoom calls, chat group forums and by e-mail. If you design the event well, you can manage the traffic flow efficiently and manage overflows in a reasonable manner that attendees can accept and walk away satisfied and informed. But just as importantly that each program can efficiently utilize its faculty time to during the event.

If you are interested in what this may look like, please view the attached video demo of a University Open House concept and structure within Acadiate.