At NACAC 2017 we asked the question: “If money were no object, what would you do to increase enrollment?” Multiple enrollment professionals said they would provide free campus visits to prospective students and families as their number one item.
It makes sense that so many would feel this way since the majority of students who visit campus eventually enroll (some universities we work with have cited up to 80 percent of prospects!) This means your odds greatly increase when a student steps foot on campus, meets the team, and gets familiar with the experience awaiting them at your institution.
Perhaps your budget is limited, and while you recognize the value of a great campus visit, planning a priceless experience seems nearly impossible. We’ve put together a checklist of items for your team to consider when planning an unforgettable visit.
Weeks of planning and preparation go into pulling off a successful open house event, but some items might still be overlooked. Here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure a memorable and smooth open house event:
Communication Flow: Do you have a fluid plan for reaching out to students to push registration and as a follow-up to registering for the event? Does your plan include information regarding the event schedule, lunch details, parking, etc.?
Minute by Minute: Does your team have an internal agenda that shows where each staff member will be throughout the event? This will help your team guide students to their counselors as needed and allow team members to fill in for a counselor who is busy helping a family. Open house events should feel like a well-oiled machine, but there are always unforeseen circumstances that can occur, and having a clear agenda for the whole team to be informed is in your best interest.
Registration Package: Do you send a package via email or mail that includes instructions on where to find the check-in table or reserved parking? We recommend considering this to alleviate stress and family feuds the morning of their arrival, which will help them start the day off right.
Drop-Ins: Of course we always hope to have students register in advance, but a student who makes the drive to campus and shows up the morning of the event still deserves to have a great experience. Do you have a plan in place for students who show up the morning of the event without registering?
The best prep in the world will do no good if the student’s first experience on campus is frustrating, if they spend 20 minutes driving around trying to find parking or get lost on campus and have to rush to get to registration on time? Save your prospective student and family the trouble and have everything clearly marked for them.
Parking: Do you have reserved parking for prospective students and families? Is it free parking? Is it near registration or check-in? Has this information been communicated to them prior to the event? Are there arrows showing where to park once they arrive to campus?
Registration: Do you have check-in broken out by alphabetical order? Do you have signage indicating which segment of the alphabet can check in at each registration table? Does it indicate whether that’s by first or last name (while it may be obvious to us, students may get confused)? Clearly communicating the expectations for the morning will make for a smooth start and set the tone for an enjoyable day.
Buildings & Lunch: Do you have buildings clearly marked to help direct any stragglers who aren’t being led by an ambassador? Do ambassadors have different colored lanyards for groups to know how to break out, if applicable? Are there instructions provided on how to navigate the dining hall and where to take trash or return dishes? Again, make it as simple as possible to guide the prospective family through the day to ensure a wonderful experience. Things we take for granted can often feel overwhelming to a prospective student.
What do students notice when they step foot on campus? Is it welcoming? Lively? Are people excited to meet them? Or is it awkwardly quiet and formal? Decide what tone you want to set for your target audience and work to set that atmosphere well.
Music: Having music playing, even rather softly, sets the mood. It also provides the opportunity to engage with others because it won’t feel as awkward to talk if the room isn’t silent.
Opening Assembly: This sets the mood for the day. Do you have skits and interactive pieces that engage the prospective student and get them talking with other families or picturing themselves as a student on your campus? Do you have the president greeting them? Start the day off with energy and excitement.
Ambassadors: Are your ambassadors well-trained? Are they engaging and relatable? Do they tell stories that share their experience and enable students to see their future with you? One of the worst pieces of feedback from a follow-up evaluation was about how awesome the day was, but that a student is no longer interested because of their experience with an ambassador. Screen and train your ambassadors well.
Success! Now What?
Your preview day was a smashing success, but now what? What do you do to keep those families engaged?
How you follow up with students after a visit matters. Did you have a great discussion with the family over lunch? If so, make note of it on your list and include something from that discussion to personalize your follow-up.
Do you have any cool photo opportunities like a photo booth so you can send a photo in your follow-up email? Side note: It helps you recall who the student is later on (just be sure you make note of who’s who, or that could get awkward).
Do you have a debriefing meeting on the calendar? You should be talking with your team about all aspects of the day to see what feedback they received and how to improve the flow of the day after every event.
How do you evaluate the student and family’s perspective? Do you ask them to complete a survey by the end of the day to be entered to win some swag? Do you send a link to a survey in a follow-up email? The best way to ensure you’re meeting the student’s needs and expectations is to ask for their feedback.
Personalization Is Key!
Determine your goals for the event and make sure your planning and atmosphere align with those goals. You don’t have to spend a small fortune or pull out all the stops for your guests. Providing them with a stress-free and enjoyable day on campus with smiles and a touch of personalization is enough to leave them with a positive feeling about their experience with your institution.