In my opinion, the campus visit is the single greatest indicator of student interest in a college or university. While it’s true that students may enroll without a visit, it’s rare. Colleges will host large number of visitors throughout the academic year and also some in the summer. The visit can “seal the deal” for many who visit their first-choice college. For others, particularly those that have not already applied for admittance, a visit may prove that a school isn’t the greatest fit and an application will not get completed. At Doane College, we have a beautiful campus – many will argue the most beautiful in Nebraska. It’s amazing no doubt. As a result, I hear many people – not those in admissions mind you – share the sentiment, “All you have to do is get them here.” I have two issues with that statement. First, if that were only true and second, we still have to get them here! I’m going to address these in reverse order.
Do to the continued ease of online applications; a large number of applicants will not even visit a campus to which they apply. Getting a student to visit campus is not as easy as some might think, particularly those that visit from “away”. Without the visit, we are almost guaranteed that the student will not enroll. Given the incredible “noise” generated by all schools encouraging student visits during the fall, how can a college break through to be noticed by students and have that opportunity to WOW them with a visit experience? First, it’s about exposure early. Students need to see the college as early as their freshman year in order to have a real chance. Second, it’s about consistency in the message to students and families. Colleges and universities must articulate value and how they are different from other schools. For example, at Doane, we provide a world-class education excelling at teaching tomorrow’s educators and conducting real-world scientific research. We provide guarantees in both three-and four-year programs with an inclusive community where students can fit in her and stand out after college.
It’s also about opportunity. Again as an example, Doane College offers an opportunity for each student to earn a $1,000 grant (renewable annually) simply for visiting Doane College during their senior year. Visit campus and earn the $1,000 upon enrollment. And, this isn’t just for high school students. Students who are looking to transfer from their current institution can receive the grant by visiting campus as well, provided it’s within 12 months of their enrollment. Finally, it’s about convenience. Location matters for sure. Doane’s main market is within 100 miles of campus. For those outside that radius, the college provides a bit more incentive beyond the $1000 visit grant. For this reason, Doane has a travel reimbursement program allowing students with limited resources to access funding to support their travel to campus and their time on campus. Truth be told, even these strategies don’t guarantee (remember, no silver bullet) chart-topping visit numbers. But they can definitely help.
So, let’s say we get them to campus…what next? As I mentioned (and it’s worth mentioning again), Doane College has a beautiful campus. But to even think that campus beauty in and of itself gets the job done over simplifies the college decision, particularly today. I’m going to give students more credit for college choice than simple campus beauty. The reality is as admission professionals, we have limited exposure to how a visit is done at other colleges and universities. How many college visit coordinators have the opportunity to see how others coordinate visits? How many admission counselors visit other colleges as a prospective student in order to do a real assessment of what we do well? How many faculty interview or meet with prospective students at different institutions throughout their career? Professional conferences can give us a little exposure to how others coordinate and manage visits, but generally it’s not enough. My point is that it’s easy to believe we are doing it well, but most of us in enrollment will still want our yield on visitors to increase. We can always do better. Just getting them here won’t get the numbers.
The fact of the matter is that while beauty counts, it’s the substance of the visit that really makes the difference. It’s the whole visit experience, including things we cannot control (at least not easily), i.e. the weather, families showing up late, the menu in the cafeteria that day,..people! 🙂 We try to create an environment where each visitor can have an exceptional experience in order to determine if they are a good fit at Doane College. We talk about “Orange Carpet Treatment” or “Concierge Service”. I want our admission team to be genuine with students and families while at the same time making sure that our prospective students leave the visit knowing as much about their Doane potential as realistically possible. I also hope that all staff and faculty recognize the opportunity they have to influence a visitor when they greet a student and a parent or when they say hello on the sidewalk. There are a lot of moving parts that we manage (and some that we can’t), and we must strive to do them incredibly well.
Other than looking at yield rates, how can a college determine where they can increase the quality of visits? Admission offices will mail surveys or seek feedback from visitors regarding their visits. Unfortunately, at Doane we only hear about the great visits (which unfortunately don’t guarantee enrollment) or we hear about the horrible visits which can guarantee enrollment….elsewhere! We jump to “fix” that issue immediately, but we also want to hear about the typical visits. We generate schedules and manage visits trying to keep the student in mind while at the same time managing the relationships with our colleagues on campus recognizing that their time is valuable as well.
As professionals, we sit down and try to determine how we can be better. Is it the schedule? Is it the people we have student’s visit with? Is it the route of the tour? Are our ambassadors/tour guides saying the right things? We consider employing a “secret shopper” experience to try and identify our weaknesses from an outsider. We want to make the best experience for each visitor. We can and should want Doane College to be right for every visitor even though we know that’s not reality. Our goal at Doane is to influence and provide an exceptional admission experience. You hear the saying that beauty is only skin deep. Our beauty comes from within (value and outcomes) reinforcing what is easy to see on the surface.