Maria Kadison, President & CEO of EdwardsCo.
About a year ago, I started sharing a first-hand account of the college recruitment process as seen through the eyes of my son Will.
Often I’ve shared my thoughts and insights into best practices, trends, and opportunities from the perspective of a seasoned higher ed marketer. For two and a half years, I’ve observed Will interacting with—or, as was more often the case, entirely ignoring—recruitment communications from colleges.
Today, I’m very happy to report Will made it through the admissions process and has decided to go to Tulane in the fall.
Yield is, of course, a critical time for institutions to make their case to kids like Will.
Over the years, EdwardsCo has done hundreds of quantitative studies with institutions ranging from tiny liberal arts colleges to huge state university systems to find out why accepted students chose one over another.
We’ve consistently found the #1 driving factor in an accepted student’s final choice of an institution is “fit.”
“I felt like I belonged there.”
“I could totally see myself fitting in there.”
“I’m not sure why, I just felt comfortable there.”
How well do higher ed institutions today do at answering the question “will I fit in?”
Some of the institutions offered Will the opportunity to connect with a student ambassador or to spend time on campus with a student host. Not bad, but Will’s feelings of “fitting in” were entirely dependent on the mood, similar interests, and overall likability of the student ambassador. Some were terrific, and some were shockingly bad.
None of the colleges offered an easily accessible way he could get a real and in-depth feel for the student experience. In this day and age when families are already hard-pressed with the thought of sky-high tuition bills, additional visits to multiple campuses to cross-compare “fit” are not often in the cards.
Because fit is absolutely critical to yield, EdwardsCo has invested a significant amount of time developing ways institutions can cultivate a strong and distinctive feeling of fit and “belonging” among prospective students.
In particular, we’ve been exploring the potential of using 360-degree/virtual reality technology to bring the student experience right to prospects. (Note: the virtual student experience is not about buildings and landscaping.)
In fact, at the time Will was weighing his choices, we had just helped our client Skidmore College become the first college in the country to deliver a 360-degree student experience in the acceptance package.
After receiving more than 10,000 applications—a record year for the college—Skidmore recognized that the institution still needed to make a strong appeal to the approximately 2000 accepted students. The college included a virtual reality box viewer compatible with a variety of phone sizes and instructions to watch the Skidmo.re/360 virtual student experience (click to watch below).
As Luke Meyers, Director of Marketing and Engagement at Skidmore, told VRScout, “this was a chance to answer one of the top questions accepted candidates ask, which is what is it like to be a Skidmore student when I’m not in class? Why not use something like 360VR to bring Skidmore student life to the accepted candidate?”
I had Will take a look at Skidmore’s virtual student experience. I asked him how it compared to the yield brochures and emails he received for getting a real feel for what it’s like on campus.
His answer: “I wish my colleges sent me something like this!”
Why? Don’t listen to me, listen to Will.
“When I watched, I felt like I was in the middle of the action—it wasn’t a campus tour looking at buildings. I could see actual students doing real things.”
“It was fun—I could look around and see a whole event or class from all angles. It wasn’t all polished, so it seemed more real.”
“I could see what it would be like to be a student there, and it was easy—use my phone, put on the viewer, and I was there.”
“I can find out what students at the college are doing on social media, but this made it easier to see a lot of different students doing different things.”
Want to convince kids like Will to choose your institution?
Bring a virtual student experience directly to them as part of the acceptance package.
Now more than ever, colleges and universities have to demonstrate their strengths and the value they offer.
One of the most distinguishing features of any institution is its campus culture, and prospective students are eager to find as much information as they can about whether they fit!
At a time when prospective students are tuning out traditional forms of recruitment and enrollment communications, higher ed marketers who use clever approaches like the virtual student experience to establish a meaningful emotional connection will see the increase in yield.