We all clearly understand that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the ability of students and their families to visit campus while, at the same time, the rapid shift to virtual events has also expanded what constitutes a visit in general. So, what has really changed when it comes to campus visits and their impact on your enrollment funnel, and how should you be adapting your approach to planning, marketing, and tracking events in the new normal of 2022? Let’s explore, shall we?

To begin, here are just a few key findings from Spark451’s most recent College-Bound Student Survey:

  • Survey respondents ranked “location setting” (#3) and “campus appearance” (#6) among the top 10 factors they considered when making their college decisions
  • 21% of students said they knew their school was right for them when they first visited
  • 57% of students said they visited campus before making a deposit

But here is where the COVID-inspired, Zoom-driven realities of our time have shown their impact:

  • 64% of respondents said their college decision was influenced by attending a campus event, such as an Open House or Admitted Students Day, down from 74% four years ago.
  • And over 50% said that those impactful “visits” were virtual events!

Campus Visits—Still The Ultimate KPI

It’s a nearly universal truth of higher ed admission. Students who visit campus generally move through the admissions funnel at a significantly higher rate than those who don’t visit. Not only that, the later in the admissions process that they visit, and the more times they visit, the higher the likelihood that they will enroll. So it stands to reason that schools should place a premium on finding ways to get students and their families to visit.

While most schools are acutely aware of the negative impact they’ve felt by the recent decreases they’ve seen in campus visitors, too few actually factor campus visit numbers into their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for their enrollment funnels and projections. Most institutions keep track of the total number of campus visitors from year to year as a general indicator of interest in their prospect pools. This approach provides a broad sense of overall interest in your institution, but it falls short of providing a true projection of potential enrollment. Tracking campus visit totals alongside your admissions funnel data at each stage—prospects, applicants, admits, and deposits—will give you a truer sense of the level of interest and engagement, and the overall strength within each segment. In an ideal world, your visit percentages should increase at each stage of the funnel. At the very least, you should aim for consistency throughout.

To gain an even more robust level of analysis of your visit pool, you may want to consider utilizing an analytical service like Spark451’s proprietary Enrollytics service to consolidate your engagement metrics, including campus visits, along with demographic, academic, and socio-economic factors to turn data tracking into enrollment predictability. By reviewing your historical enrollment and visit data, we can help you determine just how impactful your campus visit experiences are on your admissions funnel productivity, as well as next-level data like who is visiting and who is not. By drawing true correlations between campus visits and a student’s progress to the next stage of your admissions funnel, you will be empowered to either continue your already effective visit processes or enhance them as needed. Additionally, you will gain a data-driven perspective on the likelihood that your applicants and admits will eventually matriculate.

Get the Most Out of Every Visit Opportunity

So, it’s clear that enrollment planning must still involve maximizing campus visitors. However, we must also now adjust our mindset to what our audience considers to be a campus visit these days. The realities of the pandemic era have fundamentally altered the ability, if not the desire, of many families to make long-distance trips to visit multiple campuses in person for a variety of reasons, ranging from health concerns to finances. Additionally, the rise of virtual information tours and info sessions, and even full scale events like virtual open houses immediately made necessary in 2020, have enabled families to broaden their definition of a campus visit, and in turn, “visit” more schools than ever before.

This is not to imply that the virtual visit experience is a good replacement for an in-person visit. Indeed, there’s no replacing the feeling of finding one’s home away from home that a student can get when they set foot on the “right fit” campus. It’s priceless.

But the fact is that fewer families are visiting in person, and colleges and universities can’t let that be a hindrance to the overall enrollment boost that campus visitors provide. The answer is to provide as many and as varied an assortment of on-campus visit opportunities as possible, but to also expand your reach by providing virtual options for those who need them.

Here are several strategies for planning both on-campus and virtual visits that drive enrollment results:

1. You don’t have to do more to do better

Adding a consistent virtual component to your campus visit repertoire doesn’t have to mean doubling the workload of your team by doing twice as many events. By setting aside specific times during your campus events where families can join in online for an information session or meet with a counselor, you can increase your reach without adding to your calendar.

Additionally, working with your IT and audio-visual teams on campus to plan for well-orchestrated recordings of your campus events can enable you to post a visit experience online for families to view whenever and wherever they are available.

Spark451 has a wealth of resources and solutions to help you make the most of your virtual visit offerings.

2. Invite students early and often

Communication to students at every stage of your admissions funnel should involve calls to action to visit campus. Don’t wait for the student to request a visit—make it clear that they’re always welcome, and give them a good reason to make the effort!

3. Provide programming tailored to each specific funnel stage

One-size-fits-all campus events are too vague and impersonal. Generation Z students prefer more intimate, even personalized visit experiences. A high school junior and an admitted senior need very different information and experiences in order to feel like their visits were helpful. Be sure to have designated events for underclassmen, senior prospects, applicants, and admitted students — each geared toward helping attendees take the next step in the funnel process.

4. Reach unengaged populations with additional, public-service events

In addition to the standard admissions-centered campus events and visit experiences, it’s worthwhile to provide generally informative, community-oriented, and/or service-related visit opportunities as a means to maximize foot traffic on your campus. Some simple examples of public service or general info events are Financial Aid Nights, events where the public can gain free tax-prep assistance from students in your business department, or program-specific field trips for high school classes. These “non-admissions” events can serve as incredibly compelling “sales pitches” to otherwise unengaged populations, which can allow you to expand your long-term funnel.

5. Take a multichannel approach to publicizing events

Communicating visit opportunities across multiple mediums will help ensure your message lands. Mailed invitations are always impactful for parents, while emails and texts make it easy for students to RSVP with the click of a button. This is where a robust CRM platform is invaluable. It empowers you to centralize and segment your communication efforts for hyper-targeted and efficient messaging, to simplify the visit registration process, and even keep consistent records of all campus visitors. If you’re one of the many campuses that has a CRM like Slate, Salesforce, or Element451 in place, but doesn’t have the personnel or bandwidth to use it to its fullest potential, the team at Spark451 provides our SparkAssist partnership program to provide the backend support you need.

6. Incentivize campus visits

High school students are applying to more schools than ever these days. Our research indicates that 40% of students today apply to eight or more schools. This ever-increasing “short list” means that visiting every school is less and less feasible. Therefore, you must provide compelling reasons for a student to prioritize visiting your campus. Incentives can range from the basic visit scholarship or travel voucher to tying your admissions programming to exciting events on campus or in the local area. This serves the purpose of encouraging campus visits while also telling the story of what there is to do outside of class.

We Can Help

As a full-service marketing communication and technology firm made up of seasoned admissions leaders and an award-winning in-house creative team, Spark451 is uniquely positioned to partner with colleges and universities to utilize best practices along with bold new ideas to boost your campus visit programs and positively impact your enrollment funnel at every stage. We’d love to speak with you about your school’s current campus visit and event challenges and help strategize some unique solutions. Reach out and connect today!