Reimagining Admissions: Important Lessons from The Pandemic

By Sarah Achenbach posted 05-04-2021 12:35 PM


As enrollment management professionals, we’ve watched the pandemic upend traditional admissions events. We’ve pivoted to all-virtual programs in spring 2020. And every school has been trying to figure out how to juggle safe, in-person events while maintaining the virtual outreach that many prospective families now expect.

Today’s necessary combination of virtual and in-person tours, shadow events, open houses, and more have ushered in new ideas and ways of engaging prospective audiences. How can your school make the most of these new admissions opportunities?

Open the doors with virtual tours

One of the areas our experts will cover during the panel discussion is the virtual tour. No longer a forgotten slideshow on your campus map section of your website, this digital tool is critical to having people “visit’ you safely. Of course, nothing beats the energy and excitement of being on your campus, but there are creative, engaging ways to have people experience your campus without actually being on your campus.

Virtual tours, produced in-house or professionally, can give your visitors a sense of your campus and your school culture, if done thoughtfully. There are numerous professional virtual tour companies that can produce a 360-degree tour for your school. Do a quick internet search (be sure to look at YouTube) for examples and get recommendations from the schools or colleges using a professional service.

Don’t limit your visitors to only seeing the exteriors of your campus, though. Prospective families need to get inside your facilities. Intersperse your tour with pre-pandemic footage of how that space is typically used. Mine past videos of performances, students doing labs, sports events, campus traditions, etc. to pull viewers into the culture of your school and the vibrancy of your campus.

Select the host with the most

Yes, music, drone footage and graphics with the building’s title can be enough for a campus tour. But is it enough to truly engage prospective students and get them excited about the next step? The magic of an in-person tour is the tour guide. Picking the right host for your video makes all the difference.

Flint Hill School, which has had in-person learning since fall 2020, created virtual tours for each of its three divisions. Led by the division director, these tours stop in different classrooms to chat with teachers. The viewer is pulled in and sees how Flint Hill is safely teaching and learning.

John Carroll High School in Maryland created its virtual tour for its virtual open house last fall using interviews with various administrators, video of the campus and stills of pre-COVID student life to give viewers a sense of the community. The tour remains an important part of the school’s on-demand content.

Last August, a public school in California, Warren High School, created a virtual tour for incoming students offering a fun, informative campus preview. Narrated by an administrator, the video wove B-roll footage of the lively, pre-COVID student scene, great graphics and the guide’s personality to make incoming students feel excited about their new home while learning remotely.

Check out the colleges, too, for inspiration. Williams College’s recent virtual tour uses student tour guides to lead a campus tour, explaining not only what the buildings are but what happens in them. With past footage and the hosts’ presentation, it’s a fun, virtual take on an in-person tour.

Customize the virtual tours for impact

At this point in the pandemic, prospective families have seen far too many similar virtual tours. Stand out with a less scripted/unscripted student-hosted tour that gives the viewer a true sense of your school.

Embrace the odd facts like a favorite place on campus, favorite lunch, place you walk past the most times in a day, best book in the library, coolest project you have done in class, what you can't wait to get back to when COVID is over. It’s what your student tour guides would talk about if they were leading a tour in person.

Such eclectic, genuine tours are grounded in emotion and joy. Be sure to use the lower-thirds (the titles on a video under the person speaking) to give name, year, the spot and what roles the tour guide has on campus.

Use authentic student voices to further distinguish your programs and facilities and to speak to the passions of your prospective and enrolled/accepted students. What about:

  • The basketball captain giving a guided tour of the athletic facilities with past game footage, current footage of a masked practice and his or her own words about what they love about being on the team.
  • The drama devotee showcasing the theater, from the front of the house to the costume area, who also shares favorite roles, videos or stills from past performances.
  • The Robotics team member leading a tour of the Robotics lab or maker space, giving a demo of a robot and sharing what it means to be part of these Robotics competitions.

Try live and livestreaming tours

In March 2021, Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child hosted an admissions event for its primary program over Facebook Live to combat Zoom fatigue and to reach families while the school’s campus was closed during the pandemic. Titled “the Pre-K to Grade 2 Peek-a-Boo,” the school livestreamed the lower school division head popping in and out of classrooms in real time.

Our goal was to build trust with prospective families by being transparent about our program,” says Meghan Hodgin, Oak Knoll’s director of marketing and communications. “This was not only great for new applicants but also wonderful for retention, with a side benefit of giving our current parents – who are unable to come to campus while we are closed to visitors – an opportunity to see their child live in class.”

Many schools are livestreaming sports. School athletics can play a big part in recruiting, and having prospective athletes see your student teams playing goes a long way in establishing school affinity and spirit. Consider a "chalk talk" with a coach before a game and then a chance to watch the game live, perhaps in a watch party with other prospective athletes.

Boston University has been offering live, guided virtual tours since the 2020 fall semester with their top tour guides. Using iPads and Zoom webinars, tour guides are able to replicate tour routes as they navigate the urban campus and go from building to building. In fact, due to the nature of the remote tour, they have been able to show more of the campus than they previously had been due to large tour group sizes. With one student on camera showing the campus and sharing their student perspective, another student sits behind the scenes and answers the prospective student’s questions in the webinar’s Q&A feature. Check out Boston University’s virtual options.

Learn More

On May 14, 2021, 12 PM-1 PM/EST, AISAP is hosting a live panel discussion of new admissions opportunities, Reimagining Admissions: Important Lessons from The Pandemic.  

Register here for the panel

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Sarah Achenbach

Sarah Achenbach
Communications Lead
Kalix Marketing