5 Ways to Inject Life into Your Admissions Information Session

Socializing on campus

Consider three statistics from our recent study of college prospects:

  1. The majority of incoming college freshman attend over 4 information sessions.
  2. Over 78% of respondents said that the on-campus visit (information session and tour) increased their likelihood of attending the institution.
  3. Less than 1% “strongly agreed” information sessions were unique. Less than 21% agreed they were unique at all.

What this means: At least 79% of institutions are failing to differentiate themselves with their information sessions, which contribute to the single biggest driver (in our survey) of matriculation.

Schools spend oodles of cash on name recognition, branding, social media, paid search and physical marketing materials.  Yet, a key marketing tactic (the information session) of a key marketing channel (the on-campus visit) is being largely ignored.

This is something we LOVE in marketing: An underutilized tactic with a relatively low financial cost and a vast upside.

But how do you go about making your information session “unique?”  And how do you stay true to the spirit of your university while engaging prospects?

Below are 5 lessons I learned while helping develop a Top 15 university’s state-of-the-art information session.  Hopefully, you will be able to utilize some of these in maximizing the potential of yours.

1.      Embrace multi-media

Today’s prospects grew up in the digital age with routine access to quality content.  They expect to be entertained and engaged on their terms.  This includes the use of video and new media like gifs, heat maps, and live look-ins.

Media benefits your information session in a variety of ways:

It suggests progressivity.  In this way, the medium is the message.  While many universities speak about their cutting edge advancements and research, staid PowerPoint slides hardly support the claims.

It allows you to showcase sections of your campus that may not be accessible on the tour.  No access to dorm rooms, labs or cafeterias?  No problem.  Video can easily give prospects and their families a taste of these otherwise off-limit areas.

It allows you to integrate more of the personality and diversity of your campus.  After all, what is more effective?  Saying your institution is diverse or showing a robust, multi-cultural campus?

It makes the generic less so.  With our client institution, we knew that everyone in their peer set claimed a low student-to-teacher ratio.  The oft-repeated 8:1 ratio becomes noise.  Consequently, we endeavored to make the way we TOLD the statistic the differentiation.  I think you’ll agree it’s effective:

2.      Set expectations

The college application and matriculation experience is stressful.  Often, the prospects are worried about fitting in, and the parents are worried about finances.  Most information sessions don’t wish to lead off with these talking points, and yet, if not addressed up front, prospects and their parents may be too distracted to hear anything else.

Calm the nerves of your audience by clearly articulating what you will cover in the session and in what order.  Let them know there will be time for questions and that all relevant information will be available to them later (either on a website or via email).

There is also an opportunity to align yourself more broadly with their needs at this stage – to be supportive instead of salesy.  Help guide them through the complicated college selection process instead of pushing for a specific school commitment.  This assistance will reflect well upon your institution and pay dividends down the road.

3.      Allow presenters flexibility

Remember that university representatives are people, not merely brand mouthpieces.  As your front-line ambassadors, it is imperative they connect with prospects and their parents in an authentic manner.  Providing presenters with canned brand stories erodes trust.  Encourage presenters to share personal anecdotes that showcase their school spirit.  Enthusiasm is contagious!

For our university client, we created custom biography slides that provide visual prompts for connecting personal experiences with the university.  For example, presenters may talk about their favorite building on campus, or which sport they follow.  These moments paint the picture for a listener, allowing them to imagine attending a basketball game or living in a certain residence hall.

4.      Accurately reflect the personality of your institution

The information session’s goal shouldn’t be to entice everyone to apply to your school; it should be to attract the type of students who would do well and be happy there.  Develop a presentation that is consistent with your institutional values.  Encourage presenters to accurately reflect, in language, look and vibe, the genuine spirit of your university.  Allow them to freely engage with their audiences.  If you’ve indeed chosen the right representatives for your university, they are certain to show you in the best possible light.

5.      Avoid open-ended questions

Like a good lawyer, only have presenters ask questions they know the answers to.  Nothing kills a presentation quite like the crickets of non-response.

Sometimes, this merely involves changing the open-ended “Where’s everyone from?” to “Here’s a heat map of our current undergraduate class – according to this, 10% of you should be from the east coast… Can I get a show of East Coast hands?”

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In closing, there is a relatively low bar for differentiating your institution through an engaging, helpful information session.  Hopefully by integrating some of these lessons into your information session, yours will become more helpful and memorable.

If you’d like to continue to discuss this topic, I’m happy to ideate in the comments section or over email. You can reach me at katie [at] teamworksmedia.com.

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