The Five Factors That Influence Prospects on a Campus Visit

Socializing on campus

There’s an age-old quote that explains how most prospects made their college decision.

“I just had a gut feeling when I walked around the campus.”

In fact, our 2016 College Prospect survey revealed nearly 80% of college prospects cite the campus visit as increasing the likelihood of attending that school.

To find out exactly what influenced the “gut feeling” during their visit, we surveyed 330 college prospects. The results are below.


Let’s take a closer look at the data to assess the effectiveness of your current campus visit and provide insight into how you can increase your appeal to those prospects with some real-world examples.

The Five Factors That Influence College Prospects on a Campus Visit


#1 – Information about Applications & Financial Aid

About the ranking: Not surprisingly, application and financial aid information topped the survey chart with 63% of respondents claiming it to be “very important” (32%) or “essential” (31%).

Food for Thought: You know this is an anxiety-inducing topic for parents, so be sure to let them know when you’ll be going in-depth on this. For a personal touch, make staff available for questions after the presentation or tour.

#2 – Feeling Welcomed By Staff

Oregon visitors center lobby

About the ranking: The least expensive and seemingly simplest act nearly garnered the top spot for on-campus influence. Approximately 62% cited feeling welcomed as either “very important” (37%) or “essential” (24%).

Food for thought: I recently conducted a focus group with counselors for first-generation college prospects who visit 60 highly selective schools per year. They said simple things like a handshake at the door, a “thank you for spending your time with us, we appreciate your consideration” or university swag (which prospects post photos of on social media) are little things that left lasting impressions. Take a surprise visit to your own admissions experience and note the points of improvement.

If you want to really know what parents wish you’d pay attention to, read this post by an anonymous parent, “What Parents Aren’t Telling You About Your Campus Visit.”

#3 – Faculty

About the ranking: This may be surprising: More than 58% of prospects felt learning about faculty was “very important” (40%) or “essential” (18%), outranking the likes of “campus beauty” and “tour guide.”

Food for thought – How are you discussing the topic of faculty? Are you talking about student-to-faculty ratios (which you’ve already touted on your website) or are you actually showing prospects and parents how your professors make an impact on the university and their students in real life?

#4 – Campus Beauty


About the rankingThe survey showed 51% of prospects view campus beauty as “very important” (35%) or “essential” (16%).

Food for thought – Stunning photographs of leafy quads in the fall are a staple of Higher Ed website design. Considering more than half of prospects rank campus beauty as an influencing factor, think about how you’re using available technology to connect with prospects, especially those who can’t attend a tour in person. We recently addressed virtual tours and other creative ways to bring your campus to prospects in our post, “3 New Ways to Host a Campus Tour”.

#5 – Your Tour Guide

About the Ranking –One out of two place your tour guide as “very important” (36%) or “essential” (14%).

Food for thought – Current prospects and their parents expect customization and personalization in their campus visit experience. One highly selective school told us they encourage prospects to choose their own tour guide after being introduced to them. “Whether it’s a geographic connection, field of interest, or cultural, we find prospects find value in that personal touch. It helps break down barriers.”

Another critical component is the storytelling. Equipping tour guides with a repository of stories to help personalize and customize each tour is key. Equally important is rethinking your welcome center as another communication touch-point which can serve stories to help prospects feel like they’ll fit in (the 6th ranking influential factor).

Examples in action:


Now that you’ve seen prospects’ top influencers, here are five ways universities are currently bringing these insights to life:

  • One Northeast college gives away ice cream sandwiches when discussing the importance of dairy farming in their area. Although it may seem like a small token, it has become a memorable differentiator for several prospects.
  • Northwestern uses its visitors center welcome area and info session to show prospects and parents about their faculty.
    • One dynamic video wall, geared to parents, creatively displays various faculty and their ground-breaking accomplishments.
    • A separate interactive story wall encourages prospects to learn about faculty from a student’s perspective.
    • The information session contains multiple videos creatively showcasing professor access and first-person stories about the faculty from their students.
  • One parent who visited a large Midwestern state school recently told me “my first and lasting impression was being crammed on a shuttle bus looking at cornfields thinking ‘they couldn’t figure out a way to have us park closer and walk?’ They were done before they even started.” First impressions matter.
  • Princeton University effectively uses both Snapchat and Instagram to creatively bring campus tours to prospects – which you can see here.
  • Swarthmore College’s tour guides break into small groups so they can get to know prospects and families before the tour. It’s a personal and well-received way to set the tone for the day.

We believe the campus visit is ripe for drastic improvement.  Colleges can sometimes forget about how daunting and intimidating this experience can be. By breaking down the barriers and formality, you create a halo effect that influences a prospects’ decision. Everything is in play – from convenience of parking, to how you create engagement before the information session. This experience should be treated like a symphony orchestra with everything coordinated flawlessly.

You now know the factors and their relative weight on the campus visit – now it’s your turn to take action.  To see the full set of survey results and our insider insights, see the 2016 College Prospect Survey here. Have you seen examples of who’s doing this well? Share them with us on Twitter at @StoriedU.

About Jay Sharman

Jay Sharman is the CEO and founder of TeamWorks Media, a purpose-driven marketing company in Chicago’s West Loop. TeamWorks helps not-for-profit and higher education clients combine purpose and profit by creating innovative marketing strategies... More about Jay Sharman »

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