Every year at this time, high school students make their pilgrimage to college campuses to cement their college choice. This annual ritual has come to an abrupt standstill in the age of COVID-19. In response, colleges have moved swiftly to make virtual campus visits the centerpieces of  new digital yield strategies for admitted students. Many are building out significant additional supporting content as we speak.

This is the most obvious strategy, but is this the right strategy? Our research on student reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic reveals what to keep in mind as you engage in student yield at a distance.

To be sure, it has been a head-spinning effort to identify and align all of the digital resources that could inform a student’s admissions decision in a clear and coherent way, and then to communicate the availability of this information. This is more than just sending an email invitation to take a virtual visit and institutions know it.

But is the virtual visit the best starting point? What should take the place of an on campus information session or regional event? And, what information, beyond the virtual visit, do students need and what is the best way to provide it?

Over the next few days and weeks, Eduventures will release new research on how college-bound high school seniors are reacting to COVID-19 as a disruption of their high school-to-college paths. More than 7,100 students across the country provided answers to questions about potential changes in enrollment decisions and impacts on high school experiences. Today’s first look at this data will focus on what institutions need to know right now: how students assess fit in the absence of in-person college visits.

Our survey asked students how they would assess whether or not a school is a good fit in the absence of in-person events and campus visits. We asked them about the video format (live or recorded) of information that would be useful to them as well (see Figure 1).

 

How to Assess FitFigure 1.

 

According to students, the most important areas for receiving information in video format are: curriculum, student life, financial aid, and career outcomes. Among these top-tier areas of information, the most important one to make available in a synchronous interactive format (i.e., live) is information about financial aid.

The next areas of priority are your virtual campus visit, dorm life, faculty discussions, and student discussions. Of these areas, student discussions are the most important to make interactive.

Less important areas for students are international opportunities, alumni, and athletics. Students will seek out this information, but it might not be top of mind.

It’s helpful to contrast what is happening now for students going through this college choice with students who went through last year’s college choice. In Eduventures 2019 Admitted Student Research Report™, we showed that digital and virtual sources of information were consistently less used and valued as sources of information if they were used by students in college search (see Figure 2).

 

Use and Usefulness of College Communications – Admitted StudentsFigure 2.

 

Historically, only 36% of admitted students used virtual events to assess colleges. If they did, a healthy majority (69%) found these events useful, but there’s a considerable gap between the standard of a standalone virtual event and a traditional admitted student event or campus visit. Thus, virtual events have to be part of a considered campaign.

As a follow-on part of our continuing coverage of the impact of COVID-19, we’ll assess these and other longer-term changes in enrollment patterns in our upcoming cycle of Admitted Student Research. For now, let’s focus on seven ways you can impact your digital yield efforts:

Prioritize Your Yield Content

Your institution might have hundreds of great videos that would look fantastic as part of a virtual yield effort, and your enthusiastic staff might have great ideas about what else is needed. Before taking action, take a deep breath and take the time to prioritize which information is most critical to feature.

Develop a Landing Page for All of Your Virtual Yield Content

Make sure that all your virtual resources for admitted students are in one place and are updated as you develop additional opportunities or content. This will keep students coming back for more. Effective examples include Colorado State University, St. Edward’s University, The University of Arizona, and Indiana University.

Think Beyond the Virtual Visit

If you have a great virtual visit, it might be the most obvious thing to feature, but it might not be what students are looking for first. Make sure you give them opportunities to learn about curriculum, financial aid, student life, and career outcomes right up front.

You are No Longer Beholden to the Info Session—This is an Opportunity!

You could record one of your admissions counselors giving the usual information session. But the COVID-19 disruption has given you some unexpected freedom. You can now give students the option to consume just the information they want, they don’t have to listen to the whole spiel. Consider featuring bite sized content areas versus a 30 to 40 minute presentation of everything.

Keep it Clean

It might also be tempting to make every resource you have available to students. But doing so would dilute a clear and concise message about the nature of your institution. Adhere to providing the critical information that students seek. Also provide ample opportunities for students to chat, text, or email their admissions counselors with additional questions.

Develop a More Robust Email and Social Campaign

In a typical year, seniors are less inclined to pay attention to email as they get more in-person with their assessments. That won’t be the case this year. Use email and key social media sites like Instagram to drive students to your virtual fit assessment opportunities.

Acknowledge the Enormous Anxiety that Students are Feeling

Being truly student-centric means considering their needs before yours in your communications. To help institutions get into the minds of students, we’ve collected thousands of open-ended student quotes about their biggest concerns. Students have lost the rituals of senior year; they have lost family income; they are worried about losing family members; and they are worried about losing their college future. We are analyzing these responses and look forward to sharing them with you in the coming weeks.

The Bottom Line

As you make choices about the virtual resources you provide for students, first remember that they are experiencing a tremendous loss in their lives. You should appropriately acknowledge the loss that students are feeling as they go through this difficult time. But do so within context. By this, we mean that colleges should make a concerted effort not to place their needs above those of students. Balance your messages to be supportive, but stick to the core messages that will impact yield.

At this moment in time, 37% of the students we surveyed say their college choice is being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic . Our follow up research with students will determine how decisions play out over the course of this yield season. We look forward to making these insights available to you though reports, webinars, and more Wake-Up Calls in the coming weeks and months.

Kim Reid

Eduventures Principal Analyst at ACT | NRCCUA
Contact

Wednesday, April 15, 2020 at 2PM ET/1PM CT

College-bound high school students across the country are experiencing unprecedented disruption to their senior year of high school. They are feeling disconnected from friends, social events, and the norm of going to high school every day. They’ve lost the important rituals of senior year. One of these central rites of passage, the choice of and transition to college, has been thrown into turmoil.

This webinar, based on an Eduventures survey conducted just last week, has garnered more than 7,100 responses from high school seniors nationwide. We will discuss these findings and the impact that COVID-19 is having on their current high school experience and their ongoing college choice. Our analysis will frame the conversation of how colleges can move forward in helping students make sense of college choice in an uncertain time. We will explore key segments such as first-generation and low-income students and students in hard hit regions of the country.

Finally, we seek the insights of the higher education community as we analyze the data further and look forward to the in-depth Admitted Student Research we are preparing in the coming months.

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