As early as I can remember I wanted to be a Ruf Nek at the University of Oklahoma. The first time I attended an OU Football game was 1985. OU versus Southern Methodist and OU won that game 35-13. I even have a picture of me sitting on the Sooner Schooner to commemorate the event.
I remember the Ruf Neks leading the team out of the tunnel and onto the field. They ran as fast as they could for the full 100 yards and then slid into the goalpost at the opposite end of the field. They chanted for a few moments, then exploded from their chant with loud yells and rifle shots signaling that the game could now begin.
Fast forward 10 years, my college journey was about to begin. I had been on campus at OU nearly 100 times. I thought I knew what it meant to be a student at the University of Oklahoma, regardless, i stillI made an official visit at an open house. (As compared to my unofficial visit in the middle of the night with a few friends to Owen Memorial Stadium through an unlocked gate in the south endzone. Yes, I pretended to be a Ruf Nek, even then, and I ran across the field and slid into the goalpost.) good times….
The open house was during the week, so I was able to meet current students and sit in on a freshmen level history class. What I discovered was that I wasn’t sure that OU was the right fit for me. I really had more questions than answers about academic life, balancing the rah rah hooray gameday atmosphere on Saturday and the everyday academic life. I knew that I thrived better in a setting where my professors would hold me a little more accountable for my attendance and work.
The open house at OU was great, students were fantastic and welcoming, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I learned so much about OU, outside of the usual Saturday game day. So my decision? not to attend OU.
Just to clarify, OU did everything right, my decision was more about self-awareness than anything else. Had I not been able to speak to current students about their experiences, I probably would have attended OU. And, this is the most important part, I probably would have failed and transferred to another school. Ultimately, it isn’t about your current students saying the right or wrong things when they are in front of prospective students. It’s about recruiting and retaining the right fit students.
To quote Paul Harvey, here is the “Rest of the Story”. I attended Oklahoma City University not too far up the road from The University of Oklahoma. I could still attend OU Football home games on Saturdays. But what I had at OCU was an environment that supported me both socially and academically. I found the right fit with current students, who shared stories that resonated with me and what I needed in a college experience.
The key thing to remember here is not every student will be able to make it to campus to speak with current students 1-on-1. Not every enrollment strategy includes a plan to connect prospective students and current students outside of a campus visit. Many institutions still struggle with implementing similar enrollment strategies. Many teams advocate for making college accessible but are often challenged with how to do that? Here is a recent case study from our friends at Florida International University, on how to use their students’ content as part of their strategy.
Showcasing your brand and providing a platform for students to share experiences is a great step 1. Ambassadors can be an effective marketing tool to connect to prospective students, help them through the application process and create a sense of belonging at your institution.
“Being a Unibuddy ambassador is a really enjoyable experience for me. I love being able to help students with answers to questions they have about university life that they might not be able to find elsewhere online. It makes me feel good knowing that my own experiences can be useful to others and their journey into Higher Education” Catherine
Organisational Psychology Student Ambassador, Read her full blog post here.
One more thing about the OU Sooners and how they got their name. They derived their name and mascot from the Oklahoma land rush of 1889. Tens of thousands of people lined up along the border of Oklahoma Territory and rushed in at noon to stake their claim of land. The “Sooners” were settlers who started early and snuck across the border the night before to stake the best land available. I’d like to call them early adopters.
Our hope at Unibuddy is that in your enrollment strategy and planning you adopt a “Sooner” mentality and think how you can access students earlier in the admission process before it is too late. The Unibuddy team is here to help you, our mission is to empower students to make better decisions through shared human experience. At the same time, support higher education professionals with an engagement tool that allows them to connect prospective students to current students. It’s quite that simple. Check out Unibuddy in action.