19 August 2020
What will happen to campus tours?

“Our transition to virtual has given me an opportunity to connect with students in a way I didn’t do prior. Therefore we will keep digital events around no matter what the new normal looks like post-pandemic.”

As a former student ambassador and tour guide, I have become increasingly interested in learning what shape a campus tour this fall might take.

I posted a poll on LinkedIn asking anyone in higher education to respond to the question, “How (if at all) will your admissions office be providing campus tours to prospective students and their families this fall?”

Out of those who responded, 73% stated that they would be holding on campus tours in some way while 27% would not have any on campus tours for the fall semester. 

I was truly shocked by the vast amount of universities who are still pushing to hold their tours this fall, given the unpredictability of the fall months, I reached out to a handful of those who responded to my poll.

On-campus tours

Jackson Huff, an Admissions Representative at Indiana Tech, told me that their campuses are currently holding and will continue to hold on-campus tours. These tours are held by a staff member in the admissions office as opposed to the normal student ambassador.

When March first rolled around, the admissions team at Indiana Tech tried to do virtual tours – but they found that “people don’t care for 3D stuff.” 

“People actually want to come to visit campus, they want to do this in person not more but not less than before the pandemic began and ultimately more of their prospective students are people staying closer to home.”

As the fall semester starts in a few weeks and Indiana Tech welcomes students back to campus, “staff members will continue giving tours in the upcoming months, the goal is to have students giving them because obviously we want the student connection,” but they aren’t sure how realistic this will be given safety measures and the unknowns of how the transition back to campus will play out.

Webinars

Michael Cuneo, Assistant Director of Admissions at the Carey School of Business at Johns Hopkins University said that since March they have transitioned their events and visits to taking place through webinars. “We are a small campus only taking up a few floors in an actual office building, our campus tours weren’t all that robust of a tour, more of a visit day or information session.”

Cuneo added that “in the past, we did a ton of international and domestic travel with various companies who hosted tours. While all are doing virtual events we are saving on travel costs but we will see how it works without building that true in-person relationship.”

“With these events being online, we are missing out on the synergy and travel and a chance to meet alumni in those areas, interview prospects who are in the pipeline or who have submitted applications in person. Overall, it’s safe to say that I’m looking forward to the day where we can physically travel again.”

Digital will stick

Jennifer Spirer, Sr. Associate Director of Admissions and Recruitment at The Information Networking Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, shared her team’s experiences over the past few months and how they plan on proceeding into the fall semester. 

“Before the pandemic, we did our specific tours on a case by case basis we did not have a lot of them but when they did occur they were a very personalized visit experience.” 

“Our transition to virtual has given me an opportunity to connect with students in a way I didn’t do prior. Therefore we will keep digital events around no matter what the new normal looks like post-pandemic.”

JT Mitchell, Associate Director of Admissions at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University shared that his admissions team will not be holding on-campus tours this fall and are currently exploring digital solutions to replicate the connections that typically blossom during those student-led campus tours. 

Can virtual events actually replace past in-person events? 

In the face of global lockdowns, Bentley University moved all of their admitted student events online – using Unibuddy Live to host real-time group chats between applicants, student ambassadors and staff. 

Shanell Cartagena, Senior Assistant Director of International Admission, shared her first-hand experience of the versatility of Unibuddy Live which meant they could run large- scale recruitment events, as well as smaller and more targeted events. Shanell explained: “We had over 100 students and staff involved in these events, but with good organization, it was very straightforward to run. But for others, we had just 3 channels and a handful of staff and that takes just 5 minutes to set up.”

All universities took a hard left turn in March, those who relied on large in-person events to drive enrollment numbers found themselves scrambling to recreate them as best as possible online. Many universities are now largely back to giving in-person tours and in-person events with social distancing guidelines varying from state to state. 

I think it’s safe to say that digital enrollment events and virtual peer to peer connections are here to stay as we transition into a new normal. 

Image: Andrea

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