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How to engage prospective adult learners virtually during COVID-19 and beyond

April 24, 2020

Finding ways to engage prospective students virtually is important to any long-term marketing strategy. Even before COVID-19, consumers, including students, demonstrated a growing appetite for immersive marketing experiences. From Carvana’s virtual test drive feature to Warby Parker’s virtual try-on sessions for glasses, many of the world’s top brands have started to integrate virtual and augmented reality into their marketing strategies.

The difference now, in the midst of a pandemic, is that virtual engagement is our only option. When I talk to Adult Learner Recruitment partners, many are grappling with how to successfully recruit and serve students from afar.

Here are a few ways your college or university can reach and recruit prospects virtually.

Create a virtual tour tailored to adult learners

With campuses closed, enrollment leaders are turning to virtual tours to recruit prospective students.

40%

of survey respondents are adding or promoting virtual tours on their websites in light of COVID-19
of survey respondents are adding or promoting virtual tours on their websites in light of COVID-19

While you might associate campus tours with prospective undergraduate students, opportunities to explore your institution—and the community that comes with it—are also important for graduate, adult, professional, and online students. In our recent survey of graduate and adult enrollment leaders, we found 40% of respondents are adding or promoting virtual tours on their websites in light of COVID-19.

But virtual tours for adult-serving programs should look a little bit different from the tours designed for prospective undergrads and their parents. For example, instead of touring traditional campus destinations like a dining hall or student union, virtual tour technology can be used to showcase online learning experiences and state-of-the-art labs.

Beyond virtual tours, interactive web content can also be used to share student, faculty, and alumni testimonials. Our researchers have found that testimonials are especially powerful for adult learner populations like degree completers, who are eager to see evidence that “students like them” are enrolled and succeeding in your program.

Host virtual events to give prospects another way to “learn more”—and grow event attendance

65%

of surveyed enrollment leaders are adding or increasing live virtual events to engage students during social distancing
of surveyed enrollment leaders are adding or increasing live virtual events to engage students during social distancing

Campus closures don’t mean your college or university needs to cancel recruitment events. 65% of the enrollment leaders we surveyed are adding or increasing live virtual events to engage students during social distancing. Survey respondents most often use Zoom, social media channels, and WebEx to host virtual events such as information sessions and open houses.

While virtual events aren’t a new concept, the attendance some schools are experiencing at their virtual events is noteworthy. One of our Adult Learner Recruitment partners, a small private institution in the South, had 91 prospective students attend a virtual open house last week, double the highest attended event they hosted the year prior (which students attended in-person). And one of our law school partners increased RSVPs for their virtual information session from eight to 115 in a matter of days after deploying some refreshed, thoughtful creative.

Virtual events also allow students who may otherwise have been unable to attend your event—due to geographic distance or travel costs—the opportunity to attend. 16 of the 91 students who attended the virtual information session I mentioned earlier were international students who likely could not have attended the event in person.

Prioritize personalized outreach from faculty and recruiters to cut through the noise

62%

of surveyed graduate and adult enrollment leaders say they plan to increase personalized staff and faculty outreach to prospective students
of surveyed graduate and adult enrollment leaders say they plan to increase personalized staff and faculty outreach to prospective students

Without opportunities to interact with students face-to-face at open houses and other events, campus leaders are also encouraging faculty and staff to reach out to prospects virtually. 62% of surveyed graduate and adult enrollment leaders say they plan to increase personalized staff and faculty outreach to prospects. Our researchers have found that outreach from faculty and staff strengthens students’ connection to the institution and alleviates lingering concerns.

Faculty outreach can be especially influential in assuaging concerns from students who are mid-application or admitted but not registered, as those students often have questions about a program’s academic rigor or learning outcomes. And much like your recruitment teams, your faculty may end up reaching out to students who are reconsidering applying or enrolling due to COVID-19. Consider equipping faculty with a couple of questions they can ask to gauge student concerns about going back to school during the crisis, or even email scripting they can personalize and send to prospects.

As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, finding ways to engage prospects virtually will only become a more important part of short- and long-term recruitment strategy. We look forward to continuing to share insights and tactics as you prepare for the enrollment cycle to come.

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