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Top findings from over 200 enrollment leaders on how they are gearing up for fall admissions during COVID-19

July 29, 2020

Across July, EAB hosted three virtual working sessions with 54 admissions leaders representing over 50 institutions across the United States and Canada. During this time, we also surveyed over 230 enrollment leaders on their plans for fall admissions given the pandemic. The survey and working sessions delved into how admissions teams are recruiting and engaging with prospective students for fall 2021 and beyond. Here are the three initial findings from our research:

The high schools and community colleges you normally visit will not be open

Eighty percent of directors of admissions were not confident the schools they visit will be open. High school and community college openings will vary widely, with some institutions reopening for learning while others move to a hybrid or fully virtual model. There is so much uncertainty and that can make it difficult to plan your recruitment strategy for the fall. Prospective student family preferences, university campus reopening, travel liability, staff safety and comfort, and any regional or local restrictions all impact how your admissions teams can recruit new students

Given this uncertainty, admissions leaders largely recognize that they need to plan conservatively and most institutions are planning for predominantly virtual fall admissions activities. Information sessions, admissions counseling sessions, and other activities will occur online. The activities universities do offer in person will maintain social distance, with institutions offering new campus tours like self-guided driving and individual family tours.

One institution we spoke with wanted to incorporate more flexibility into their fall admissions planning; they produced two distinct plans for fall admissions activities – one that is entirely virtual and one hybrid approach. They will be able to execute either one – dependent on their decisions regarding staff travel.

There is opportunity for innovation now that lasts past COVID

One institution we spoke with recently shared, “some of the changes we are being forced to make this year we have been wanting to implement for a while; this crisis just provided the forcing function we needed to actually try it.” Universities have found novel ways to connect with students throughout the pandemic, many of which may last past the crisis. Even under the best circumstances, admissions teams can’t get every prospect to campus, so the work they are doing to improve and publicize virtual ways to connect will serve them far beyond the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, fewer than 45 percent of surveyed institutions offered a virtual tour. Now, almost every campus has a virtual tour offered through either a vendor or homegrown versions. Online virtual tours, open houses, and personalized admissions visits are helping more students feel connected to the university.

Institutions are also thinking more about the right ways to deploy their resources. With admissions counselors not traveling, many universities are offering one-on-one sessions with a counselor for students and their families. The predominantly virtual approach means teams are thinking outside of the typical 9AM to 5PM when scheduling these sessions, offering appointments when students and their parents are available. This shift away from traditional thinking regarding admissions services provides many opportunities for the future. For example, sitting in on a class is a popular but logistically difficult activity to scale for prospective students. The virtual capabilities institutions have developed will allow them to more easily offer opportunities like that in the future.

Successful virtual recruiting will foster community and connectedness for prospects even at a distance

Admissions leaders are dedicated to creating an authentic and engaging experience for prospects, even from a distance. While virtual activities provide many opportunities to do this, they present new challenges as well. Virtual admissions activities require institutions handle a host of logistics like the optimum number of participants and how to keep folks engaged from afar. These practices are new to admissions teams which traditionally rely on the connectedness fostered by in-person meetings – meeting that bar online is much harder. Across the fall teams will grapple with how to connect with prospective students from afar and at scale, juggling personalization and efficiency. 

EAB will be focusing our efforts to support admissions teams in this work across the next few months. Stay tuned for further insights and resources to support fall admissions planning, execution, and innovation.

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