Spring term is traditionally the time when many programs are hosting campus visits. You’ve screened and selected the best applicants and now you want them to say “yes.” The campus visit allows you to meet these promising applicants, introduce them to faculty and peers, and make them feel they are part of the program. It is a chance to show them what life is really like “in the middle of the cornfield” and to show off all the university and your program have to offer. Alas, the pandemic has required this, too, to be a virtual experience.
You may be surprised at both the variety of ways to approach the virtual campus visit and some of its benefits. We recently talked with our Administrative Advisory Group about ideas worth pursuing. Here is a recap.
Synchronous, Asynchronous or Both?
Synchronous experiences allow you to connect with students immediately and to reach students who might not have been able to visit otherwise, but asynchronous elements also have some advantages. Interspersing pre-recorded portions within a synchronous presentation can make the technology easier to manage during the visit, plus it provides content to share with anyone who could not attend or for those who wish to revisit it later. You may even find that it allows you to reach more students.
One of the more challenging aspects of a traditional campus visit is how to create the informal networking that happens during visits. One way to replicate this is through a virtual social hour with breakout rooms where students can pop into different rooms, perhaps as part of a larger single visit agenda, or periodically over a set course of time.
Think strategically about what students can watch on their own and what you want to experience together. We all do a lot of Zoom, but some planning can help make those moments of connection work effectively.
Showcasing Your Program
Applicants want to get a flavor of the program and envision themselves in it. Consider sharing short research presentations by current students, mock lectures, or Q&A with faculty to get a sense of both the program and the people in it. A panel discussion or short interviews with current graduate students can provide student perspectives and create a sense of community. One unit shared that they are working with their graduate student organization to create a video of graduate students talking about different aspects of their program—what it’s like to work in a lab, favorite places on campus—to create a “campus tour” from the viewpoint of graduate students. While bragging about your program’s accolades is certainly important, so is allowing applicants to get a sense of their own potential in your program and how they will fit in.
Promoting the Full Illinois Experience
Don’t forget about other resources that will be part of the student’s experience. Are there services your college, department or program offer? These can make a difference for students who are trying to decide where to attend, as can campus resources that will be available to them like the library, the Scholarly Commons, the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, Research Institutes and Centers, and, of course, the Graduate College. We often hear students remark how impressed they are with the range of resources Illinois has to offer.
We encourage you to share our Explore Illinois webpages, our One Story and Discover Illinois Videos, our calendar of events and our GradMAP webpages for incoming students.
Sending care packages or other items that promote Illinois pride in advance of your virtual visit is another way of helping applicants feel they belong. See Illinois in a Box for some ideas and remember even creating a simple Zoom background to share is an inexpensive way of creating unity and pride.
While the need to shift gears is born out of necessity, it is also an opportunity to try some new approaches in our recruiting strategies and see what might serve us well even beyond the pandemic.