College decisions can hinge on the campus visit.
Prospective students and their families use visits to see firsthand how your experience measures up to the brand you’ve expressed in your marketing materials.
Visits are a litmus test on the authenticity of your claims, as prospects weigh whether their personal stories will match the brand stories you’ve promoted.
Just ask our very own Mary Sullivan. She and her family toured colleges from coast to coast — both large and small, public and private — on her daughter’s quest to find the best-fit college experience.
Get Mary’s tips for creating a campus visit that delivers what your prospects want while deepening their experiences with your brand.
Tips for your team
Answer these important questions.
These are the questions every student thinks about, whether or not they speak up and really ask the question:
• Do you offer majors and opportunities that interest me?
• What are the students really like here?
• How can I afford it?
• Do I like the school’s personality?
• Do I feel comfortable and confident here?
• Can I be successful here?
Mary says the real value of a campus visit is measured by how well you address these questions.
Your answers could help prospects make connections to advance their admissions status, better position them for scholarships, feel the school’s personality and paint a transparent picture of costs and scholarship opportunities.
One way to get at your prospects’ questions is to offer one-on-one interviews. During an admissions interview on a campus visit, Mary’s daughter shared how her leadership spanned serving as president of the world religions club to fundraising for Rohingya refugees in high school. The admissions counselor connected her interest in community activism to the university’s scholarship for social justice.
Getting the scholarship and opportunity to continue her community activism put the school among her top picks.
Capture your culture from the start.
Prospects want to know what it’s like to be a student at your school. Before prospects ever arrive on campus, share authentic examples of your campus culture.
Hendrix College, a liberal arts institution nestled in conservative Arkansas, stressed its “be you” culture in its admissions tools — punctuated by a girl reading a book in a handstand and its creative concept, “Why be boring?”. This culture rang true on the campus visit when our college-bound student learned about the inclusiveness of the campus and how she just missed the Miss and Mister Hendrix drag queen and king competition.
Brand your space.
First impressions count. So use environmental graphics to showcase your brand across campus, especially where prospects meet you — the admissions office. Branded spaces are an extension of all the communications you’ve sent prospects and build on their perceptions about who you are. So get prospective students excited about visiting campus.
At Loyola University New Orleans, the admissions offices and campuses embodied the brand identity colors and creative concept represented in its viewbooks. From the streetcar illustrated t-shirt you received on the tour to the banners displayed on campus using phrases like “create something meaningful” and “follow your dream,” the brand was palpable everywhere.
Put your best ambassadors forward.
Your tour guides need to know your school inside and out, and that includes making sure they’re trained in your brand messages. It’s okay if they don’t have answers for everything, but if you want to be known for your #1 teaching accolade, fully funded study abroad experience or top return on investment, your guides must share it.
Personalize tours to prospects’ interests.
For our prospective student, going on a focused biology major tour was just what she needed to make a larger campus feel small. To get a sense of where she’d spend most of her time on campus, she also toured the science classrooms and research areas.
Also consider splitting up students and their parents. At Rhodes College, students can roam campus and get a feel for college life without their parents in tow. It’s a great way for students to ask questions without any hesitations and relax on the tour.
Feature your best brand heroes.
A long-winded presentation from administrators might trigger a yawn fest. But holding a Q&A with current students is a must. Prospects want to hear about students’ experiences from their own perspectives. So choose students whose stories best embody your brand.
On one of our visits, a student panelist shared how, as a biology major, he added a year to get a teacher’s certificate and expand his career options. His story dropped in brand details in a way that were relatable to our college-bound student.
Don’t skip the dorm tour.
Mary was surprised that many tour guides just point toward the residence halls without giving prospects a true sense of what it’s like to live there. Prospects want to see inside.
But don’t just drop in, either. You don’t want to encounter awkward surprises like a guy and girl exiting showers only wearing their towels (yes, that happened!). Ideally, you should have a designated model room for your tours, but using a room that looks a bit lived-in is okay, too.
And if there are just too many hoops to jump through to schedule in-person dorm tours, put a quick dorm tour on your website. Student-hosted videos are a great way to personalize the dorm experience, especially ones documenting move-in day.
Pull out all the stops on admit day.
Make this ultimate campus visit fun and memorable. Our college-bound student’s admit day included a student outing at a bowling and music venue where she got to know the people she’d be taking classes with. A parents-only social featured the school’s jazz ensemble musicians and connected Mary with other parents on a personal level that made her feel part of the university, too.
The undeniable link between visit and brand
So how well are you connecting your brand with what prospects actually experience when they arrive on campus?
What do your tour guides say? Are they reinforcing your brand messages? Does your brand have a visual presence on campus? Are prospects meeting the same types of students you’ve highlighted in your materials? Are students and their families getting the answers they came for?
If you’re not sure, we can help. Let’s talk.
Whether you’re considering a brand overhaul or managing a new brand after launch, Zehno can help shape how audiences view your institution. Read more about our services.