Stepping Back, Readjusting, but Still Recruiting in a COVID Quarantined World

Estimated read time – 6 minutes

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I could start out talking about how stressful things are and how schools have to adapt to recruiting virtually. I’m not going to, you’ve seen it in every email and article lately. Instead, I want to talk about strategies to take care of yourself, your staff, and your students while still accepting the reality that work has to get done through this. I’m not an expert. Nobody is. But I want to share what we’ve learned here at Niche from conversations with partners and hope that it helps you as well.

Step Back

  • Turn off social app notifications and close those browser tabs. If you’re working on something (like a blog post maybe?), only have that open and be with your thoughts. There is plenty of time to catch up on what’s going on. Give yourself permission to disconnect and breath.
  • Check in with staff and coworkers. Make time for a quick call or video chat and make sure they’re doing ok. 
  • Use this time to catch up on podcasts, books, and blogs. You’re going to need time away from a screen, especially if you’re working remotely for the first time. Spend lunch away, take a moment to stretch or do yoga, and learn something new professionally or personally.
  • Make sure that you, and those around you, have a good setup for working from home. This could go on for a while and temporary setups just won’t cut it. Jackie Vetrano and Campus Sonar shared helpful resources.

Readjust

  • We’ve put together an updating resource to help. There are resources for PK-12 schools, higher ed, adjusting your recruiting processes, communications, and support for working remotely.
  • Students need support and counseling now more than ever. College counselors are getting creative, like Ben Davis High School, in supporting schools. This is a great way for admission staff to be involved as well. College admission counselors can connect and support high school staff. Private school counselors can reach out to community organizations and elementary schools. We can all continue our work, but in different ways and with a different emphasis. Be partners. Be consultative. Don’t be a vulture.
  • Virtual tours. I’m not even at an institution any more and I keep seeing companies trying to sell their products. Virtual tours are a necessity, previously to support international and out-of-state students, and now as the only means to visit. Be creative though. Instead of just showing all of your buildings, integrate user-generated content from your students, staff, and alumni. A well designed website with videos, stories, and resources can perform similarly or outperform a vendor solution; as long as you have the time to create and support it.
  • Change your deadlines already! While hundreds of schools already have pushed back their decision deadlines, and hundreds more were already rolling admission, this is not the time to stand by your historic reply date. Families are facing a lot of environmental and financial uncertainty and are likely delaying their decisions, if they plan to make a decision at all.
  • Adjust application review and be sure to remind staff of that for the next several years. Transcripts are going to look a little funny for a while. Students are not focused 100% on their education right now (and were they ever?) and that will certainly affect GPAs. Staff should be empathetic and factor that in as a qualitative piece of information.
  • International student enrollment will decline further. Travel restrictions and quarantines will add to the difficulty of just getting into the United States, and there will certainly be students and families watching the US response and comparing it to other countries they are considering. Prepare for lower retention and new students, but don’t abandon recruitment either.
  • The #EMChat community has been talking about how to adjust to the changes and is supportive of anyone with questions. This is a summary of the conversation on 3/12 and another for the continuation on 3/19 on Twitter.
  • Niche received survey responses from 30,353 high school and college students as well as parents to gauge the impact the COVID-19 global pandemic is having. Use the results to help plan messaging and provide insights for campus planning.

Continue Recruiting

  • Update your playbook for next year. Digital ads, remarketing, virtual events, student videos, inquiry sourcing, and partnerships will play a much bigger role and purchasing test score names, travel, and required office hours will diminish. As you move to more digital presence be sure to experiment with content and analyze the impact. We wrote a guide to experimentation as well as a video and templates to support your ROI analysis.
  • Expect transfer applications to increase. A combination of the CEPP changes and COVID will lead students to change institutions. As students and families lose income some may need to choose a less expensive option. There will also be families that are rattled and want to stay closer to home when they had previously ventured further for their education. Are you prepared and how easily can you review transcripts and respond while working remotely?
  • Hold live events on Instagram and YouTube to connect with students. Meet them where they already are with Q&A, student panels, and engaging content that shows what the community is like. Here is a resource from Zoom about successful virtual events as well as some ideas for making your events more creative.
  • Connect admitted students to each other and current students with communities, WhatsApp groups, or Telegram groups. You can set these up for free and launch today; plus they work through channels that students already have. There are a lot of great options through vendors as well, but with uncertain budgets for next year this is a good option. 
  • Use lookalike audiences for digital ads to reach new prospective students. Few schools use remarketing, and even fewer take advantage of lookalike audiences. These are great tactics that can drive down cost for ads.
  • Public K-12 has an opportunity to win back students who were attending private schools and boarding schools if they didn’t handle the crisis well. With income uncertainty comes an opportunity to reiterate your value and lack of tuition payments. Conversely, if public schools are perceived as not handling this well there may be a shift to more private education.
  • Meet students where they are. Niche is the largest school search site and we work with over 1,500 schools to promote their school, programs, and events. We offer full digital remarketing as well as student search and remarketing tools. It’s the only way to keep in front of the students and families already looking at your school and competitor schools.

This is an evolving situation. Remember that nobody is an expert in this scenario, in spite of what their sales emails and social media will say. Be kind. Be understanding. Don’t forget to continue serving the families that are most vulnerable.

Will Patch

Will Patch is the Enrollment Marketing Leader at Niche and helps clients with their enrollment strategies and digital outreach. He also shares insights and research on the Enrollment Insights blog and through webinars and a monthly newsletter. Prior to coming to Niche in the summer of 2019, he served Manchester University for 9 years in roles including Digital Strategist, Social Media Coordinator, and Associate Director for Admissions Operations. Outside of Niche, Will also coordinates the #EMChat community on Twitter, with weekly chats Thursdays at 9:00 PM Eastern.
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