Colleges Customizing Campus Admissions Tours for Students

Tailoring admissions tours with CRM technology for recruitment success

University Business Magazine
July 2013

By Marcia Layton Turner

Imagine arriving on campus as a prospective student, being greeted by name by the security guard at the gate, pulling into a parking spot with your name on it, and then seeing your name featured prominently on signage in the admissions office. There you meet up with a student tour guide from your hometown who is studying just what you think you’ll study.

That scenario is a reality at Lynn University (Fla.), which gives new meaning to the “where everybody knows your name” sort of welcome.

Until five or six years ago, most campus tours were simply scripted visits of major campus buildings. Yesterday’s goal: Disseminate information, not exchange or gather it. Today’s approach: Train tour guides to provide all the information a prospective student has asked for, as well as additional details that might be useful; and, in many cases, hand-pick students and faculty in the major of interest or with athletic coaches for an informal chat.

Why the new emphasis on personalized campus tours? Admissions administrators report that the on-campus experience has a big impact on application and enrollment decisions.

Fred Baker, director of admission at Hendrix College (Ark.), estimates that 30 percent to 40 percent of students who visit Hendrix and are admitted later enroll. That is a big number, he says. “We know it’s critical to get them here,” he says.

The best personalized tours can seem effortless but, to create them, colleges and universities are investing in sophisticated constituent relationship systems. The CRM takes over the “grunt work” necessary in gathering, sorting, and analyzing information provided by prospective students, often via the institution’s website.

Here’s how CRM is working to enhance and shape the visitor’s experience on several campuses.

Where everybody knows your name
Personalization is at the core of what Lynn administrators refer to as “the campus visit experience.” Besides tour guides matched to prospective students, at Lynn parents get a separate tour, which allows students to feel comfortable asking questions they may not have asked in front of mom or dad.

With the help of campus visit coordinator Taryn Hamill, Lynn University invests two hours or more per student for the campus visit to help prospectives assess if Lynn is where they belong. The effort, which began in 2011, seems to be paying off, with visits up 14 percent in that first year. Undergraduate enrollment is up 19 percent and retention of first-year students is up 9 percent since 2010.

But data collection at Lynn begins far before the actual tour takes place. Lynn collects “rudimentary information” through the school’s website, which is then imported directly into the Hobsons Connect CRM system. That data includes the student’s name, email, and a preferred time to visit the campus.

A staff member follows up the online tour reservation with a phone call designed to gather additional personal information from prospectives, such as why they are attracted to Lynn, what major they are considering, and what activities they’re currently involved in. This phone call is key, says Gareth Fowles, vice president for enrollment management, because the millennial generation currently applying to college “does not like to provide much in the way of information.” What they may not provide in a form, they may well provide during a friendly phone chat.

That resistance to giving even the most basic personal data has led to a new term, the “stealth applicant,” who may apply for admission without any previous record of contact with the university.

The information gathered by phone is added to the student’s record within the CRM system, ensuring that a more complete picture of the prospective applicant emerges with each new contact with Lynn.

Going digital
Students who want to tour California Polytechnic State University can visit its website and enter information about themselves to create a personalized microsite. Administrators, with the help of the CRM system, can use the information to send students tailored messages via email, video, instant message, a broadcast phone message, and/or a chat session.

The university’s goal is “to get to the next step, to get them to visit,” says James Maraviglia, associate vice provost for marketing and enrollment development.

Candidates taking tours receive a QR code that their guides use to track every place they visit on campus. This data helps administrators provide even more useful information to the prospective students.

Disseminating custom content before and after tours is crucial because Cal Poly, due to its size, cannot offer one-on-one tours, as Lynn University does. Cal Poly hosts more than 20,000 tours per year, consisting of groups of 25 to 100 people at a time, says Maraviglia.

Approximately 2,000 students a year take self-guided tours, usually because they can’t make the schedule tours. Students and their families can either pick up a GPS tour device from the admissions office or download a mobile app for Apple or Android platforms. The self-guided GPS tour uses videos hosted by students, music, and photography to direct prospects and their families to points of interest.

CRM-powered admissions seems to be working well at Cal Poly-applications have soared from 7,000 to 50,000 in the last 10 years.

Several years ago, says Maraviglia, “we started recruiting like a coach. We work to establish a relationship with an applicant and then foster that relationship through [tailored] communication.” The school’s rising applicant pool and higher yield rate indicate CRM-powered admissions is working well.

Merging personal data with tour specifics
University of California, Riverside administrators use not one but two CRM systems to track prospective applicants and schedule campus tours, says Robert Penman, marketing and communications manager.

The primary CRM system was built by Hobsons and collects basic information about students, such as: name, email, when they hope to enroll, and what major they are interested in.

When a request for a tour is made through a reservation system that UC Riverside developed in-house, information regarding the date the student would like to tour and the type of tour they have requested-including a general tour, a tour of the college of engineering, a housing tour, or a general information session-is then fed into the Hobsons system.

“Our goal is to provide prospective students with the information they want and need to make a highly informed decision about UC Riverside,” says Penman.

UC Riverside hosts seven or eight tours per day, five days a week, with approximately 30,000 visitors a year. After gathering information about prospective students, the university works to match visitors with student hosts who can best answer their questions. For example, applicants with an interest in engineering may be matched with a tour guide from the engineering school.

“We know if we can get them here we have a much better chance of them matriculating,” says Penman.

Doing more with less
While Hendrix College uses a simple web-based system that allows students to schedule a campus visit through the college’s website, rather than a CRM system, administrators there have been able to leverage data on the student that’s gathered to design effective tours.

“Small schools are generally able to do more to tailor tours,” says Baker. With 1,400 students, Hendrix is a fraction of the size of larger state universities and its smaller tours allow for more conversation.

High school seniors can spend the night at Hendrix. If a student is flying in alone, the college will send a student for pickup at the airport.

All visiting students are offered the chance to have a 15-minute discussion with a faculty member in their potential major. “It is not an interview,” emphasizes Baker, but simply another perspective that some students like to get.

Students who are interested in the fine or performing arts can schedule an audition online for a date in late August through early March. Even students who do not intend to major in theatre or music can audition to receive a scholarship. More sports-minded students can request a meeting with a coach, although no athletic scholarships are given at Hendrix.

One of the most important sections of the online reservation system at Hendrix is the comments area, where students can tell the admissions office a little more about themselves, such as whether this is their first visit or their second, or if they would like to see a particular building or attend a class. All of this information is gathered to help the admissions team pair the student with the best on-campus host.

While seeing the interior of campus buildings has always been part of the campus tour, the goal at Hendrix is to “impart the flavor of what it’s like to be a student here,” says Baker.

The tour’s greater purpose
Tailoring the campus tour based on information gathered about the prospective student doesn’t just make for a pleasant campus experience-it helps both parties determine whether the institution is a good fit.

“Personalization and customization helps you connect with the best-fit student, rather than convincing the marginal student,” says Jeff Kallay, vice president of consulting with TargetX, a provider of higher education CRM technology and services.

Yet Kallay has found that many families today are deferring campus visits until after the student has been accepted, at which point tours can be a make-or-break opportunity for the university.

From the student’s perspective, the purpose of the admissions tour is to assess whether the school is a good physical, emotional, and intellectual match, says Steven Roy Goodman, admissions strategist and co-author of College Admissions Together: It Takes a Family (Capital Books, 2007).

However, in reality, most of the decisions are emotional. In other words, appealing to a student’s emotions, rather than simply providing a constant stream of information, can be effective. Personalizing the campus tour “makes the student feel special, like the school is paying attention to them,” he says. And in the end, “families remember more what they felt [on campus] than when a particular building was built,” says Baker.

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