The rise of the virtual open day

The idea of running virtual open days is nothing new. Over recent years, having a programme that gives prospective students an opportunity to see and hear from a university or college they can’t visit in person is far more commonplace. The typical use case for these sessions is to enable potential international students to see what’s in store if they applied and were accepted successfully.

But then COVID-19 happened!

The higher education sector had to pivot. Online learning, virtual classrooms and 14-day quarantines are now part of our everyday vocabulary. As we all adjusted to life under lockdown, with canceled exams and an algorithmic U-turn the UK still saw a record number of university applications in the summer of 2020* (by 30 June just over 514,000 people of all ages across the UK had applied for a place on an undergraduate course).

So fast forward a few months and life at colleges and universities  — for those students either returning, or just starting this academic year — has been somewhat unpredictable. But as the impact of the global pandemic continues, those in higher education student recruitment and admissions teams are faced with a unique opportunity: how to deliver a ‘stand out’ virtual open day programme to drive attendance for 2021.

Extending the reach – both nationally and internationally

One of the most tangible benefits of running well delivered Virtual Open Days is they undoubtedly extend the reach of a more traditional programme. Prospective students can register, and attend, multiple open days online, all of which certainly widens the pool of students one can attract to events.

Ensuring that the technology can scale to meet the potential rise in demand, in particular internationally, is therefore critical. Having an easy to use, but robust platform, will not only deliver peace of mind for those responsible for the operational side of the sessions but it will also allow prospective students to view some of the most important sessions on-demand after the event.

With virtual now being the main route in attracting prospective students the world literally is your oyster!

Creating authentic digital experiences for open day

It goes without saying that selecting which university to attend, potentially away from home for the first time, is a big deal.  It is one of life’s decisions that undoubtedly shapes people from both an educational and personal perspective. Therefore, getting a feel for the university before you apply is a key step in the selection process.

Whether it’s having a glimpse of life in Halls, listening to the Dean of the Student Union or meeting the Head of Faculty these are all key parts of the selection process. Open Days need to be much more than just a Virtual Tour. They need to be authentic, real experiences that really showcase your University. Giving prospective students an opportunity to ask questions, submit feedback and engage in your virtual open day are all critical in showcasing your institution’s culture.

How to make your virtual day stand out

Prospective students now have an abundance of choices available to them. Where should they study? Which course should they do? Should they defer for a year until, hopefully, life returns to some form of pre-COVID-19 ‘normality’?

Cutting through the noise and ensure your university stands out when applications are made is now paramount. Meet the challenge by running an Open Day Programme that is engaging, interactive and as personalised as possible. Doing so will highlight all of the details that make your university a unique place to study.

To make this a reality, use a digital experience platform — one that can produce webinars, content hubs and targeted pages — to run concurrent sessions focused on all aspects of university life. These experiences will give prospective students a real insight into what potentially makes your university the right choice for them.

So at the very heart of this quantum leap in higher education student recruitment is technology. The impact the global pandemic has had on the rate of change, and the adoption of new technologies, has been expedited. For some it has, and continues to be, a baptism of fire, however the ‘new normal’ is upon us so let’s ensure that for next year and beyond universities continues to evolve, optimise and enhance their virtual open day programme to ensure those record admission targets are achieved!

About the Author: Paula Morris is the Director of Business Development at WebinarPros.

This blog post has been published in association with On24.

Looking to run a webinar programme? Whether you are looking to optimise and improve, need a fully managed service or are just getting started our experts can help you get the most out of your webinar programme – contact us now for a free consultation.

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