With May 1st having come and gone, I find myself remembering with some amusement my thoughts on March 16, 2020 – the day that the Admission and Financial Aid teams at Babson College packed up and prepared to be virtual until we could “flatten the curve.”
Of course, we were concerned about the health and safety of our friends and families, and we were sad that the students would miss the rest of the semester, but we believed that they’d be able to reunite at Commencement in May. While we had no idea what this short break could do to enrollment (how will students deposit without seeing our campus in all of its spring splendor?), we believed we’d make up for it with summer in-person tours and information sessions. And, of course, fall would be completely normal and we would be back in the routine, visiting schools on schedule.
March 16, 2020, Courtney was also really excited about being able to attend events on the living room couch wearing sweatpants and slippers.
Clearly, while looking back on my level of naiveté is quite humorous, I learned a huge lesson that completely changed my approach to the admission cycle: Student Engagement will always be our first priority, and a strong and robust virtual strategy will live on past the pandemic.
Going online during the emergency
When Babson College announced that students were going online for the semester, we knew that the admission team needed to do the same. In a matter of days, our April events were virtual. Thanks to partners like Platform Q, we offered an online “Open House” featuring class simulations, student panels, and a Student Org fair. A group of California-based alumni offered to do a panel since it was now possible to share their story virtually with students and parents without having to travel across the country. Unsurprisingly, admitted students were apprehensive about the student experience in the fall, but Zoom proved to be a good way to speak to families face to face, and time zone differences became less of an issue.
As we entered the fall and it was clear that travel to high schools was not an option in 2020, we pivoted to virtual high school visits and student interviews. Recruiters would begin the morning in Tokyo, log in to Miami for a lunch-time visit, and “attend” an evening fair in LA. While we could not host visitors on campus, Senior Fellows still conducted interviews, often from their dorm rooms. As a bonus, we could invite prospective students to events hosted by the college.
As the April 2021 Yield season rolled around again, one thing became very clear: our prospective students were engaged and excited about Babson. Students willingly returned for more content on their own time in their own environment. I have always believed that the key to effective marketing is to go to where the students are. Students are engaged with us through the virtual experiences we offer. Since March, the Babson Admission team has created 746 unique events, not including 3390 completed virtual interviews. While the pandemic forced us to adapt, we’ve discovered a whole new path to increased access to Babson.
Fourteen months and two admission cycles later, we are finally seeing a path back to campus. The freshmen we were so concerned about finished their year safely, Babson celebrated the Class of 2020 and 2021 with five Commencements, and I have optimistically made a flight reservation for NACAC in late September.
However, I have long since given up the idea that things will go “back to normal.” Our new playbook will address virtual engagement as a key access tool in addition to the traditional campus visit. As we look ahead to the future of Enrollment Management, I would argue the past 14 months have disrupted our field so much that there is no going back to the way things were. I’m also aware that we learned in isolation is almost as exciting as our imminent return to campus. Almost.
Courtney Minden is Vice President of Enrollment Management at Babson College.