Virtual open days: Here’s how students can make the best of it

Virtual open days
Student ambassador Georgia Spencer's advice to students who cannot physically visit university campuses is to make use of virtual open days. Source: Georgia Spencer

How do you scout universities during COVID-19? With the help of technology, of course.

Virtual open days are making it possible for students to get a visual feel of the place without stepping foot on campus.

The faces of these new recruitment campaigns are university staff and student ambassadors like 22-year-old Georgia Spencer. 

In her role as a student ambassador at Lancaster University, Spencer regularly helps out with campus tours, applicant visit days, open days, summer school residential programmes and assisting during A-Level results week.

Last year, she was promoted to student ambassador leader within her team, a role which also involves assisting the general ambassador team and dealing with queries both face-to-face and online. 

Virtual open days

If you can’t visit campuses, connect with universities online instead. Source: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP

These days, her university is using Unibuddy live events; for the past few months, interested applicants are able to ask them questions through this platform.

Unibuddy connects student ambassadors to interested applicants from around the world, providing them with information beyond those available on university websites.

“Recently, we delivered another Unibuddy live event with different channels for prospective students to ask us questions as they are unable to visit us on campus. Staff were also on the channels to assist, which was really successful!” said the MA Sociology student.

The university’s recruitment team is also running webinars which starts with a presentation followed with a Q&A session, similar to an event in person. 

With COVID-19 abruptly putting campus visits to a stop, Spencer’s advice to students who cannot visit campus is to make use of the virtual tours available on university websites. 

She added that it’s also important not to be fearful or hesitate to ask questions either, as many others probably have the same questions in mind.

Switching gears to bolster student recruitment

Virtual open days

An online peer-to-peer platform can be useful for universities to recruit students. Source: Robyn Beck/AFP

Campuses and borders at many Anglophone countries favoured by international students have been shut since the pandemic.

In the US, 88 percent of higher education institutions expect enrolments to dip, but St John’s University is hoping to offset this with its online student recruitment campaign.

Associate Director of Events at St John’s University Corinne Gentile told Study International via an email interview they are hopeful that both international and domestic students will still find their way to St John’s for the next academic year.

Gentile said Unibuddy has “proven to be most helpful as of late”. 

“Connecting with a current student or Admission Counselor proves to be a huge asset so we have been hosting more chats, and have added the Unibuddy Bubble to many of our pages. Prospective students have found us to be accessible and have taken advantage of this tool in an exponential way,” she explained.

Gentile added that St John’s virtual tours and online recruitment fairs have been included in their online platform for international students, but “it has never been implemented in such a significant way for our domestic students”. 

“We have increased the connections with international students since they currently don’t have an opportunity to visit campus,” she said.

Having an online peer-to-peer platform is useful for universities, she added, as “we never know when things like this can happen, it’s always best to have something in place”. 

Virtual open days facilitate student recruitment

In a news release, Unibuddy said the number of Unibuddy-powered virtual events universities have organised for prospective students has surged by 250 percent compared to the previous month. 

The peer-to-peer platform is looking into increasing its bandwidth to keep up with the increasing demand. Many universities are looking to move their events online, as well as making their current students and staff available online for interested applicants to chat with. 

One such student who has found the platform useful for his virtual open days is Chad Mahoney. 

When deciding where to attend college, he joined a group chat and kept talking to a student for a few days, something he would not have been able to do in traditional open days due to time constraints.

“I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to stay close to home or move a bit further away, and so I asked the student about what it was like for them and what their experience was like. Obviously, the brochures can tell you but it means a bit more coming from an actual student who is living it,” explained the 18-year-old.

Mahoney, an American, opined that virtual open days are very similar to on-campus open days, with plenty of staff and students to talk to. More importantly, they offer important information to students.

“They [universities] also sent us videos of the campus so I could see what the place was like, and see the dorms,” he said, adding that he also liked the fact that he could have a private chat with a student who was studying the subject he was interested in.

On-campus open days were great for prospective students to see what life is like at a particular university. Now that that’s temporarily put on hold, virtual open days are proving to be a viable alternative, opening a new window for students, especially those from abroad, to still see and speak with the universities they’re keen on.

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