This is the second of four installments in our (Re)Precedented Webinar Series, which originally took place live in September and October of 2021.

Webinar Summary

With the pandemic in full swing, universities everywhere rushed to stage visits virtually. As things dragged on, however, prospective students experienced a “Zoom fatigue.” Colleges realized the pre-pandemic visit just wouldn’t cut it anymore. Now schools are stepping up to make campus visits less of a visit and more of an experience.

In this session, higher ed’s leading campus visit expert, Jeff Kallay, will talk with Mae Watters, Assistant Director of Admission at Sewanee: The University of the South, about how to build a singular campus visit that blends the best of on-screen and on-campus visit experiences. Topics discussed include:

  • Campus visit customization
  • Keeping students engaged through virtual visits
  • The blending of virtual and on-campus visits
  • How tour guides are different in a post-pandemic world

Transcript

Jarrett Smith:

All right. Well, welcome everyone. Thank you for joining us and welcome to the RePrecedented webinar series and today’s webinar, Back to Campus Visits (But Not Like Before). I’m Jarrett Smith, I’m the VP of strategy at Echo Delta and also the host of the Higher Ed Marketing Lab Podcast. I will keep the self promotion brief but for those of you who aren’t familiar with Echo Delta, we provide marketing services and enrollment consulting for smaller colleges and universities around the country. If you want to know more about what we do, you can hop over to echodelta.co. So onto today’s webinar, that’s enough self promotion. For those who are just tuning in to the RePrecedented webinar series, we want to welcome you.

Jarrett Smith:

We created this series to focus on the very real challenges of selling residential place-based education in what is now year two of a pandemic. This is the second of four webinars and let me see if I can advance my screen here. There we go. This is the second of four webinars we’ll be doing at this time each Wednesday over the next three weeks. And if you can’t make it to one of the live sessions, don’t worry. We’ll be sending out recordings after each one and making those widely available. I do want to call out a slight change in programming, next week we’re going to be talking about driving inquiries in the radically evolving increasingly privacy focused digital landscape and in the following week, we’ll be taking a closer look at parent engagement.

Jarrett Smith:

But today is all about the campus visit and I can’t think of anyone better to dive into that topic than today’s guests. So first up, joining us today is Jeff Kallay. Jeff is a leading authority on campus visitation who has worked with hundreds of schools across the country to help them craft impactful authentic visit experiences that resonate with prospective students. Jeff brings with him 20 years of experience in and around higher education and I don’t think you will find a more passionate advocate for both schools and the students they hope to reach. Joining Jeff is Maria or Mae Watters, assistant director of admissions at Sewanee, the University of the South.

Jarrett Smith:

Mae graduated from Sewanee in 1993 and began her career in higher ed in admissions at Agnes Scott College, another great school, where she eventually became the director of enrollment. In 2006, she returned to her alma mater where she has been in admissions ever since. Both Jeff and Mae are thoughtful and enthusiastic advocates for the campus visit and I’m excited to welcome them both. Jeff and Mae, thank you so much for joining us and welcome. Please tell me my microphone is working for all of that.

Jeff Kallay:

I heard you Jarrett. [crosstalk 00:02:49].

Mae Watters:

[crosstalk 00:02:49] good. Jarrett, you were awesome.

Jarrett Smith:

Thank you so much. I got part way through and I was like, “Wait a minute. I am unmuted, right?” Okay. Well, Jeff, Mae, I’m going to turn it over to you. I know you’ve got a fantastic conversation, so much to talk about. Audience members, I’m actually going to be in the background. I’m going to stop my video and I’ll be monitoring Q&A so if you have questions as they come up, please feel free to make use of Zoom’s Q&A feature and we’ll ping Jeff and Mae and see if we can work in any questions you might have. So Jeff, Mae, I’ll leave it to you guys. Take it away.

Mae Watters:

Thanks Jarrett. Jeff.

Jeff Kallay:

Hey.

Mae Watters:

Good to see you.

Jeff Kallay:

You too.

Mae Watters:

Always a pleasure.

Jeff Kallay:

It is great to see you. When the fine folks at Echo Delta asked me to guest host RePrecedented, We were originally going to call it post-Ap like post pandemic, post census and then things kind of changed. I was like, “I will happily talk about the campus visit but I want to bring in Mae Watters up at Sewanee to talk about it with me.” And thank you for doing that and thanks to Echo Delta for hosting and thank you all who are here live.

Mae Watters:

Absolutely.

Jeff Kallay:

I got a couple questions for you before we dig in. Mae, when it comes to webinars and these things, do you watch them live or are you more that asynchronous versus synchronous person?

Mae Watters:

Gosh, that’s a tough one. I work with student volunteers so you’re a firefighter 18 hours a day. So the ability to sign up for a webinar and then have the recording sent to you is sometimes mission critical, certainly I do it pretty frequently. [crosstalk 00:04:41] as well.

Jeff Kallay:

Yeah, I agree. I sign up with every intention of watching live and then as you said, things. And we want to talk about you and your students. So, I’ve known you for years. We lived in Atlanta the same time down the street from each other in the very awesome-

Mae Watters:

And we had no idea. We must have walked by each other so many times, Jeff. You probably have a-

Jeff Kallay:

I think we did, yeah. I might have stumbled by you coming home from one of the many bars and taverns in the Virginia Island area.

Mae Watters:

And I might have been stumbling in the opposite direction.

Jeff Kallay:

You’re a graduate of a small liberal arts college?

Mae Watters:

I am.

Jeff Kallay:

How did you end up at Sewanee?

Mae Watters:

How did I end up in Sewanee? That’s a great question. I’m from Baltimore, Maryland originally. And was really looking at schools maybe 200, 250 miles away from home. And of course, keep in mind, this is the 80s. There’s no World Wide Web, WWW didn’t exist. And one day, I was a senior in high school, it was the middle of my senior year, a beautiful book came in the mail and it was about a place called Sewanee. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, this place looks amazing.” There are a lot of beautiful liberal arts colleges out there. And it wasn’t the students, it wasn’t the pictures, it wasn’t the beautiful architecture and it is beautiful, it was the students that really resonated with me.

Mae Watters:

And I was like, “They really look like they’re enjoying themselves and interacting with each other.” And when I thought about the places that I visited that was not true across the board at all. I went to my college counselor and I said, “Something resonates with me about this place.” And she said, “It’s really late in the process, dear.” And I said, “I know but I need to apply.” So I did. I was admitted, came to visit April of my senior year and I was like, “This is it.” It was, again, not just the beauty of the place, it was the people that really spoke to me. It’s the community.

Jeff Kallay:

Yes, Sewanee was a target ex-campus visit client when David [inaudible 00:06:52] was there and [inaudible 00:06:53] and [inaudible 00:06:55]. I went to college down in Cleveland, Tennessee at Lee College. I like to call Lee the university of the new South but that’s a whole other-

Mae Watters:

Indeed.

Jeff Kallay:

And have always been familiar. So people who aren’t familiar, Sewanee is up on the Domain, right? Up on top of Monteagle?

Mae Watters:

It is. Cumberland Plateau.

Jeff Kallay:

Between Nashville and Chattanooga?

Mae Watters:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Kallay:

13,000 plus acres?

Mae Watters:

It is. Second largest campus in the country.

Jeff Kallay:

After Berry University?

Mae Watters:

After Berry. I think Berry is at 27,000 acres right now but they don’t have our elevation but [crosstalk 00:07:33].

Jeff Kallay:

And we’re a university because we also have an Episcopalian seminary attached, correct?

Mae Watters:

We do. We do have a school of theology as well.

Jeff Kallay:

We’re a traditional national ranked liberal arts college with about how many undergrads?

Mae Watters:

We’re right at 1795 so we’re definitely on the smaller side.

Jeff Kallay:

And the southern diocese of the Episcopalian Church of [crosstalk 00:07:59], correct?

Mae Watters:

It is founded and operated by the southern diocese of the Episcopal Church. While we definitely have a strong Episcopal tradition, I would say based on this past year’s incoming class, 20% to 25% of our class each year identify as Episcopalian so it certainly is a very inclusive community.

Jeff Kallay:

So not a lot of students, I mean, per acreage, right? Everyone gets 100 acres.

Mae Watters:

Everybody gets seven acres actually.

Jeff Kallay:

[inaudible 00:08:27] whole views, lots of outdoor and the architecture is modeled after Oxford, correct?

Mae Watters:

Yes. It is.

Jeff Kallay:

With that connection to the Church of England and some awesome traditions that it’s so funny, your competitors talk about how we don’t have the traditions like Sewanee but I find working with Sewanee, some of those traditions are kind of difficult to explain to a 16 or 17 year old?

Mae Watters:

They are. And that’s why you got to come, you’ve got to visit.

Jeff Kallay:

Come visit.

Mae Watters:

Sewanee is a very unique community, it’s a very unique location.

Jeff Kallay:

It is rural, right?

Mae Watters:

It is.

Jeff Kallay:

I mean, even though it’s between Nashville and… It’s up on the mountain?

Mae Watters:

It absolutely is. And what I challenge students to do is come and spend a day on campus. Interact with as many students as you possibly can. Those layers of student interaction are so important and that’s something that I think you taught us back in 2008 when you did an original site visit with us. So really leveraging your student experiences but also so that people can really experience those traditions. We have a tradition of a passing hello, you’re not going to see Sewanee students buried in their phone not acknowledging people. When you have somebody on campus, you say, “Hey, how are you?” “Good morning.” “Good to see you.” “Have a nice day.”

Jeff Kallay:

So if we’re intentional to go to a place-based education with community, we’re being human up in that community and we want to show that on the campus visit. That’s great.

Mae Watters:

Absolutely.

Jeff Kallay:

Okay. So we’ve known each other and I have my Sewanee cup that you gave me last time I was on campus. It has water in it. Viewers, when Mae and I usually are on a Zoom on a Friday afternoon, there might be something else in my Sewanee mug but today it’s disappointingly [crosstalk 00:10:09]-

Mae Watters:

Exactly. Just water and I just have tea.

Jeff Kallay:

And I got some purple and white on. Full disclosure, I’ll be wearing the same thing tomorrow at your competitor Furman University but anyhow…

Mae Watters:

I won’t tell anybody. It’s okay.

Jeff Kallay:

So, let’s talk real quick about some enrollment success then about what happened when the dominoes fell and where you’re at now. And then you’re a pro at the campus visit, that’s why we wanted to chat with you. Some campus visit coordinators are really great at the tactic, some are really good at the strategy but you are a top one at doing both. So you’ve had some enrollment success last years at Sewanee?

Mae Watters:

We have. For the past five years, we’ve been growing enrollment. We have met our goals for the past three years which has been amazing especially given the pandemic situation that we found ourselves in.

Jeff Kallay:

Congratulations.

Mae Watters:

Well, thank you. And certainly this is a huge team effort and we have a very experienced team at Sewanee and so we’re incredibly lucky with not much turnover. And in the past several amazing Deans David [inaudible 00:11:22], you mentioned Lee Ann Backlund who have really moved us forward over the past 15 years.

Jeff Kallay:

And so the great recession hasn’t impacted staff as much as it has at other clients or anything like that?

Mae Watters:

I don’t think it has. We have an amazing retention and where we see losses especially among our counseling staff, they’re young, they’re going to undergraduate school opportunities. Many of our staff are Sewanee alums as well so there’s a huge buy in.

Jeff Kallay:

What were some of the hallmarks of your visit before the pandemic?

Mae Watters:

Well, you came and did a site visit in the Spring of 2019 because honestly, the year before I was really disappointed with how our visits performed overall. So I said we need to bring Jeff and his team in, you guys came, you did two site visits, did a little work with our student ambassadors which they loved by the way, they still talk about you.

Jeff Kallay:

We love them. When they were playing center, it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the Spring. It had been raining and snowing and then you all were playing center college for the Southern Association Athletic Conference title, right?

Mae Watters:

Yes.

Jeff Kallay:

Which we were streaming but they were in an air windowless room but were so engaged and so appreciative and we were grateful for them. Just smart, really great storytellers. So anyhow, talking about your [crosstalk 00:12:53], we’ll come back to that.

Mae Watters:

So based on your recommendations, we really re-worked our visit program. With the goal being that we really had to have more of our seniors who are visiting convert to applicant status and that was something that we had not seen over the past two years. So we really put in place a more limited visit option program. And really with the thought that okay, in the past we’ve been having students come and we have some students that are doing four or five class visits, two faculty appointments, two athletic appointments. This was getting out of control, it’s really hard to manage and it’s also just not working. So let’s give people fewer options because we all know it is sexier to conceal than to reveal.

Jeff Kallay:

Give them a little bit of a dance.

Mae Watters:

It is a dance. At most Episcopal schools and this is across the board, the more times a student visits, the more likely they are to enroll. So save some of those options that your seniors might have for the Spring when they’re admitted. Have your juniors visit and then have them come back as seniors, the Fall of their senior year. There’s some more things that they can do and then they come back again and again. So really making sure that you’re not showing your hand right out of the gate, very important and it worked. We started converting our visits at 75% to 77% with our seniors involved 2019 as opposed to 40 to 55%.

Jeff Kallay:

Every time we tell clients put parameters on it, put limitations on it, a little bit of a velvet rope. Almost 99%, I know it’s so counter to what most leadership wants to do and that by choosing to say we’re going to give tours when it’s best for everyone, I think what you all did, it had its dividend.

Mae Watters:

It really worked and we were so pleased. And it really set us up, Jeff. It put us in an enviable position that we went into the pandemic with one-

Jeff Kallay:

Okay, let’s talk about that.

Mae Watters:

Yeah. So many students had visited and they’d had amazing visit experiences and then March 13th, we shut down. But we had had so many visitors that we were able to yield the biggest class in Sewanee’s history even in the middle of a pandemic. And so I think there’s a real power to what we put in place as a result of your site visit.

Jeff Kallay:

Okay. But you continued parts of customization throughout the pandemic online, right? So the dominoes fell as I like to say and as we had in this description and when did you all shut down campus? When we just thought we’re going to be closed for two weeks?

Mae Watters:

Right. We canceled our visits. We went out with cancellations on March the 14th and we reopened on Monday, March the 16th, 2020 with some limited virtual visit options because-

Jeff Kallay:

Wait, 2020 or 2021? You were open two days later?

Mae Watters:

Well, we were open but we were not open to in-person visits.

Jeff Kallay:

Got it. Okay.

Mae Watters:

And none of us were in the office really. I mean, most of us were working at our dining room tables, none of us envisioned the fact that we would need home offices permanently. But we knew that we had to go out of the gate that coming Monday with some virtual visit options. I think that-

Jeff Kallay:

You got them up fast.

Mae Watters:

We got them up really fast, yeah. And they were very basic but there were two concerns that we had. It was one, our admitted students. Obviously, we had six weeks to still yield a class. But also our current students, our ambassadors, had been sent home and we had no idea when they were going to come back and they ended up not obviously coming back that semester. And so keeping them engaged in the process and that was a very emotional time, I think, for all of us because these are students that we all care about and we want to make sure that we’re providing support for them too. So, it was something that worked well for us.

Jeff Kallay:

You had a U-visit virtual tour before the pandemic, is that correct?

Mae Watters:

We did not and we never have. We did have some students that were still on campus that were trained tour guides so we were able to provide Zoom tours. Some of our international students couldn’t leave. I think like many people, we went out the door with too much, way, way too much and lesson learned. We’ve really pulled back on this virtual visit options especially. But I think we were all just in desperation mode, we’ve got a yield so we were willing to do anything. If we have to have a student panel with four current students and one prospective student or admitted applicant, we’ll do it, whatever it takes. So, that is not a good idea.

Mae Watters:

Short term, it was fine but I think that’s the biggest lesson in terms of virtual. It’s that not only do your virtual options, be very sparing with them and your offerings with them but also make sure that you’re following up with your virtual visitors the same way that you would your in-person visitors. So make sure they’re-

Jeff Kallay:

Tell me more. You use Slate, right?

Mae Watters:

We did.

Jeff Kallay:

Okay. So tell me more about that, following up.

Mae Watters:

So I think most of us, everybody uses a CRM now. Your follow up is very automated. Our follow up email is going to students and parents 18 hours after their visit. That’s awesome but you know what? Guess what? They’re receiving that same email from every school that they visit basically. So what’s going to set you apart and what differentiates you after that visit? Our counselors all write handwritten notes to all of the students that visit. The counselor who conducted the information session writes a follow up postcard. And a week after the visit, we have a student use our messaging platform and they push out a message saying, “Hey, my name is Ellie Tate and I know that you visited last week. If you have follow up questions about student life at Sewanee, let me know. I’d love to chat with you.”

Jeff Kallay:

Were you getting responses from any of those?

Mae Watters:

Oh, yeah.

Jeff Kallay:

Okay.

Mae Watters:

The visit follow up is the biggest response that we get from our messaging platform. And Jeff, you were a tour guide in college. I know that you were a fantastic tour guide but-

Jeff Kallay:

I like to think so.

Mae Watters:

You and I would have had so much fun on a tour, oh my gosh.

Jeff Kallay:

It’s true.

Mae Watters:

It’s very true. I might go on tour with you. You’re amazing, you’re fantastic but we don’t share any interests.

Jeff Kallay:

Different majors, yeah. Just no shared interests, exactly.

Mae Watters:

But when you hear from somebody else a week later and it’s a student, you have the comfort level to say, “Gosh, yeah. I do have some questions about X.” I had a good tour, Jeff was really nice but just didn’t share any interest with him. Who can I talk to about this or that?

Jeff Kallay:

Brands and mirrors, right? We purchase based upon conforming self image and as we [crosstalk 00:20:39]-

Mae Watters:

Absolutely.

Jeff Kallay:

… How many students can you put in front of a prospective family during their campus visit online or in-person?

Mae Watters:

Right. So the online visit follow up is so important. So make sure you’re treating your virtual visitors the same way and with the same importance and also make sure, especially if they’re seniors, that you’re following up with a visit message too and saying, “We know that you did X virtual visit option. Please schedule an in-person visit, we hope you like what you saw.” It’s just that follow up is so important and I think that that’s a loop that we didn’t understand until about six months into the pandemic. And it’s all ideas, we were just like, “Ding, ding, ding. Why aren’t we doing this?”

Jeff Kallay:

So we scrambled, we got stuff up. It was all Zoom, it sounds like? Most of it?

Mae Watters:

Most of it was Zoom. Now Slate does of course have a great presentation option or a couple actually and we do utilize those for different things. But I think the other thing with your virtual visits is they have to be really complimentary of each other and you don’t want to offer too many on the same day, it’s so important.

Jeff Kallay:

To your point, when all this went down I said to my then colleague, Brittney Joyce who was then Vice President at RNL Render. I said, “We’re going to virtual ourselves out of business.” Right? At place-based education if we’re not careful with all of this, right? But you brought in a good class in Fall of 2020?

Mae Watters:

We did.

Jeff Kallay:

Students came back in limited capacity to the Domain?

Mae Watters:

Students all came back. We were really lucky. Now, maybe a third of our classes were online still but students were back on campus. And we reopened fairly early for in-person visits and that was in October of this past year.

Jeff Kallay:

Okay. October, 2021 for visits or 2020?

Mae Watters:

2020.

Jeff Kallay:

  1. Okay, so in the middle of that first semester. Okay.

Mae Watters:

And it was really limited, it was just seniors. Of course, we had a lot of health protocols in place, a lot of limits on the number of visitors that we had. That was tough. And I think that actually boded well for us because I think many of us who work at small schools are so customer service oriented that it’s very hard to say no. And all of a sudden, we found ourselves in the position where we had to say no. “Our tour has reached capacity, you can do a self guided tour.”

Jeff Kallay:

So you have a, no but, or no and, right? No and you have this available?

Mae Watters:

No. I think you should always have a no and another option. It does help saying no.

Jeff Kallay:

Did you max out your capacity? Just because of the Pan?

Mae Watters:

We did. Most of the time, we did max our capacity out. And that was tough but we did have a self guided tour option and a lot of people did take advantage of that and that was an important one to have for us.

Jeff Kallay:

Were you keeping the online stuff going last Fall?

Mae Watters:

We did. So we still had Zoom tours, we had student panels, we had a career readiness session. We did online faculty appointments, really anything a student asked for we were able to make happen for them virtually. And we knew that we had to, it was important for them to have that interaction and that experience.

Jeff Kallay:

And then when did we get going to… Are you at full?

Mae Watters:

We’re at full capacity now. We re-opened this Fall at full capacity.

Jeff Kallay:

And brought in a phenomenal class?

Mae Watters:

Yeah, another record class. So it’s really nice to be able to say, “Yeah, we hit our goals again.” And our visits really, really worked again. In last Spring, we did campus tours but again they were limited in capacity and information sessions, nothing else. But we did a lot of virtual things, we did very small segmented virtual events especially for our admitted students. We offered virtual class visit experiences with faculty, those were incredibly popular and they converted at a really high level for us.

Jeff Kallay:

On this Spring, 2021?

Mae Watters:

2021, yeah.

Jeff Kallay:

Yeah. So you did a lot of little things but made that emotional connection based upon affinity?

Mae Watters:

Absolutely. Is it awkward to have a Zoom tour of your two art facilities? Absolutely. Especially if you have a faculty member who’s not particularly comfortable using a stabilizer and Zoom. I mean, we have some funny situations go down.

Jeff Kallay:

You have to appreciate the effort.

Mae Watters:

I do. I don’t think people take any offense at situations like that because it’s happened to all of us at this point virtually. We’ve done something dreadful and our child has walked in.

Jeff Kallay:

So did events return on campus or just daily individual visits? [inaudible 00:26:11]

Mae Watters:

Yeah. This fall, we’ve had events already and we don’t have any visitor limits. And we are seeing definitely at least 15% to 20% increases each month in visitors versus Fall of 2019.

Jeff Kallay:

So in our description we talked about, okay, we’re still in this. Mae, I’ve been on a lot of campuses and some geography plays a part in this, right? Sunbelt, Southern I think had the fortune to be open and if you could be open that really helped your enrollment I think. Most people in geography in the pandemic would say that but are you nearing singularity? And I don’t mean when AI becomes sentient. Is it still virtual and on campus or are you blending them more? Are you getting towards what I like to call this one campus visit? Or is it still…?

Mae Watters:

I think we’re blending them and we’re making sure that our virtual options are drivers for the in-person experience.

Jeff Kallay:

So they’re not a replacement, they are a driver?

Mae Watters:

Right. So, if you like what you see then you need to schedule an in-person visit. And we’ve also become very choosy about how many sessions we offer. And I think especially with smaller schools, that’s really important. Because again, beginning of the pandemic, we would hold a student panel and there would be two visitors and four panelists and that’s kind of weird and honestly a little creepy sometimes. So, have those student panels maybe once a month so that you have 30 or 40 students and you have a really robust conversation. For instance, today we offer a Zoom tour every other week, we have 25 kids signed up for a Zoom tour and then we have, I guess, 25 kids signed up for a virtual mock class with a politics professor. So, those are two-

Jeff Kallay:

I would like that class.

Mae Watters:

He’s an amazing professor. I think they’re going to have so much fun with him.

Jeff Kallay:

And the Zoom tour is live?

Mae Watters:

It is a live tour.

Jeff Kallay:

Okay.

Mae Watters:

And the faculty, for our virtual mock classes, we limit them to 20, 30 minute class and then five or 10 minutes of Q&A. That’s all we can take, let’s face it, via Zoom. So making sure that those virtual options are short, they’re to the point and they’re showcasing what is unique about your university or your college. What’s unique is our students and their stories and our faculty and the relationships they build with those students. And so those are the two things that we’ve really chosen to showcase especially this Fall.

Jeff Kallay:

So this Spring, it sounds like you’re going to continue and build upon your yield success with on campus and the online experiences, yes?

Mae Watters:

I hope so. And we do anticipate continuing most of our virtual options this Spring for juniors as well as for seniors. I think that that’s really important because again, I might visit Sewanee and it might be a terrible day and I might have a tour guide that I just don’t connect with. And I might interact with a number of different students but none of them share my specific interests or goals. And I think goals is something that is overlooked in the virtual experience and remembering how outcome focused the students are. So making sure that you do have something that is outcome focused for them.

Jeff Kallay:

I agree, right? And I think that’s where Zoom’s allowed us to bring in young alumni that are in graduate school or professional school or in New York or Atlanta doing their job and allowing them to come in from their home or their home office more robustly and with ease.

Mae Watters:

Absolutely. So yeah, we leverage our young alumni with our alumni interviewer program and that is a virtual program still. And I don’t anticipate it ever returning really to in-person connections with the alums because it just gives us so much flexibility.

Jeff Kallay:

Even if it’s an on campus event, you can still bring them in and put them up on the screen. Yeah.

Mae Watters:

Absolutely.

Jeff Kallay:

So what I’m hearing, lessons learned are, we over programmed but I mean it was a pandemic so we learned. We’re now thinking of the online as the promotion and the driver to include to get them to come and visit and we’re being intentional with our online follow up the same as the on campus?

Mae Watters:

Absolutely. Very intentional. Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:

So you’re talked about the community which is so unique but your students are inquisitive and bright and it’s a beautiful setting. Honor students wear academic regalia, correct?

Mae Watters:

We do. Their academic gown.

Jeff Kallay:

As do faculty?

Mae Watters:

They do.

Jeff Kallay:

Okay. It took a lot getting used to but I liked it when I saw it. I’m was like, “That’s cool.” I was getting a coffee at the Blue Chair and a faculty member came in, I was like, “Oh, yeah,” And he had his regalia on-

Mae Watters:

He’s got his gown on.

Jeff Kallay:

That’s cool, I’m all for it. That is the great stuff about space and place. So your Arcadians, that’s what we call our student guides, right? Because it takes a community besides the admission’s leadership and the team that you work with. Talk to us about your student guides? How are they doing? I had this revelation when a client said to me last month, “Jeff, I’ve got tour guides that have never given a tour before the pandemic.” They’ve never hosted an event before the pandemic that when they came in to the guy program, it was like…” I was like, “Yeah, you’re right.” I mean, tell us about the Arcadians and why are they called the Arcadians?

Mae Watters:

Well, it is based on a quote from a book called Lanterns on the Levee. To paraphrase, Sewanee is so beautiful, it is like Arcadia essentially so they are the Arcadians. And last year was a tough year for them. We had students that were scared when we went back to giving in-person tour understandably, to give tours. This is before a vaccine was available and we had students that were frustrated by just the number of tours that we were able to offer and that wasn’t many and we couldn’t go into buildings like most people. So we did have about 35, 40 new guides that had never given a tour going into a building. And we have a lot of guides who had been a year and a half since they’ve given a tour going into a building.

Mae Watters:

So we really thought long and hard about training this year and brought students back a little bit early. Knowing that we were going to have to put some effort into making sure that not only did they know the tour route which is pretty darn important but they also knew their stories and they could own their stories. And the buildings that they didn’t identify with as strongly, they had strong talking points about. So we really leveraged and we really relied on staff and faculty who are really gatekeepers in these buildings and are ones that teach there. I think about Snowden Hall which is our Forestry building. It is an amazing, amazing building. Of course, as a history major as I was or our English majors, they don’t spend much time in Snowden.

Mae Watters:

So it’s really important for them to hear from Martin Knoll who’s the department chair. And hear a little bit about the department but also really importantly what the alums who have graduated in that major are doing with their degrees because they’re doing some really amazing and cool things and some fun facts about the building too. It just gives guide so much confidence and also, I mean, you talk about the meeting that we had with them when you and Brittney were with us. Gailor Auditorium is kind of a deadly place because there are essentially no windows and I hate cooping kids up for six hours. “Let’s do a round table discussion of tough questions.”

Mae Watters:

Oh, wow. Nobody ever called their mom and was like, “This was a really fun round table discussion.” If you get kids out there learning on their feet, learning experientially, they enjoy it. They’re not bored, they’re taking notes, they’re engaged and they’re learning.

Jeff Kallay:

And you have how many student Arcadians?

Mae Watters:

We have about 120 active students.

Jeff Kallay:

That’s a big…

Mae Watters:

It’s a really big [crosstalk 00:35:39]-

Jeff Kallay:

That’s what? 7% of your student population?

Mae Watters:

Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:

Do you have student leadership within that?

Mae Watters:

We do. So I work with seven co-directors out of the program and then we filter down to a group of 14 Arcadian leaders who really manage the day to day. Co-directors really manage big picture items for me and you filter down to the Arcadian leaders who each work with a group and honestly, it works really, really well.

Jeff Kallay:

And do you use GroupMe, Slack, Teams, [crosstalk 00:36:12]?

Mae Watters:

We use GroupMe, yeah. And that is their preferred method of communication.

Jeff Kallay:

Yeah. Okay. GroupMe, good to know.

Mae Watters:

Yeah. Of course we use Google Calendar pretty extensively as well.

Jeff Kallay:

And are they paid or volunteer?

Mae Watters:

Well, they are technically volunteers. Now we do have an incentive program that’s based on a point system so they earn, I think, five points per tour. It depends on what they’re doing. A lunch hosting, a special project, did they work on a blog post for us? So everything is worth something a little bit different and then at the end of the semester, they can redeem the points for either an Amazon gift card or what we call Domain dollars that get credited to their account. They can use them at restaurants in the area, very popular. Some of them roll their Domain dollars over until graduation and receive a large check from the university, also popular.

Jeff Kallay:

So you just bank them until you graduate?

Mae Watters:

You bank them, right.

Jeff Kallay:

I like it.

Mae Watters:

The university cashes it. I mean, I had a student two years ago who got a $900 check. James, he’s taking me to dinner.

Jeff Kallay:

Yeah. How have you kept them incentivized or engaged during… So, Swag?

Mae Watters:

Lots of gifts. Over the past year and a half, they’ve gone above and beyond. They are the reason that we have yielded two huge classes.

Jeff Kallay:

And does campus recognize that?

Mae Watters:

They absolutely do. Actually the Sewanee Purple which is the student run paper just did an article a couple of weeks ago. And the lead quote was, the Arcadians were the reason that we have this great class.

Jeff Kallay:

That gives me chills, right? Because that’s awesome that the campus recognizes it and that you all played that part and that they’re getting that recognition which is going to help in the recruitment of new ones.

Mae Watters:

Absolutely. But I think last year was a tough year for them in so many ways. They faced isolation and mental health issues like never before. And so knowing that, admission kept reaching out and saying, “Hey, we’re going to buy pizza for you this week. Sign up if you want to get a Personal Pan Pizza.” That’s what we’ll do. We’ll give you a mug. The mugs were really, really popular. So last semester, we gave them a piece of nice swag, good quality swag and a meal every month so we were just always sort of there.

Jeff Kallay:

And similar thank yous to the faculty and staff that are really supportive?

Mae Watters:

Absolutely. We’re about to kick off a faculty connections campaign targeted at some of our seniors in high school and we take good care of them.

Jeff Kallay:

Okay. So what differences have you noticed from the millennial Arcadian solid into Gen Z? I’ve seen my differences.

Mae Watters:

Wow. And I love both generations, “Oh, my gosh. What a relief they were after Gen X.” And I can say that to you because we’re both Gen Xs, right?

Jeff Kallay:

Both Gen Xs.

Mae Watters:

I know, right?

Jeff Kallay:

Right.

Mae Watters:

You know what? We’re doing it each day, Jeff. The millennials were a breath of fresh air because they’re really team oriented. They want to be successful. They’re very outwardly focused, my biggest qualm with our new friends is that I cannot tell you how many times a week a student says to me, “How can I be your favorite? How can I get that A plus?” And I’m like, “Just do your job. I don’t play favorites.”

Jeff Kallay:

I think there’s a bit more individualism. I think that resume verses that collaborative role, we’re all in this together, High School Musical millennial…

Mae Watters:

Right, exactly. And it’s very much a resume builder and I want it to be and it should be. This is the position that it should be.

Jeff Kallay:

Millennials did it for love of school. Gen Z, “Okay. But what’s in it for me?” I’ve heard guides say that. What’s in it for me to be a tour guide or an ambassador?

Mae Watters:

Right. And the number of letters of recommendation that I write has gone up so much in the past two years.

Jeff Kallay:

So talk about, how are parents and students behaving? When I mean behaving, I don’t mean, are they wearing their masks. Hopefully they’re all… Whatever. Your protocol [inaudible 00:41:01]. What are you seeing? Are they showing up on time? Are the parents asking all the questions? Are the students engaged with both online? Talk to me about what you’re seeing with prospective family behavior.

Mae Watters:

Right. We’ve been very deliberate knowing that our students and our families are making very much a joint decision on college.

Jeff Kallay:

Co purchasing.

Mae Watters:

Right. And so in the same token, we do feel very strongly that the parents and students have very different questions and live in very different spaces. So, we have continued our long standing practice of breaking students and parents up on tour. This week and it’s only Wednesday, I have already gotten five visit evaluation saying I loved not being on tour with my mother. And Mothers saying, “I loved not being on tour with my daughter.” It is the most popular thing that people comment on in our visit but we give a lot of other opportunities. We do lunch hosting for our seniors, parents are not going to lunch with them. This is not a situation. Now, they do partner on some things, the information session, student panels, parents are welcome but we do have to provide those separate spaces for them and I feel very strongly about that.

Jeff Kallay:

And you said early in the prep call, you’re having more younger students show up?

Mae Watters:

We definitely are. I mean, I think everybody has seen more freshmen, more sophomores and definitely more juniors than we typically would see in the Fall. And I think that that is so important to watch because it’s all well and good to say, my campus visits are up by 20% every month. What’s up? I mean, are your seniors up? So you better be watching those senior numbers. Let’s be [inaudible 00:42:59]-

Jeff Kallay:

This high school senior is similar the one from the Great Recession, right? When that hit everyone at NACA was [inaudible 00:43:11] and then you really didn’t fill up the next year but then that next year it really… Right? It wasn’t so much incoming, it was that. So come back to the parents. If I’m a high school sophomore, I’m going out with this, “Okay, we’re splitting.” I’ve been wanting to do that at so many schools and I appreciate you all listening to us about that and making that happen and do you have Arcadians that prefer a parent tour over…?

Mae Watters:

I definitely do. And especially our seniors, I think play much better with parents and they prefer parents because especially in the Spring of their senior year, they have jobs, they’ve had internships, they’ve had study abroad opportunities, those the things parents want to hear.

Jeff Kallay:

And I think it shows parents the four year power of a place based liberal arts college like Sewanee, right? I’m with you when I started doing this earlier and had a few seniors last semester. Wow, who would not want their son or daughter to become similar to that college student? And also seniors, you’re right, talking about first year roommates and why I chose… That’s light years-

Mae Watters:

It’s really hard. The depth and breadth in terms of experience between a senior in college and a sophomore and a junior in high school is worlds apart.

Jeff Kallay:

And you manage the expectations and let guests know they will be separated before?

Mae Watters:

We do. Because we get maybe two complaints a year and that’s it. You can be funny about it and I’m just Miss Watters and I’m funny and people laugh.

Jeff Kallay:

I’m going to take a hunch and say this has to be impacting your enrollment positively?

Mae Watters:

I think it definitely does. It absolutely does.

Jeff Kallay:

It probably disarms these parents a little bit in their behavior that they exhibit that we’ve seen on some other campuses, right?

Mae Watters:

I think it does. And I think we’re very unusual because we don’t have some of the kind of unfortunate situations that I’ve heard other visit coordinators having with parents who are very aggressive on tour. So it’s not something that we run into and it’s because they’re separated, it really is. But I think with your virtual options, you’ve got to add those virtual options for parents as well that are parents only. And last year, we had great success with Q&A with an admission counselor for parents only. And there were times, we had a couple of sessions this past Spring where we had 80 or 90 parents in sessions. And I think they’re relieved they’re able to ask questions without their students present of an admission counselor.

Jeff Kallay:

I think your recognition of parents in the separation also recognizes them and admits, we know you’re a collaborative purchase, a co-purchaser, we’ve created this online event for you, we’ve created this version of the campus visit for you. And I think it’s going to also help retention of the Arcadians because they’re probably having more fun in this-

Mae Watters:

They definitely do. They do and our freshmen would much rather give a tour to a senior in high school because what are the seniors concerned about in high school, they’re concerned about where am I going to eat? Where am I going to live? Where am I going to work out? And those are things that our younger tour guides can really speak to because it’s a very close experience to them, our seniors not so much.

Jeff Kallay:

If I have a best practice that I’ve gotten out of this totality of our Back To Campus (But Not Like Before) is listen to Mae. If you can, separate them. Was there any challenges or anything you would recommend to someone who’s listening to this and is like, “We’re going to give this a try.”?

Mae Watters:

Well, it was really our staff that has the biggest hang ups with it. It was really, really interesting. They were so scared to try this. And I was like, “No, I really think that we need to.” Our generational research was just coming out about Gen X and I was like, “I really think that we should try this.” And it works and it works every time. And it took about six months for our staff to really buy into it. And new staff members are always leery of it because they think they’re going to get pushback from parents but we are very upfront in our visit confirmations, this is what’s going to happen. If I have a parent on the phone, I tell them this is what’s going to happen.

Jeff Kallay:

Managing expectations.

Mae Watters:

Right. 100% of the time, on the phone they are like, “Oh, wow, what a great idea. I can’t wait to come and visit.” Great. We can’t wait to have you.

Jeff Kallay:

Are your younger students further away or close by still in that pandemic proximity?

Mae Watters:

I think they’re definitely close by. And I think that the trick is going to be for all of us moving forward that we’re having these much younger visitors. So not only do we need to pay attention to our senior cohort and make sure that they are converting to the applicant stage but how are we going to work over the next year, two, three years to get our freshmen sophomores and juniors back on campus and close that loop? And what communication and what virtual options can we use to close that gap right there?

Jeff Kallay:

So what I’m hearing is, because a few other clients have shared the same thing, this younger… Why do you think?

Mae Watters:

I mean, they haven’t been able to do anything for so long. And people are jumping at the chance and I think people are also, and I think you and I have talked about this before, a little bit wary that we’ll hit another pandemic wave and things will shut down again.

Jeff Kallay:

Yeah. So, what I’m taking away then is this future visit, predict for me. My prediction is the online is going to remain and the smart ones are going to re-use it. But again, just like the visit can’t be like it was before the pandemic, the online can’t be as it was during the first year or two in the pandemic. If we’re getting more sophomores or some first year high school students coming, then we’ve got to create the online experiences for them and get them to come back.

Mae Watters:

And get them back so it’s really a three step process. They’re going to visit in-person when they’re very young and that can be really great for some students or confusing for others I think. And then you’ve got to have those virtual options to fill that gap before the time they come back and visit. You need to continue to engage with them. Whether it’s a messaging platform, whether it’s cool videos. Videos work really well just because it’s a short little burst of attention for them. Whatever it takes to bridge that gap and get them back to campus, whether it’s their junior or their senior year. That return visit for the small schools is so important.

Jeff Kallay:

So, you are an admissions pro to top national liberal arts colleges, Agnes Scott. Boy, you went from Atlanta to Decatur to Sewanee…

Mae Watters:

Crazy. Luckily, I’d gone to school at Sewanee so I wasn’t going in blind and I knew what I was getting into. So it definitely was an adjustment for me, for my family, but I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

Jeff Kallay:

No, that’s great. So what word of advice would you give someone that joined up in the pandemic and is new to admissions or the campus visit? What advice would you give them at this point?

Mae Watters:

Never forget your overreaching enrollment goals because your campus visits feed directly into them so learn how to read your numbers and watch them really carefully. And that’s something that Stephanie Vollmer, Russ [inaudible 00:51:54], one of the most amazing deans in admission and that was a lesson that she taught me early on and I’m so grateful for that. But I would also say that, if you’re going to be very successful in the campus visit business, you have to take your big picture and filter it down to your small picture. And you have to be very detail oriented and you also have to form very close relationships with your student ambassadors. We often talk within our organization about a cult of personality. Remember that song Jeff?

Jeff Kallay:

Yeah.

Mae Watters:

That was a good song. That was a good song, Jeff.

Jeff Kallay:

Ask not what your country-

Mae Watters:

Can do for you. You’ve got a buy-in from your tour guides and the leaders of your organization. And leaders of your organization have to have buy-in for the students who report to them and they manage. If you don’t, your lines of communication are going to fall apart. And then if you do plan to use alums, guess what? Your tour guide organization is a great segue into alumni volunteers and leveraging their experiences. We have 150 alumni interviewers that are comprised of former senior interviewers in our office and those are the only people that can join that group and they know me very well and I know them very well and it’s because we have really close relationships. So keeping your eye on the big picture while also filtering it down and knowing that if you don’t have those relationships, you’re not going to be successful.

Jeff Kallay:

People recruit people.

Mae Watters:

They definitely do.

Jeff Kallay:

And all the more to place based education and it shows you that a great campus tour, supported with leadership who gets it, your direction, the faculty and staff buy-in I think is very strong at Sewanee and that’s key to support it. That even what would be called a rural campus, right? They will come to the place if you’re authentically revealing it.

Mae Watters:

Absolutely. They definitely will.

Jeff Kallay:

So separating parents, I’m going to start challenging my clients more on this after our conversation.

Mae Watters:

Of all the things we do I feel most strongly about that.

Jeff Kallay:

I think, if there’s a lesson coming out of this pandemic, that. And then it’s okay to have a velvet rope, right? And not do too much and that the online is going to need to support promotion to get them on-campus.

Mae Watters:

Absolutely. Mass customization is I think mission critical for small schools.

Jeff Kallay:

Okay. So lastly, what’s your favorite tradition at Sewanee because it’s chock full of them?

Mae Watters:

Oh my gosh. I love, and this was the first tradition that really resonated with me as a freshman. We tap the roof of our cars as we leave, as we go through the gates of Sewanee and that’s because Sewanee is populated by angels and before people were there, angels were there. When you’re on campus, you don’t need your angel because you’re surrounded by angels. But when you leave, you tap the roof of your car and then I always tap my heart and you grab your angel and take it with you and your angel will always guide you back to Sewanee.

Jeff Kallay:

And I always do that when I leave campus but it might be a couple years before I release that angel when I returned back to the gate.

Mae Watters:

Well, we have to get you back to campus. And we have cute little buttons that we hand out what are called angel tokens at the end of each information session. And the counselor conducting the information session says, “I’m going to close and tell you the angel story and the angel tradition and you might not come back as a current student even though we hope you do but you might bring your son or daughter back, you might come back as an adult but you will come back.”

Jeff Kallay:

Mae as always, thank you for your [inaudible 00:56:22]-

Mae Watters:

Jeff, always a pleasure.

Jeff Kallay:

You’re brilliant for all you do for the campus visit. Not just at Sewanee but for the campus visit. Thank you. And thank you for participating [crosstalk 00:56:33]-

Mae Watters:

Well, thank you Jeff. Always a pleasure. And thank you Jarrett and Alex for having us.

Jeff Kallay:

I know and Jarrett’s back. He was just waiting for us to wrap it up.

Jarrett Smith:

I’m back. No, I didn’t want him to interrupt but Mae, thank you so much. I learned a ton listening in on that. Jeff, thank you as always for being such a great host. So thank you everybody who attended. Just as a reminder, we’re going to be sending out a recording of this to all our friends who didn’t make it to the live session. And we will be back next Wednesday at 1:00 pm Eastern to talk about digital advertising in the increasingly privacy focused world that we live in so I hope to see everybody there. So Mae, Jeff, audience members. Thank you so much. Hope everybody has a great afternoon and we’ll see everybody soon.

Mae Watters:

Thanks guys.