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What Willy Wonka Can Teach Us About Increasing Campus Visitors

Remember the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the original 1971 film starring Gene Wilder? A character named Veruca Salt sang a song titled “I Want It Now,” and she wanted everything and wanted it now. Veruca reminds me of colleges and universities these days who want everything, and they want it now: larger incoming classes, smaller discount rates, more diversity, more students with high academic profiles, more out-of-state students, and the list goes on. On our campus visit consulting trips this summer, my colleague Jeff Kallay and I have been hearing growing dissatisfaction in the number of prospective students visiting our client campuses.

Fewer visitors

Colleges and universities experienced steep declines in prospective student campus visitors during the pandemic for obvious reasons, and I think we all expected those numbers to return to normal once the pandemic was over. Unfortunately, for most institutions, they have not. In addition, many are reporting higher no-show rates among those who are registering to visit. There are many culprits to blame, such as higher travel prices including flights, gas, and hotels, and the fear of a pending recession. To combat these reasons, a number of schools are offering gas cards and other incentives to get prospective students to visit their campuses. But in most cases, these incentives haven’t worked as well as folks had hoped, and colleges and universities are frustrated; they want more campus visitors, and they want them now.

More with less

With the drop in birth rates and the decline in high school graduates heading to college, there are simply fewer prospective traditional-age students to visit college campuses. To be sure, we think attracting more visitors to campus is a worthy endeavor, but we also believe institutions need to focus on increasing the yield rate of the visitors they do have.

To help our clients navigate these issues, my colleague at Echo Delta, Scott Rhodes, has recently launched a consulting package designed to support colleges and universities as they endeavor to both increase both their campus visit numbers and the yield rates of those who visit. I’m sharing some of his tactics below.

Give prospective students the opportunity to sign up for a visit at every touchpoint

  1. Place a Visit button that links to the visit page on the main website navigation.
  2. Ensure all prospective student emails, texts, and digital campaigns include a visit call to action (CTA).
  3. Add campus visit content and CTAs to all print materials.
  4. Create an email, text, or digital campaign specifically designed to promote the campus visit.
  5. Add a schedule visit link to all admissions representative email signatures.

Personalize every step of the journey

  1. Collect parent or guardian name and contact information on the visit registration form.
  2. Decrease the rate of no-shows by deploying a visit-reminder text campaign directed at both parents or guardians and the prospective student.
  3. Don’t limit the number of guests the visitor can bring with them. Instead, ask who they will be bringing and welcome their guests with intentionality.
  4. Create a robust and personalized follow-up campaign that includes a handwritten “thank you for visiting” note from the tour guides.
  5. Using the data collected from the visit registration form, follow up with the prospective student and parents or guardians, sending information that adds value, such as tips on essay writing, tips on the application process, and information on any scholarships, including competitions.

Review, assess, and measure

Any good plan starts with assessing what’s being done currently by auditing all messaging that’s being sent about the campus visit. This process is a giant undertaking and is critical when beginning a focused campaign to increase campus visitors and yield rates. Because messaging tends to get added on and is never taken away, it’s safe to say institutions are sending outdated messages that need to be updated or removed completely. Messaging can get stale, so make sure to measure the impact of your messaging through open rates and other analytics. Don’t be afraid to change up your content if you’re not getting the results you’re hoping for.

You don’t always get what you want

At the end of Veruca’s Willy Wonka solo, like many a villain, she ends up not getting what she wants, and it is inferred that she comes to an uncomfortable end. The moral of Veruca’s story is that she had so much already and had lost sight of it in her desire to always have more. Don’t be a Veruca. Pursue more campus visitors, but don’t lose sight of those you do have, and put effort and resources into getting more of those prospective students to enroll.

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