The Opening Act
By Kevin Kropf
Executive Vice President of Enrollment Management
Campus visits are the single most important thing we do in admissions every day. In our quest to create an authentic and accurate view of what it means to be a Drury student, we must create a memorable and buzzworthy experience that parents and students will want to share with their friends and classmates.
THE KEYSTONES OF A GREAT VISIT EXPERIENCE INCLUDE:
- Preparation and staging
- Personalized and customized itineraries
- Winning the first five minutes
- Sensory engagement
- Stories, not statistics
- Tangible takeaways
We know that the impression we give, the experience we provide and the emotions felt during the time we spend with a student and his/her family could be the deciding factor in the college decisionmaking process. With this in mind, great visits start with exceptional planning, effective communication and repeatable staging.
We collect a number of important pieces of information ahead of the visit including academic interests, graduation year and co-curricular interests. We then create customized and personalized itineraries designed to connect students with the university community, current students, faculty, staff and the city of Springfield. With larger visit programs, we strive to connect them with other prospective students. These itineraries require numerous moving parts and schedules to come together, but we do this to model how personal Drury is and how every student makes their own contribution to the success of the University.
The preparation also includes communication about directions, parking and general expectations for the day. We have identified more than 15 staging steps created to ensure that families feel welcomed and have the opportunity for Drury to “just feel right.” Some of these include printing name cards for personalized parking signs, rolling out the red carpet and pairing students with tour guides based on similar interests.
“Where are your restrooms?” Believe it or not, that is the most common question asked on campus visits and it happens within the first five minutes of almost every campus visit. Families are judging Drury by the cleanliness of ourrestrooms. We have taken cleanliness a step further by providing toiletries and other items such as mints, hand sanitizer and toothpicks in an effort to provide a welcoming experience. Access to bottled water, coffee and snacks are another element of winning the first five minutes. Families love the personalized parking sign and often take pictures before or after the visit. It’s one of the reasons we had new signs and specially-designed poles placed along Drury Lane and on Burnham Circle.
One of our goals of the campus visit is to create an emotional connection between the student and Drury. Sensory engagement is one of the best ways to create this connection. We are working to incorporate more visual branding across campus so that families see as well as hear about the pride our students have for Drury. We include a complimentary meal or stop at the CX so that students can have a taste of Drury. We ask our tour guides to stop during their tours near the fountains on Drury Lane or even near HSA or TSC to listen to the sounds of an urban campus. We have our tours sit some place on campus at least once, usually a classroom so students can feel the ambiance, recognize how small our classrooms are and imagine for a moment what a seminar with Dr. Meidlinger, a lecture by Dr. Jansen or a lab with Dr. Harville would be like in the future.
I’ve always wondered if students select a college because of their 12:1 student teacher ratio or because of the 300,000 volumes in the library, or the average ACT of a 26.3. My guess is they are not selecting a place for four years based on statistics. Yes, they can be helpful, but we are transitioning our campus tours away from statistic-filled monologues and turning them into story-based conversations with prospective Panthers. This allows our guides to be unscripted (still well-trained and well-versed in college knowledge) and for every tour to be unique. We want our guides to connect students to the shared Drury experience, and we encourage our guides to treat the outsiders (our visitors) like insiders, complete with sharing insider secrets. Stories provide the opportunity to curry a smile, a laugh, an empathetic thought or even a high five, and make parents wistful for their own college days.
The last keystone to a great visit is tangible takeaways. We want students to leave with a memento that will remind them of the great experience they had visiting Drury. It doesn’t hurt when they wear the T-shirt, soccer scarf or sweatshirt we provide them as they leave. They love the coffee mugs, Tervis tumblers, Frisbees, pennants and other items as well, especially when they come in Drury gift bags.
We are not finished with our improvements and changes, but it’s clear from the feedback our visitors are providing that we have taken our visits to the next level. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, “You may not remember what we said or what you did, but you will remember how you felt.”
A New Campaign
With the changes to the FAFSA timeline this year, there is a longer stretch of time from when students are accepted and granted a financial aid package, to when they are actually enrolled in college. Because of this, colleges and universities nationwide face a new challenge of staying relevant to admitted students before they arrive on campus. Drury, having already had some successful exposure to virtual reality technology, wanted to use this technology to reach prospective students in a fun, creative way. Digital marketing strategies are moving into customized and virtual experiences, and 360 video is popular and growing. Out of the need for more touchpoints with accepted students and opportunities to engage with students in new ways, “Thrive 360” was born.
Virtual reality technology made mainstream headlines following Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR, maker of the Oculus Rift headset in March of 2014. David Beach ‘97, associate professor of architecture, introduced VR technology to Drury’s Hammons School of Architecture in 2014, after three years of research, trial and error. “The idea of virtual reality has been around for more than 20 years, but the technology is only just now becoming affordable and user-friendly,” Beach says.
Thrive 360 is an attractive and sustainable model for reaching out to students in an integrated campaign that has both traditional appeal and new digital innovations. The costs are manageable and afford Drury the opportunity to connect with students through an immersive experience before they come to campus.
Here’s How It Works
Each month, beginning in January 2017, admitted students received something tangible in the mail from Drury. The first item was a cardboard VR headset that immersed prospective students in an exciting 360 video, introducing them to Drury University and the Thrive 360 campaign. In subsequent months, they received
another item and a link to a new 360 experience.
FEBRUARY: “Get a Taste of Springfield;” students received dark chocolate from Askinosie Chocolate, a local chocolatier, as well as a 360 video featuring hotspots around Springfield.
MARCH: “Next Steps;” students received a “Next Steps Checklist” pamphlet, designed to ensure everything is submitted well before Freshman First Day in June.
APRIL: “Panther Pride;” students received foam fingers accompanying a new 360 video featuring the Fanthers,
athletics and other exciting campus events.
MAY: “Your Future is Here;” students received graduation cards/announcements accompanying a 360 video of
Part of the Thrive360 campaign was the inaugural #DruryBound event held in March. #DruryBound brought nearly 100 prospective students to Drury and introduced Springfield hotspots and current Drury students. For many attendees, this was their first visit to campus. The event included tours of campus, a guided bus tour of downtown Springfield, one-on-one visits with current students and faculty members, games, food and music.