COVID-19: A new dawn for the University Open Day

photo of kevin mason

Just a few months ago, we were preparing for educational sites across the world to become a buzz of activity in readiness for new students. 

We were inviting applicants to attend events and interviews, view our institutions’ amazing facilities, tour campuses, explore the local area and enjoy new and exciting opportunities. Inspirational campaigns promoted bricks, mortar, people and places, with one call to action: ‘come and see for yourself’.  

A few months on, and COVID-19 has changed the climate of the education sector – possibly irrevocably. It’s likely that only institutions who can adapt quickly will survive. Today, digital advertising can’t promote the same in-person experiences. Digital is the experience.

Now, we have a new challenge: how can we create the same exciting, emotional connection for potential students that open days deliver so successfully?

Taking the campus tour online

Part of the magic of student events lies in the collective energy of the crowd – likeminded people, often of the same age, at the same stage of life, making the same big step towards their future. Additionally, there’s the fear of missing out; the sense that students and parents alike need to gather all the information they can to make this life changing decision.

With an on-campus event, this can be condensed into a few hours of intense, memorable activity. But with virtual events, the experience needs to change.

Luckily, there are a number of digital tools which can offer functionally similar experiences online: virtual campus tours can replace walking tours, FAQ sessions can be substituted with webinars, there are discussion forums, videos and of course social media – all of which can be used as vehicles to replicate elements of the ‘live’ experience.

But as powerful as some of these individual elements can be, they often still occur at separate points in the application journey, resulting in a fragmented experience rather than a cohesive one.

Creating an online narrative to rival the ‘real deal’

It’s possible to bring multiple digital tools together to form one compelling narrative – for one perfect sales tool for your university, college or educational institution.

The solution lies in creating a web platform pulling these elements together in one place: also known as a ‘virtual showroom’.

Imagine an open day where prospective students and their parents can take a virtual campus tour, explore an interactive course brochure, and network and chat with other students. There could be a timed SpeakerProgram, with presentations on institution life and events alongside interactive, live Q&A sessions for alumni and their families.

It’s even possible to have virtual ‘booths’ for your Student Union and social groups, along with virtual sessions around arranging accommodation and finance – plus opportunities for select sponsoring partners to host their own content, too.

Above all, these virtual open days require careful planning, to build anticipation, maintain professionalism and build on students’ excitement at choosing your institution to further their education.


No longer a luxury – but the future

Last year, we put together a white paper on the subject of students’ engagement throughout the higher education application process (download your copy below). We demonstrated a number of digital touch points that can enhance your students’ digital journey, maintaining their excitement – and providing reassurance – throughout.

As part of that white paper, our research demonstrated a rollercoaster of ups and downs – but today, we suspect that rollercoaster would have flatlined into a state of COVID worry, anxiety and stress. This means our findings are even more poignant in this time of uncertainty.

At Proctors, we’re already building these virtual events for many of our clients, designing virtual events which can support audiences of up to 100,000 people simultaneously. Previously built for international applicants, virtual open days are fast becoming imperative for students anywhere and everywhere as the COVID-19 pandemic reveals weaknesses in traditional open days.

Together, we can restore the sense of excitement and anticipation where it will make the biggest impact throughout every student’s application process. Our in-house team not only includes the digital professionals who can design and build your online event: we’re also home to the creative directors, designers and writers who can help you create a compelling story of your institution’s history, its achievements and its vision.

Today is a challenge for all of us. But for those who are agile and adaptable enough to get it right, this challenge is also an opportunity. And we’d love to work with you to grasp it together.

Email us at marketing@proctors.co.uk, and we can arrange a time to talk about your student recruitment strategy post-COVID-19.