If you look around for open day guides, you’ll find plenty geared towards prospective students, generally explaining why they should attend them and how they can make the most of them. But tips for having a successful open day aren’t only useful for aspiring learners — after all, there’s no shortage of heated competition between educational institutions trying to attract interest.
Getting attention for your university in particular is extremely important, as the more attention you can win, the more leads you’ll have to subsequently convert into enrolled students. The next time you hold an open day for your institution, try following these tips for maximising the interest you’ll receive, both from prospective students and their influential parents.
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Cater your presentation to both perspectives
Unsurprisingly, there’s a massive disparity between what the average student and their parents will be looking for in a university. One is likely to prefer an overarching stat-centric view of the historical performance and significance of alumni, while the other will probably want to hear about the lifestyle, both for standard course events and extracurricular activities.
Because both approaches are important to your overall success, you must address them in turn. Don’t try to provide a comprehensive guide that covers everything — instead, try splitting your efforts. Offer a pamphlet for parents (or guardians), and a pamphlet for prospective students, with each one focussing on the elements most likely to be important for the reader.
The information can easily be shared afterwards, so don’t feel that you’ll be depriving one group of important data. It’s simply a matter of reading the room and giving people want they want to know as efficiently and clearly as you can. When the inevitable debate over which university to target arrives, whether it’s later that evening or the following week, you’ll have an edge over your rivals if your unique selling points are the clearest.
Maintain a social media thread
No matter how engaging your presenters may be, or how absorbing you make the cinematography for your video guide to campus facilities, teenagers will remain intermittently glued to their phones. Whether they’re checking their emails, browsing the internet, or simply exchanging open day thoughts with their friends, it simply isn’t a battle you can win.
Because of this, you must make a concerted effort to reach them across all relevant channels. By creating a unique hashtag, scheduling posts to update people on your planned events, and offering links to people and resources worth visiting, you can give visitors worthwhile material to encounter while using their phones, hopefully periodically nudging them back into your real-world presentations.
Having a social media thread will also mean that visitors will have an easy way to revisit the events of the day at a later time, whether because they want to check something they remember seeing or need to catch up on parts they missed. And as visitors use your hashtag to post about their activities for the day, you’ll gather up leads for sending out follow-up messages once the open day has concluded.
Provide engaging activities
The practice of gamification might feel somewhat trivial for something as important as education, but there’s no denying its persuasive powers, and it can be remarkably effective in the context of an open day for two clear reasons:
Newer generations have grown up with games and are thus drawn in by them.
The parent/child relationship is inherently combative.
I don’t mean the latter point to be dramatic! Rather, the point is that families enjoy competing with each other, and if you can introduce some form of quiz, puzzle or game through which attendants can compete with each other, you can get them to stick around long enough to form a positive impression of your institution and learn some things about it in the process.
If your university has a gaming or AV club of some kind, task the students that run it with setting something up. This will serve three roles:
Hugely increasing visitor engagement.
Clearly displaying student technical expertise.
Creating opportunities for possible applicants to talk to existing students.
Don’t be afraid to get creative. You’re far less likely to drive applicants away with a vibrant presentation than you are to win them over, and if you give the student presenters some stylistic freedom, they’ll come across as more natural and enthusiastic.
Prioritise showing over telling
When you host a university open day, there’s an excellent chance that you’ll only get one shot at impressing each visitor — repeat visits are not to be expected. Because of this, you need to take full advantage of the rare opportunity you have to show them things that they can’t experience online. Everything else can be deferred.
You could give an hour-long speech about the history of the university, for instance, but you could just as easily make that a podcast and let people download it at their leisure (or even create a narrative-driven podcast series about your history and release it as a promotional tool in the lead-up to the open day). But a campus tour is something that can’t be properly replicated online, even with the most sophisticated VR setup. It’s the vibe of the place that you have the chance to get across.
Show visitors what the accommodation is like, what the club rooms are like, and what the facilities involve. Saturate your open day with experiential factors, then simply point visitors to an online repository of all the resources you’d expect from a very dull open day (financial guides, course options, etc.). Got an aspiring barbershop quartet on your academic roster? Invite them to perform — let their passion for the university shine through and it will prove a powerful convincer.
When your next open day arrives, try these tactics for capturing attention from both prospective students and their parents, and you’ll give your institution the best possible chance of bringing in plenty of fresh faces.