Keeping Admissions Competitive in a Mobile-First World

How mobile campus tours boost student engagement, keep costs under control.

GUEST COLUMN | by Matt Keowen

CREDIT Guidebook image.pngThe campus tour is an essential, high-yield recruitment tool for prospective students and their families. One of the services most in demand from prospective students and families, it’s also one of the most difficult to scale.

With up to 75 percent of students visiting campus without an official scheduled tour, there are droves of stealth applicants flying under the radar. These visitors are likely missing out on interactions that tap into the experiences of current students – interactions that will guide their decisions and compel them to apply.

To address this gap, colleges and universities are increasingly turning to mobile technology.

Meet students on mobile

Today, discovery happens right where students are most comfortable: on their mobile phones. 85 percent of students own smart phones and they’re spending 8-10 hours on those devices every day. It’s no surprise that students begin their relationship with institutions earlier and earlier each year, orienting themselves with schools online through Google searches and social media.

In today’s competitive admissions environment, reaching out to students through mobile technology is a must.

In this mobile-first world, students’ expectations and assumptions form well before they even step foot on campus. And considering the class of 2025 will be the largest, most diverse and technologically literate class schools have seen, the time is now to embrace a new age of admissions outreach and engage students through the tools they use. Mobile apps offer an ideal way to connect with prospective students without dramatically increasing personnel or adding other resources that will drive costs through the roof.

Self-guided, mobile tours

Admissions professionals at schools like Monterey Peninsula College, Santa Clara University (SCU) and University of Oregon have found success in using self-guided mobile campus tours to supplement in-person tours. These “virtual” tours offer student-led narratives and point-to-point directions that take advantage of the device’s native GPS to guide the student on a designated route, allowing them to discover the campus outside of traditional touring hours. By extending the reach of the admissions department, mobile tour apps can help schools significantly cut down on the number of stealth applicants, while keeping costs under control.

In the first six months of using the app, SCU for example, served 25 percent more visitors with the same number of staff as previously. In addition, with mobile tours available in English, Mandarin and Spanish, SCU can meet the growing needs of non-English speakers, including many first-generation Americans and their family members.

Create authentic, meaningful experiences

Just as student tour guides lead students and their families around campus with rich narratives framing the broader college experience, so should mobile tours capture and communicate an institution’s culture and identity. Mobile tours are most effective when they include diverse and authentic student narratives that articulate relatable experiences rooted in shared identities, ideas of success, and expectations of life on campus.

As part of an overall digital strategy, mobile tours provide admissions professionals with an opportunity to track the digital footprint of students as they explore campus and start a conversation that provokes interest in an organic way. There are multiple opportunities for students to connect with the school – whether they want to speak with a counselor, an ambassador or the admissions team – directly through the app. Plus, engaging students through mobile, post-visit, builds on the excitement from the student’s initial visit and leaves a lasting impression.

In today’s competitive admissions environment, reaching out to students through mobile technology is a must. By portraying campus life on their preferred means of communication, mobile tours will help students feel connected and energized to take the leap of faith and join the school’s community. At the same time, admissions can keep costs low and reach even more prospective students with existing resources. In 2016, SCU saw a record number of visitors and admission applications – enrollment metrics directly impacted by the mobile tour app.

This is a time of opportunity and the options are endless – how will you use mobile technology to remain competitive and relevant?

Matt Keowen is VP of Marketing at Guidebook. He has nearly 30 years of experience in technology companies and is well versed in higher ed mobile technology strategies. Write to: and follow @guidebook


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