Virtually perfect: Campus visit event goes online

Empty campus
The CSU campus is empty but the Office of Admissions is still busy recruiting potential students virtually.

On Saturday, March 28, the Colorado State University campus was set to be invaded: More than 700 prospective students and their families – at least 2,000 people – were scheduled to tour the campus, meet with advisors and hear presentations from campus leadership in the annual spring “Choose CSU” event put on by the Office of Admissions.

“It was going to be the biggest one in our history,” said Michelle Bradley, assistant director of admissions events. “We were looking forward to a really great event with a lot of students choosing to become Rams.”

COVID-19 spoils the party

Well, you probably know how this next part goes: COVID-19 kicked into high gear, social distancing became part of our everyday vocabulary and CSU President Joyce McConnell announced on March 19 that all teaching and learning functions were moving to an online or virtual platform. Non-essential personnel were to work from home, and no one was to come to campus.

So much for having 2,000 visitors. But, as Bradley said, “The show must go on.”

Disappointed but undeterred, Director of Admissions Heather Daniels and her team in the Division of Enrollment and Access went to work to recreate their planned campus visit virtually. Within 10 days – and a week before McConnell’s announcement – her staff had put together a virtual experience that gave prospective students a chance to check out CSU without actually being there.

“We had people from all over the country scheduled to visit campus, and they had to cancel flights, hotels and rental cars,” Daniels said. “The families, though, have been very understanding, and we let them know that we were still ready to welcome them to campus with a great virtual experience.”

President McConnell takes the (virtual) stage

The March 28 schedule began with a welcome from Daniels and then a 30-minute session with McConnell, who talked to students from her kitchen. She did a 5-minute introduction, then took questions for another 25 minutes

“Joyce is a dynamic speaker and did an amazing job,” Bradley said. “She was on the schedule to speak at the live event, and then she was all-in to do it online when we made the switch. She was so good – we’ve gotten emails from several parents who loved her presentation.”

While the virtual event wasn’t able to capture all of the elements included in a live campus showcase, Daniels made sure prospective students and their parents could get answers to the important questions. Admissions ambassadors did one-on-one chats, and representatives from the Office of Financial Aid, Housing & Dining Services, Parent and Family Programs and other campus offices were available for online chat.

“We were one of the first universities in the country to put this together, and I’m getting calls from friends in admissions all over the country asking me how we pulled this together so quickly,” Daniels said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of our staff. They did an amazing job to pull this off.”

A big success

When the final numbers were tallied, more than 700 people had participated – including several who had not signed up for the in-person event. Within a few days of the event’s conclusion, CSU had received security deposits from 40 students.

“This just proves that, despite all of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, students are still excited to be Rams,” Daniels said.

Bradley said there was an unexpected outcome: For many students, both domestically and internationally, live campus tours aren’t possible, so this event provide a welcome opportunity to “see” the campus.

“Being forced to do this online has proved that we have an audience on that platform,” she said. “This tells me we need to have some sort of permanent virtual event so we can serve all prospective students. Students were very appreciative of the opportunity to have contact with us at this event. It took all hands on deck to make this happen, but it was worth it.”