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Back to School Series: Engage your Student Body with a Virtual School Fair

Madelyn Worley
Madalyn Worley LMSW
, Content Manager, Engagez

Back to School is upon us! As K-12 and college campuses are gearing up for another year of learning, as we continue to see Covid-19 impact individuals, finding creative ways to engage and welcome students remains imperative. The incorporation of virtual environments and events is an affordable method of bringing your campus together and even connecting your online students to your in-person students. We have previously discussed virtual fairs within the workplace and leveraging virtual spaces to engage employees. This series will dive into virtual solutions within the educational realm. In this article, we will explore the many uses of virtual school fairs. A virtual school fair can be used to introduce prospective students to your school, curriculum, and amenities; welcome back returning students; hold a science fair, art show, or theater performance – the possibilities are endless!

  • The Benefits of a Virtual Student Fair

Besides the obvious advantages of remaining isolated during the pandemic, a virtual fair will reduce the carbon footprint of your event, which has become a high priority for many individuals in the Gen Z and Millennial age ranges. As we have seen more schools and campuses offer not only in-person learning tracks but also completely online options, a virtual fair will allow attendees from all over the globe to participate and learn about the various groups, activities, and programs that are available to students in both tracks. Virtual student fairs can also be an opportunity to feature alumni speakers and other guests that might not be able to attend in the physical world. If you are seeking to expand your reach, you have the opportunity to trial your institution in new markets, without the financial or time investment that would normally be required.

  • fWhat Options are Available?

Any planned event now has a number of possible formats:

  • A small in-person, socially-distanced event that follows CDC guidelines;
  • A 100% virtual event that is live streamed;
  • A 100% virtual event that is pre-recorded;
  • A hybrid event that has both live streamed and pre-recorded sessions.

A hybrid event will allow you to demonstrate your school in active mode while including pre-recorded sessions from guest speakers and highlights from past years. If you are producing a virtual fair for recruitment, you have a number of options to choose from to get your information across.

A webcast will usually just have a host (or hosts) presenting their material without any interaction with their audience. Webcasts certainly have their place in a virtual event, particularly when basic information – such as the application process, scholarship availability, schedules, fees, etc.  – needs to be conveyed. They also have the advantage of being pre-recorded, so have a more professional presentation. Be sure to also have the information easily available for download, so that prospective students can review it later.  Webcasts can also present welcome messages from the school’s administration and clips of alumni discussing their experiences at the school.

But the most effective, engaging events will include a mix of formats that will engage, inform, and entertain your attendees. Live streamed content can include: Q&A sessions; instant polling; panel discussions that allow for audience chat participation; athletic, theater, and science fair demonstrations; live streaming cameras in classrooms; and much more! 

An open house virtual event might start with a pre-recorded welcome message from the president, a live Q&A session with admissions, a pre-recorded tour, and a live demonstration, all interspersed with pre-recorded student and alumni clips. Whatever you would normally present during a live fair can easily be shown virtually.

  • 1 on 1 Meetings

Along with viewing webcasts, participating in Q&A sessions, and visiting booths, it’s very important to provide the opportunity for 1 on 1 meetings with counselors, advisors, and other staff. This gives attendees the opportunity to ask personal questions and express their individual concerns as well as set up a time to discuss learning plans or requirements. Private meetings can be set up during the event – with staff and instructors holding office hours as they would in the real world – or scheduled for afterward.

  • Join a Fair or Host Your Own?

Dedicated virtual fair providers regularly host events that include a number of schools. These have the advantage of reducing your workload, may attract a larger and broader audience, and can be cost-effective. It can be difficult, however, to differentiate your school from your competitors, and you may also be limited in the formats you can use. If you do participate in an event like this, be sure to design a creative booth with downloadable content and on-demand videos available. Be sure to have an efficient way of collecting visitor information so that you can follow up after the event.  

Hosting your own virtual fair or event will give you the opportunity to present your school in the best way possible using the presentation formats you choose. You’ll also be certain of collecting contact information for future use.

 

  • The Event Landing Page

The event landing page will be your audience’s first interaction with the process of joining your event, so it’s important that it is clear, easy to use, and provides the attendee – and your school – with all the information needed. Along with forms to complete, be sure to include space for additional comments to be made.

Besides the basic contact information required for the event, attendees could customize their interaction by: 

  • scheduling a video chat with school directors, teachers, and staff, according to their interests.;
  • Requesting to see on-demand videos; and,
  • Requesting specific information on topics of interest, such as academics, diversity, and faculty background. 

Part of your registration process should include questions regarding special interests. You can use this information to divide your overall audience into subgroups based on their interests or needs. Subgroups might include chosen major, language, geographic location, age group of student, or sports. These subgroups can have the opportunity to interact with each other before, during, and after the event if they so choose, and can be guided to virtual booths that focus on their area of interest.

  • Follow-up

Following up after any event – real or virtual – is always important. You want to ensure that your attendees have received all the information they need.  Have a clear call to action so that your prospective student knows how to take the next step in the admissions process. Follow-up emails are an obvious choice. Whenever possible, make them personal by referring back to their registration details. If the attendee participated in any 1 to 1 meeting, have that staff or faculty member send an email, also. Surprisingly, the move to virtual meetings has brought about a return to old-fashioned snail mail. A physical letter or brochure, or a small item of school swag will make a strong impression.

 

  • Measure Your Success

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are measurable units that serve to indicate how effective your event has been. These are chosen based on your overall objectives for the event. They may include attendance numbers; diversity of attendees;  length of engagement during the virtual event; and post-event conversions, such as inquiries, donations, applications, and completion of surveys.

Post-event surveys for attendees and also staff participants are a great way to receive feedback. They should be short, and – along with requests for satisfaction ratings – include open-ended questions and/or the opportunity for respondents to communicate in their own words. Survey Monkey and Typeform are two useful ways to create and distribute your surveys. Being able to rate your success and receiving feedback will help you improve future virtual events.  

 

  • Advice for the students and/or parents

There are ways that students and/or parents can make the most of a virtual school fair. Be prepared – Research the school and geographic area, if applicable. If you are looking at a competitive placement, having done your homework may impress the recruiter, and it will help you have your questions ready.

Be sure your computer/device, microphone, speakers, and internet connection is working. Take advantage of what is offered by participating in Q&A sessions, watching presentations, and attending 1 to 1 meetings. After the event, be sure to follow up with pertinent questions, and a note of thanks.

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