Student recruitment

Boosting student engagement through virtual visits and events

At Cialfo, we learned from our student community and innovated our approach to virtual engagement events to overcome the very real phenomenon of "Zoom fatigue"

Leslie Birch
March 1, 2022
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5 min

Starting with the first online fair in March 2020, we have continued to evolve our approach to virtual student engagement. Here's a look at what we have learned over the last two years of virtual engagement, and how our current innovations can help higher education institutions reach their outreach goals successfully.

The switch to virtual outreach

Universities that shifted to virtual recruiting during the pandemic quickly discovered the many benefits, especially when it came to connecting with students and counselors in markets they were unable to travel to. Universities that partnered with Cialfo also found that they had several flexible options to communicate directly with students and high schools using digital platforms, including:

(Virtual) Visits

Universities with a Cialfo Explore account were able to request 1 on 1 visits with any of the over 1600 high schools in the network at no cost to them, simply by logging in to their account

Virtual Engagement Events

Cialfo partnered with universities around the world to help them connect with students and counselors through a series of customized virtual engagement events. These events took place in various formats:

  • Online University Fairs
  • Ask Me Anything: University Discovery Weeks
  • Counselor Connect events: Small “speed dating” events designed for 10-20 counselors and universities
  • Branded webinars

As a result of their positive experiences with these various types of digital outreach, more university recruiting teams plan to include them in their strategies as part of their “new normal.”

The evolution of virtual engagement

We held our first successful virtual event in March of 2020, at the height of global COVID-19 shutdowns, in the form of an Online University Fair. The event’s participation data speaks volumes on the effectiveness of this format in engaging students, high school counselors, and universities from all corners of the world.

  • The 4-day event received more than 18,000 registrations with thousands of students, parents, and counselors in attendance
  • 95 universities (including Brown, Johns Hopkins, New York University, Hong Kong University, and Trinity College Dublin) joined the Online Fair presenting 142 sessions
  • Attendees came from 128 different countries - from China to Fiji
  • We saw an average registration rate of 2.8 sessions per student and 6 sessions per counselor

Building on the success of this initial event, we continued offering the Online University Fairs throughout the year to keep our community connected virtually. However, as the pandemic continued, the attendance and in-session interaction for the University Fairs started to wane very gradually. Even as pandemic-driven virtual events (along with daily interactions and learning) became the norm, Zoom fatigue started setting in.

Looking for a way to address this very real problem, we reached out to our network of over 250,000 international students for their ideas on how we could make these events more interactive while addressing their unique needs. 

Based on the rich feedback from students, we redesigned our virtual event format and launched our “Ask Me Anything” events, inspired by the social media trend. These engagement events took place during our University Discovery Weeks held in September and October of 2021. Each event offered a unique opportunity for students, parents, and counselors from high schools in China, South Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Korea to have their individual questions answered directly by university representatives. Before the live sessions, students were able to present questions to the universities they were interested in through a Q&A feature built into each university’s event profile in the Cialfo platform.

This ability for university reps to answer students’ unique questions before the live event took place led to more authentic discussions and greater engagement during the actual sessions. 

Students want authentic interactions and engagement from virtual events

The student response

In a post-event survey, many of the participating students indicated that having Q&A built into the platform was one of Cialfo’s most useful features. One student noted: “I found the sessions really useful, especially the Q&A portions, as they allowed not only for my own questions but also questions asked by others which really helped as well.”

Another participant summed up their experience of the “AMA” sessions, saying:

“I loved the level of interactions we were able to have with the university representatives. It was truly a memorable experience which helped me come to my own conclusions about which universities I might apply to in a year's time. Overall, the experience was remarkable and I would love to attend more sessions offered by Cialfo.”

In addition to having the ability to submit and view questions ahead of time, the AMA format offered even more interactive tools and tips for students than previous webinar-format type events. To help fuel more conversation and feel better prepared for the live session, students had access to a number of helpful resources which included:

  • A complete guide to all of the colleges on Cialfo
  • Ideas for useful questions to ask during the session
  • A sample student journey
  • The chance to win prizes participating in an event scavenger hunt!

Leveraging the different ways to virtually connect with students in far-reaching locations while having a better understanding of specifically what those students are seeking in prospective universities has proven effective in countless ways. These events help universities maximize their recruiting and travel budgets, identify new schools for outreach, and most importantly, engage more authentically with qualified potential applicants.

Using the communications features in digital tools like Cialfo not only gives universities the advantage of knowing the kind of information their target demographic is looking for, but enables them to customize and present that information in much more compelling ways. 

“I loved the way I could speak up and ask questions and that it wasn’t a one-way video session where a professor was feeding me information like I was some kind of robot.”

The questions the universities received in their Cialfo profile offered deeper insights into what individual students might be looking for in a college or destination. In post-event surveys, students listed the top 3 things that were most important to them in a virtual event:

  1. Getting their questions answered directly by the university representatives
  2. Obtaining exclusive information on the application process
  3. Hearing what others were saying about the university (including current students, faculty, alumni, and more).

Knowing exactly what factors are most important to prospective students in their college search helps universities tailor their digital events to address students’ questions and helps them build stronger relationships. 

Virtual fair participant Ohio Wesleyan University shared their sentiments on using the event to encourage communication:

“I’d choose Cialfo as my top virtual fair experience so far! It’s a great way for students to get an in-depth introduction to university and get their questions answered in a setting that doesn’t feel intimidating to the student.”

All in all, more than 86% of the students surveyed on their event experience said that they felt that it helped them in their college journey. At the end of the day, reaching students and helping them navigate one of the most important decisions of their lives is truly what Cialfo and our university partners are all about. We've been helping international students identify hundreds of college options (both known and unknown), listening to their concerns, learning what’s truly important to them, and ultimately, offering the best match for their individual needs. 

As you plan your recruiting strategy for the 2023 academic year, don’t miss the opportunity to engage with more than 250,000 students across the world for free by simply accessing your Cialfo profile. Get your virtual visits on high schools’ calendars and start making your connections today. Learn more about virtual visits here.

Looking to upgrade your institution's student engagement processes? Contact us to learn how.

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