Recruit & Retain (Santa Clara University)

Embracing Mobile Technology

In the college admissions world, we’re all up against rapidly changing demographics. Students are socially diverse, digitally literate and expect you to meet them where they live — on their mobile devices. 85 percent of students own a smartphone, and smartphone usage is rivaling laptop usage — 86 percent versus 89 percent respectively according to Pew Research.

Students also speak loud and clear. While text messaging a prospective student used to be off limits, too personal for initial conversations, that’s no longer the case. We have students sign off emails with “Feel free to text me” — even those students I’ve never met prefer smartphone interactions over email.

Mobile technology is no longer an option for admissions professionals, but a necessity.

Take campus visits, for instance. According to Student Poll, 65 percent of students say that visits to campus influence their decision. Yet no school has unlimited means to provide those tours. At Santa Clara University (SCU), some students cannot make our “registered visit” time slots or drop in without an appointment, while others visiting from overseas have language requirements that can’t be met “on demand.” The need for tours goes beyond the population of prospective students. To meet this demand without adding staff and dramatically increasing our costs, we turned to mobile technology as a vital part of our admissions and enrollment management toolbox.

Mobile Means More Reach

The Guidebook mobile app platform, for example, serves as the basis of our self-guided mobile campus tour. A supplement to inperson tours, the app allows visitors to take a tour independently — 24/7, at their convenience.

In the first six months, we’ve served about 25 percent more visitors with the same number of staff as before. The app captures basic student information, so staff can easily follow up to initiate a relationship and connect with students who would previously have fallen under the radar.

Internationally Friendly, Diversity Inclusive

We pride ourselves on being internationally friendly and our multilingual app reflects that, with tours in English, Mandarin and Spanish. We’re better equipped to meet the needs of this incoming wave of millennial students, who are often first-generation Americans and who have family members who are non-English speakers. As relationship building moves almost exclusively to mobile technology (e.g. WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) for international students, the tour app offers one more important touch point to engage with them, as well as parents, counselors and others who may be guiding their decisions.

A Foundation to Grow On

The fact that someone like me, who doesn’t have much tech experience, can create and change the app without IT as a middleman has contributed to the success of the app. We found building mobile apps to be far easier than we initially thought! We can easily customize it on the fly, like adding a new destination or switching up the tour route to avoid campus construction.

Having demonstrated the value of the undergraduate tours app, we’re now in the process of adding tours for other departments, including post-graduate programs. We’re also expanding beyond the discovery phase into other facets of the student life cycle, from admissions and orientation to graduation and beyond.

Among our peers, we’re starting to be seen as a leader using innovative technology. Being a university in Silicon Valley, that’s a win for us.

The bigger win is student response. Several students referenced the app in their admission applications as the reason they were able to get a feel for the campus community even though they didn’t come for a traditional visit. Having an authentic student voice giving the tour really drives home the opportunities and experiences offered at SCU.

In 2015, we scrambled to offer campus visits during the winter break, yet had fewer than 30 visitors. In 2016, we saw many more downloads of the self-guided tour app than the few students who visited the previous year.

The mobile app has also directly impacted our enrollment goals. In 2016, we saw a record number of visitors (24,000) and admission applications hit an all-time high (nearly 16,000). We expect this trend to continue.

At SCU, we’ve embraced mobile apps as one of the best ways to connect with students and visitors from all backgrounds and create continued interactions with students throughout their campus careers. The exciting part is that we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Grace Hartman is originally from East Contra Costa County in Northern California. At Santa Clara, she currently oversees all aspects of the visit experience and spends most of her time working with the Student Ambassadors who sit on panels and lead campus tours.

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