Admissions Facilities Help Drive Financial Success

Leverage the power of design to attract and connect with potential students.

Attracting students is not just central to a college or university’s mission as an institution of learning, it’s also the foundation of their financial success. Without a steady stream of new students, most schools would face dire fiscal consequences. It’s no surprise then that admissions offices have been a key pillar for colleges and universities. For years, though, admissions centers were viewed simply as a gathering place to share information or a meeting point to begin and end a campus tour.

Those days are in the past. Research illustrates the powerful effect these facilities have on attracting new students. For example, a 2007 Eduventure survey of high school juniors and seniors found that the campus visit was the student’s most trusted source of information. Other studies have reported that a campus visit is the most important factor in a student’s decision on where to apply and that students are more likely to matriculate after a campus visit.

Admissions offices play a critical role in any campus visit. As such, these facilities have a direct impact on the ability of colleges and universities to attract new students. By leveraging design to address the opportunities noted below, a university can connect to potential students and help generate a strong revenue stream for colleges and universities.  

Choreograph the Arrival Sequence

Creating a welcoming environment begins at the point of entry. Whether building a new facility or renovating an existing admissions office, location matters. The site should have easy access from campus entrances with clear directional signage. Consider the walk from the parking lot to the admissions center’s entry. What does that walk convey about your institution? Is it attractive and well maintained? Don’t forget about accessibility either. To create a truly inclusive environment, the facility should be easily accessible for all, including extended family members.

An admissions office should offer a gracious arrival that sets a positive tone for the visit. This arrival sequence requires careful thought, from how someone enters the facility to their experience as they move through the building. An enjoyable visitor experience is reinforced by thoughtful design of both the surrounding landscape and hospitable interiors.

Virginia Tech, for example, incorporated these details when the university built its new Office of Undergraduate Admissions and Visitor Center. The facility, located adjacent to the main campus entry on a knoll overlooking campus, includes a glass wall in the lobby where prospective students and their families can soak in the picturesque surroundings and envision themselves exploring the campus. Additionally, the school recognized that many visitors travel for several hours to reach the university. In order to instinctively meet the needs of these guests, the design included benches along the walk between the parking area and building entry so visitors have a place for a brief respite. These seemingly small considerations leave a powerful impression.

Curate Memorable Experiences

Recognizing how the built environment affects an individual’s experience can’t be overlooked. Establishing this connection is one reason that matriculation rates are much higher for students who have toured a campus.

Architectural design and identity are powerful tools that reinforce a college or university’s brand. Facilities professionals understand the messages that their buildings, landscaping, and campus design send. The importance of these messages is amplified in an admissions office. Colleges should use this highly trafficked space to create an inviting atmosphere that presents the university in the best possible light. When James Madison University renovated space for their admissions office they included a reception desk that features school colors and images of the campus.

It’s important that an admissions facility reflects the school’s traditions and vision, as well as the campus’ broader context, all of which will impact a student’s impressions regarding that institution. Emotional connections are crafted through an immersive experience which reveals the identity, culture, and traditions of an institution. Incorporating technology, from touch screens to augmented or virtual reality, art, and other visuals are further ways to establish and enhance those connections.

Most importantly, leverage the canvas of an admissions center to create “wow” moments. Admissions offices that contain beautiful or dramatic focal points can create a strong and lasting impression, particularly when experienced early in the visit.

These memorable moments are crafted through eye-catching architectural features, such as a two-story lobby space, beautifully appointed presentation rooms with impressive technology, a focal point such as a fireplace, or a breathtaking view. For example, Christopher Newport University’s new admissions office in Christopher Newport Hall features a well-appointed reception area that is open to a sky-lit dome above. A beautiful environment elevates the human spirit and creates a lasting impression.

Connect With a Multipurpose Presentation Space  

Each room in an admissions center is an important part of that facility’s fabric. Among all the spaces, though, the presentation room is typically the largest and among the most significant.

As facilities professionals can attest, managing large and cavernous spaces presents challenges; yet the presentation room must enhance a visitor’s experience. A presentation room’s ideal design allows for groups of multiple sizes and space to arrange furniture to meet the needs of a specific group. Depending on the size of an admissions center, consider including multiple presentation spaces. For example, if the presentation room has a capacity of over 100 people, it’s best to provide an additional meeting room, which could accommodate smaller groups, such as 35 people or fewer.

The architecture and infrastructure of a presentation room should fit its size. Based on classical proportions and desirable viewing angles of presentation screen and presenters, the ideal ratio of the width to length of the room should be between 1:1 and 1:1.6. A ratio greater than 1:2 should be avoided if possible. Integrating technology in the presentation room is a key feature, but it’s advisable to consider many factors, such as resources and expertise of those operating the equipment. Given the rapid pace at which technology evolves, colleges shouldn’t finalize the selection of the equipment until the project is within six to nine months of completion, and the design should be as flexible as possible.

Finally, a truly multipurpose presentation space will perfectly set up the campus tour that usually follows the information session. The presentation room should be situated to allow for easy access to begin the tour and provide adjacent exterior spaces that can be used for groups to coalesce before departure.

Create Effective Workspaces

With increasing pressure on colleges and universities to keep their costs low, many facilities on a campus must serve multiple functions, including admissions centers. These facilities should provide efficient and effective workspaces that encourage collaboration.

Admissions office staff should be located in the same facility to enable adequate supervision of the campus visit and back-office operations. Thus, establishing public/private zones and ensuring necessary security must be considered when designing, building, and maintaining these facilities. Understanding the various requirements and utilization needs of admissions staff can be accomplished by using an interactive programming process as well as questionnaires to capture their needs.

The need for clear delineation between public, semi-public, and private areas remains paramount. A well-planned admissions office will create zones organized by the type and frequency of access required. The most effective workspaces will be configured to facilitate efficient production of tasks and incorporate flexibility to address peak seasonal demands. Collaboration areas are important as well and shouldn’t be limited to conference rooms. Rather, provide small seating areas along a corridor or at the perimeter of a work room to allow for impromptu collaboration. Ultimately, considering factors such as seating, noise reduction, and desk allocation ensures that workers are more efficient, effective, and collaborative.

Admissions Centers Can Deliver Strong ROI

A final consideration is remaining open to new ideas for creating a welcoming environment. For example, college administrators and facilities professionals should tour other spaces to understand what features are most appropriate for their project.

Think broadly about the purpose of the admissions office and visit an array of hospitality spaces, such as hotels and resorts, museums, and visitor centers. Consider visitor experience, configuration of workspace, and architecture and interior design options. Components from these various facilities can be easily reinterpreted and applied for an admissions office.

Investing time and resources into understanding and properly planning an admissions center will deliver the strongest return on an institution’s investment, especially because these facilities are increasingly critical in the highly competitive admissions landscape. They can make all the difference for a university in attracting new students and supporting the institution’s financial viability.