Communicating With Prospective Students During COVID-19

Over the past several months, the coronavirus pandemic has caused the whole world to change. As we cope with the epidemic’s impact, we’ve had to adjust not only how we operate but how we interact with prospective students. To be mindful of their needs during this extraordinary time, we’ve gathered some valuable tips and best practices for how to remain adaptable, flexible and understanding when communicating with future students.

Lead with Empathy in Your Communications

With so many unknowns surrounding the upcoming academic year, students may feel anxious about their path ahead. A transparent and compassionate approach to student communications will serve as a refreshing resource during this unprecedented time. Current uncertainty presents opportunity to re-imagine the role of recruitment tools – email marketing, website content, and social platforms – and to use them as educational planning resources.

Even students who aren’t ready to enroll this quarter will benefit from genuine connections with your program and the welcoming resources you provide. If you keep the needs of prospective students in mind, they’ll be more likely to think of your program when they’re ready to go to school.

Be Generous with Your Time and Communicate 1:1

Now more than ever, prospective students want to connect and receive advice from someone in the program. Invest in long-term relationship building with students by giving them your time and personally guiding them through the admission and application process.

In addition to one-on-one meetings, hosting frequent remote informational sessions or recorded presentations can provide students with more background on your program. Webinars can serve as an accessible tool for people who may not be ready to commit to a scheduled advising meeting.

Remember that not every resource you provide prospective students must be something you create from scratch. Look for and leverage content created by others in the university community. Point prospective students to the free webinars offered by the Graduate School’s Office of Public Lectures or the many other excellent free classes, lectures and resources found around campus.

Acknowledge Uncertainty and Demonstrate How You’re Going to Adapt Your Program

With the format of Fall Quarter still being determined, be careful not to imply whether classes will be offered remotely or in-person when discussing classes with prospective students. Instead, reiterate we’re operating in a fluid environment and changes will come in continually.

While having a contingency plan is important, you should also be prepared to admit you don’t have all the answers. You can position yourself as a transparent and trustworthy educational leader by acknowledging there’s no perfect approach to navigating education during such a historic time.

Let students know you have a plan for managing your program no matter what happens in the coming months. Provide them with examples of how you’ve adapted your course to be accessible remotely, whether that’s mailing out supply kits to help students complete lab assignments from home or videotaping activities, so students can write lab reports on the data.

Likewise, demonstrate you have a safe plan for conducting in-person classes. Let them know that you’ll be physically distancing in your classroom and holding smaller breakout sessions. If prospective students see you’re spending the time and energy to plan for their educational needs and safety, they’ll feel more comfortable about joining your program.

Stay Positive and Focus on Your Program’s Natural Strengths

While remote learning can pose challenges for in-person programs, there are real benefits that come with it, including increased flexibility and expanded access to a University of Washington education. Share creative solutions and unexpected benefits with prospective students and help illustrate what a day in the life of a student currently looks like.

If your program was online or a hybrid class before the pandemic, that's a significant benefit to new remote learners. Demonstrate to students that you’re prepared with a wealth of experience in fostering a quality remote learning experience.

Embrace the Power of Stories

Demonstrate how your program provides compassion during this time of need and empower prospective students to make a difference in the community.

Northshore School District superintendent Michelle Reid, a graduate of the UW College of Education Leadership for Learning program, has provided a positive example of leadership in her community during the health crisis by providing transparent communications around school closures.

As we continue to navigate the pandemic, it’s vital to demonstrate how your program can adapt to the new normal and anticipate prospective students’ needs. Our team of experts is available if you need more resources on communicating with students during this unprecedented time.