Many senior student recruitment managers in Australian Universities have shared their uncertainty with Global Reviews on whether to proceed with a Virtual Open Day; is it worth it? In a Global Reviews study in June 2021, 39% of 290 prospective students stated that they would like the option to attend an On-campus and/or Virtual Open Day. As well as this, 14% of prospective students in this study stated that they would prefer to only visit a Virtual Open Day. With 53% of prospective students wanting Virtual Open Days to continue and considering the added benefits when combined with an on-campus approach, Virtual Open Days should remain. For prospective students it is the flexibility, convenience and content versatility offered by Virtual Open Days that makes them an attractive addition. As stated below by a participant in the study, it offers a great solution for some who may not be able to physically attend.
“Provides more flexibility in allowing you to attend from your home especially if getting to an onsite Open Day is challenging” – (Female, 25-29, VIC, Postgraduate)
As figure 1,below, demonstrates, 45% strongly agree that virtual open days’ complement onsite visits. While in the past 18 months Virtual Open Days have been used as a replacement to on campus days, the next 18 months is about how these two solutions can be used in tandem.
Virtual Open Days are unique opportunities for prospective students who wish to see universities far away from them. Considering that 36% of prospective students attended a Virtual Open Day at a university that was not close to them, Virtual Open Days can offer students alternative opportunities to prospect a university, while providing a much wider catchment area for universities.
The top 3benefits that Virtual Open Days provide are:
Flexibility is clearly a key benefit of Virtual Open Days as it was an ongoing theme with prospective students. Virtual Open Days give flexibility which opens up the potential to experience university life in your university that otherwise some may miss due to travel, work or other commitments.
Flexibility is closely connected to convenience, Virtual Open Days give prospective students the opportunity to gather information at their own pace, from their own homes at their own convenience. Many participants in the study mentioned that Virtual Open Days may encourage people who are more introverted to engage and interact more as it can be easier for some on a virtual platform rather than in person.
3. Content Versatility
Virtual Open Day attendees are able to save, rewatch and use content in their own way. This also benefits the universities as key content can be more easily used, reused and engaged with. Universities can also utilise the content produced in different ways by having it at the event and then incorporating it into their main site as well. It is also encouraging to note that two of the most important aspects of a Virtual Open Day, for prospective students, are recorded content and an online chat feature. For any university looking to drive higher engagement and build relationships amongst this critical audience, Virtual Open Days provide a compelling way to personalise the experience. The combination of virtual and on-campus can be beneficial as these content types can be utilised by prospective students in the way that an Open Day is an always on event.
What are prospective students most interested in?
Reasons why they attend?
The top reasons for attending a Virtual Open Day for both undergraduate and postgraduate students are to learn more about the course, learn more about the university, see the facilities available and find out what student life is like. Since recordings and online chat were highly recommended as assets to keep on virtual platforms this could give people the option of getting this information online or in-person depending on their preference.
My Open Day my way
Most prospective students prefer to control their own visit to the Virtual Open Day which links to the key benefit of convenience and going at their own pace. On-campus visits may be more structured and the virtual option may allow prospective students to interact more independently if they want to.
Who do they want to speak to?
Prospective students are really interested in speaking with lecturers and students during Open Days. These can be easily replicated on virtual platforms. Universities could provide this key experience and information to prospective students on-campus and virtually.
Who is doing the best job?
GlobalReviews recently completed a Virtual Open Day global benchmark measuring the performance of 26 university brands in Ireland, the UK and Australia. This study, firstly measured the importance of 220 service delivery features (e.g. live chat) amongst prospective students. Secondly, our analysts attended the Virtual Open Days of 26 universities and audited what service experiences were being provided. As shown in figure 2, below, Deakin University are the leaders overall in providing Virtual Open Day experiences prospective students most desire when measuring the features they provide.
Deakin University’s dominance is further highlighted, figure 3, when results are viewed at a distinct stage level in the benchmark. However, they only lead in 7out of the 17 categories and therefore there is significant opportunity for improvement. These rankings take into account the importance of each feature based on prospective student opinions. The top weighted elements are ‘experience of a live session’ and ‘pre-recorded sessions’ so although Deakin University seem to be the ones to watch there is a lot to learn from how RMIT and TU Dublin conduct sessions.
Some of the key findings from our research are:
- Although, on-campus is the preferred option for attending an Open Day, many want to have the option of attending both onsite and virtual.
- The three key benefits for prospective students are flexibility, convenience and content versatility.
- Different segments have different priorities. Accounting for their preferences can allow them to tailor the visit and get the experience that they want.
- Recordings, online chats and virtual tours are the top recommendations for content that should be kept on for Virtual Open Days going forward.
- Live sessions are a way to create engagement and encourage participation, as well as this being the highest ranking category, students' rate this as one of the top mechanisms for answering any queries they might have on the day
A word of caution however, if providing a live session experience, there are important factors to consider. It is not enough to just be concerned about the video and session itself to ensure successful delivery. Have you considered the onboarding experience, the level of control provided to participants, how interaction and engagement will be supported and finally what happens when the session comes to an end? It is in these areas that we see some universities excel. If you would like to find out more about how to deliver an optimal live session experience or for greater detail on this study, get in touch!
GlobalReviews’ research helps universities to understand:
- The attitudes, priorities, and expectations of prospective students
- Why Virtual Open Days are valued by prospective students and what elements should be included.
- Their performance in Virtual Open Day digital service maturity in comparison to their competitors.
- Where they should focus future digital feature innovation for Virtual Open Days.
- What digital propositions achieve the greatest impact in driving engagement and ultimately student acquisition.
- What are desirable features that can be easily implemented.
If you want to know more about our research, please get in touch by clicking the above link or going to our Contact Us page.