The following article features an interview the Enrollify Team facilitated with Dana Mordecai, the Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions at the University of North Texas Graduate School. Dana shares her insights into what does and doesn't work when it comes to recruiting students at graduate fairs based on her 10+ years of recruiting on the road.
1. What are 2-3 GOOD strategies/tactics you’ve observed grad recruiters use at a grad fair/campus visit event?
If you want to connect with students and get the most out of a graduate school fair there are a few things you should do. First, stand while talking with prospects. Body language is everything! Standing eye-to-eye with someone shows them respect for coming to your table, and that you are interested in speaking with them. Recruiters should also know their programs inside-out. Those who do have a better opportunity of connecting with a prospect who is interested in continuing to receive information. Also, providing stories about current students and recent alumni resonates with prospects more than handing over a brochure.
Finally, sometimes you’ve got to grab the attention of people who are walking by. Many prospects don’t even know what they are searching for at a university grad fair. If they are just walking around and don’t know what they are looking for, how will they know what you have? You can’t always be a carnival barker, but sometimes stopping a student creates the energy needed in a dead room.
2. What are 2-3 BAD strategies/tactics you’ve observed grad recruiters use at a grad fair?
A sure way to have prospects walk right by your table is to act disinterested. If you look like you would rather be anywhere else, then no one will stop for information. Burying your face in your phone/laptop may give the idea that you are too busy to talk to anyone.
Saying “I don’t know” is another great way to have someone ditch your business card at the exit of the fair. If you are not sure of an answer to a particular question, figure out how to find and get them the information. Finally, make sure to plan appropriately for each particular campus and student population. Attending because you can squeeze it in between other events may not be worth it unless you can’t properly research and prepare in advance to leverage your time at the event.
3. What are the most common questions you get on the road and what have you found is the best way to answer these questions?
Outside of the academic questions, the most common question I receive is about funding. Since this varies with disciplines, degree level, and other factors, I spend a lot of time sharing with students about the various options for paying for grad school.
For one of our popular (and competitive) programs, I find that prospects know most of the information that can be found online. These students are looking for the secret ingredient to being a competitive applicant. After sharing with them the basics of what the programs are looking for, all there is left to do is wish them good luck!
4. What are prospects looking for at these events?
Depending on the event, I commonly see prospective students looking for two things. The first type of student is very prepared and looking for more specific information about courses, faculty, etc. Those students want to be given data on outcomes, information on faculty connections, and detailed funding commitments. In this situation, resources can be helpful for these students — such as business cards or contact information for an individual at the program level.
The other type of student is usually unsure about their next step in life and graduate school is merely a way to delay that decision. During what becomes a career counseling session, I find that giving those students some homework helps. I encourage them to research job prospects in their field, read faculty publications, and talk with someone doing something that they find interesting.
5. Concerning the prospects who attend these events — are most in the awareness, consideration, or decision stage of their applicant journey?
I believe most prospective students attending a general graduate school fair are in the awareness stage. These students may stop in on their way to class because they think it’s a great way to spend a few minutes.
6. In your opinion, is there still value in these live events? Or should grad schools invest less in live events and move exclusively online?
I believe there is still value in these events. We are in a people business, and many times, a conversation can affect the decision-making process when a prospect is able to look you in the eye. Sometimes this face-to-face interaction can simply offer reassurance of the digital interactions they have already had with your school. Another benefit to these live events is the opportunity to wave your flag at another institution — simply to show that there are more grad school options out there!
As the prevalence of online marketing grows, graduate schools should definitely leverage social media for these events. Paid ads or even tagging student organizations on the campus can pay off by increasing traffic to your table.
8. How might the GEM community as a whole work to make collaborative events better? What would it look like to design a better experience for tomorrow’s prospective graduate students?
The digital platform is a recent extension of how typical grad fairs work. However, I think the next great idea is to combine these activities in some way. Of course, grad recruiters are often the lone wolf at their institutions, so there are several challenges that must be overcome.
One of the biggest challenges at traditional graduate fairs is often that career centers host the events, but don’t fully understand how a grad fair is different from other career fairs they hold. More collaboration and understanding between those groups on how “grad is different” can lead to more effective event marketing and engagement from students.
Finally, there was a great session at the 2018 NAGAP conference in New Orleans about graduate school fairs. Check out the slide deck from the presentation!
9. What are some unique ways you’ve prepared for your recruitment trips?
While ensuring that the place you attend fits your goals for ROI, brand awareness, or new market, there are definitely other ways to prepare. Preparation begins months before the event, usually with planning your travel. One way to maximize your recruitment travel budget is sharing travel costs with other institutions that may travel to the same events. Sharing a rental car not only saves you both, but it helps the environment too!
One particular trip from El Paso to Albuquerque with four different institution representatives led to one of my favorite memories on the road and created great friendships!
10. How else can you maximize a grad fair event?
The grad fair events simply provide an opening to that institution and how you can connect with prospective students. Take advantage of being on the campus and seek out departments willing to host a presentation, drop off materials, or speak to a student group if time allows.
But none of it will matter if you don’t follow up and assess your experience. Be sure to jot down some notes about the event. Experiences at grad fairs vary for the same event from year to year based on weather, timing, location, etc. If you intend to go back, you’ll want to track how things went beyond the number of contacts you made. Establish what your threshold is for determining whether or not an event was successful and worth your time.