Pulling out the stops: Recruitment efforts in high gear

Tomorrow is D-Day for Ontario high-school students who are thinking about university. This year, of the 71,000 applications it receives, York University will register more than 8,500 new undergraduate students.

An important factor that affects the decision to apply to York is the coordinated effort of the members of the Admissions and Recruitment Offices in partnership with the Recruitment Council. The council brings everyone involved in undergraduate recruitment together for monthly strategic planning meetings.

From reaching out to prospective undergraduate students during September’s Ontario Universities’ Fair (the largest educational exhibit show in North America) to rewarding top scholars through the Circle of Scholars program, the offices, their staff and Faculty reps spread the message that York is the leading destination for an interdisciplinary university education.  

“We estimate that 65 per cent of students who come to visit the campus or attend an open house event choose York as their postsecondary institution – but how do we get them here in the first place?” says Ken Withers, director of recruitment & applicant relations at York University.

Above: York University’s information centre at September’s Ontario Universities’ Fair, which is the largest educational exhibit show in North America

York’s recruitment team, led by Withers, has been criss-crossing the country since late summer to get the word out to high-school students, university and college transfers, graduate students and mature applicants about the advantages of studying at York University. The team includes:

  • four contract student recruitment officers (SROs) – all York graduates – hired every year;
  • one aboriginal recruitment officer, new this year and tasked with recruitment and outreach to Canada’s aboriginal communities;
  • one physical science & engineering recruitment officer with the job of reaching out to physics teachers and their classes; 
  • three senior recruitment professionals (including a dedicated college/university transfer and mature applicant recruiter).

In conjunction with their own recruitment efforts, Glendon’s bilingual recruitment and admissions liaison team provides assistance by visiting French-speaking schools across the country to spread the word about York among Canada’s francophone communities.

In preparation for the peak application season, each SRO receives just under a month of intensive training, including new messaging from each Faculty and service area. The team goes on the road from the end of August to the middle of November and is responsible for visiting close to 600 high schools across Ontario alone. School visits include a customized multimedia presentation and often involve speaking with more than 250 prospective students at one time.

During out-of-province visits, the recruitment team works to build relationships with students and guidance counsellors across the country. As well, alumni are often asked to participate and provide their unique perspectives on York.

Left: Potential students find out more about York University during the Ontario Universities’ Fair

After tomorrow’s deadline, the emphasis shifts from pan-York recruitment to program-specific activities. The recruitment team, Faculty reps and student service areas maximize each contact with applicants, parents, teachers and guidance counsellors in order to affirm and reinforce applicant choice.

Recruiters typically refer to this as the “conversion phase”, when prospective students consider their offers of admission and make choices about which offer to accept. The objective at this stage is to provide students with helpful information that responds to their needs and interests, and to engage with students in ways that are time sensitive and meaningful.

Faculty and Recruitment & Admissions representatives field phone and e-mail inquiries from parents and applicants, return to high-application schools, and host applicant receptions for students and parents to guide them through their next steps. Topics of discussion range from campus life, entrance scholarships, and York’s colleges and their array of supports to describing what first-year courses are like and how to make a successful transition to York.

Savvy students and "Blackhawk" parents

“Students are much savvier these days,” says York’s Canadian recruitment manager, Kim Stright. “They’re doing more research in regards to programs and have become more job-focused.”

A new generation of “Blackhawk parents” (a more intensive version of the “helicopter parents” of past years) take an active interest in the choice made by their student, adds Withers. “[Parents] want to know much more and in most cases are doing as much research as their children. Coming out of a strike year, it has been particularly challenging as many parents continue to express their concerns about York’s ability to deliver an uninterrupted undergraduate program.”

Another change that has not gone unnoticed is the steady rise in undergraduate applications for January admission over the last several years. In response, the Office of Admissions is promoting the Fast Track to York program which offers on-the-spot admission to eligible applicants with complete supporting documentation. The service was made available on Wednesdays in the late fall and goes on-site at Centennial, Georgian, Humber and Seneca Colleges on selected dates this spring.

Tweets, Facebook fans and other interactive apps

York’s Admissions team is also fully engaged with communicating to prospective students using social media channels such as online chats, Facebook, interactive “apps” and Twitter. This year, the new Student E-Ambassador Team was created to increase the frequency and quality of online peer mentoring via blogs and other interactive media. An early December E-Party for prospective students drew 500 registrants who chatted with the whole recruitment team, admissions experts, students, Faculty representatives and service area staff.

Such “armchair” recruitment initiatives are especially important for out-of-province and international applicants who typically do not have an opportunity to see the campus before the first day of classes. “It’s crucial to provide a means of connection that our applicant demographics feel comfortable using,” explains Donna Cope, director of print & E-media communications.

Campus tours and visits highlight the University

This fall, more than 6,000 students visited York for on-campus tours, class visits, specially designed Saturdays @ York events and for York’s most well-attended Fall Campus Day ever. “Our on-campus programs stand out with their highly interactive content, program-targeted Faculty involvement and well-trained ambassadors and tour guides,” says Shelby Verboven, manager of on-campus recruitment & special events.

Above: Students enter Vari Hall for the start of York’s Fall Campus Day

Another initiative is the annual Circle of Scholars program which targets top-achieving applicants. The program provides perks including an offer of admission hand-delivered by a recruiter who will then sit with the student and their family to discuss their study options at York and an exclusive breakfast during Spring Gala, where students have the opportunity to network with the President, professors, Faculty deans and current top students.

The Bridging the GAP program for students interested in deferring admission to York for one year after high school is another made-in-York solution. Students granted a deferral retain their admitted status (and entrance scholarship, if eligible) at York for up to one year with the added bonus of special perks such as guaranteed residence, including preferred application to the international Global House residence program, a special “welcome home” reception and an exclusive e-chat for GAP-year students. Prior to starting their studies at York, GAP students are provided with tips and advice about making the most of a gap experience – from personal skill development workshops to resources about volunteerism and travel abroad opportunities.

Right: Some of York’s intrepid student volunteers at Fall Campus Day

“York has recognized that many students who choose to take time for work or travel prior to starting university weren’t really being serviced by the Ontario system,” explains Withers. “Our hope is that this program will keep the door open.”

Newly launched as a pilot last year and continuing throughout this cycle is York’s Alumni Families program which recognizes families who choose to make York a part of their family tradition. York alumni can sign up their child or grandchild who is applying for admission. Families receive a selection of special services including a customized private campus tour, a special admission package filled with York goodies, access to a personal admissions counsellor and opportunities for scholarships geared specifically for alumni families.

Ontario students can choose from 21 universities in their province alone and it is a competitive marketplace where universities strive to find the best ways to connect with future students and their families. Through multiple activities and new tactics every year, York University’s recruitment team works to ensure that undergraduate enrolment targets are met and the quality of the incoming class is strong.