New technologies connect York with prospective students

York’s Admissions & Recruitment team has launched new ways of attracting and connecting with prospective students. Using leading-edge online and mobile technology, including a powerful database and an iPhone app, the paradigm of recruitment for the University shifted this fall.

While the printed Undergraduate Admissions Handbook and school visit program remain the backbone of outreach to prospective students and their parents, changes in the background to Recruitment’s communications technological strategy positioned York’s Recruitment team to be firmly in step with what prospective students want as they select a university.

The most powerful communications tool launched this academic year is the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. The CRM is a database that collects and retains prospective student information, from their first contact (possibly as early as Grade 8) up to the time they declare interest in programs of study, and beyond to submission of an application form. It replaces multiple separate databases, providing the ability to track the flow of communication with each prospective student as well as the interactions they may have with York, whether with a recruiter at a school visit, with an Admissions Client Services representative or through their participation at an event – in person or virtually.  

Above: The Future Student portal

The CRM not only enables Admissions & Recruitment to provide students with information that is customized to their interests, but also to target specific groups or cohorts with recruitment campaigns in a more cohesive way. Integrated with an e-mail system, the CRM has already been used to connect with students who visited York at the Ontario Universities’ Fair and Fall Campus Day, pushing out information about the Faculties in which they showed interest.

Prospective students may also customize their engagement with York through the new Future Student portal, launched in September. Now, students can review and select the York programs they may want to apply to, and create a customized page to view the academic requirements specific to their educational background and tuition fees specific to those programs. Customization also means finding out what leadership opportunities the students may be interested in, scholarships they are eligible for and what their next steps will be through a new MyFile portlet.

In addition, the Future Student portal features information about important dates, housing and residence life, clubs, sport & recreation, commuting to York, on-campus events, campus tours and more. Built on the same platform as the Current Student portal, the Future Student portal will encourage new admits to transition to the Current Student portal via a special pop-up that appears only when they’ve been admitted and have attended their enrolment appointment.

“We know that more than ever, students want customization, and we’ve been able to deliver,” says Donna Cope, the division’s director of print & e-media communications. “The portal not only attracts students to York because they can get the information they need easily, but it also keeps us connected with students and gets them on campus.” Cope says the Future Student portal also ties the information provided by students into the CRM, further allowing Recruitment to send students communications about programs and events that are specific to them.

Left: The Future Students mobile website

Another online innovation available since the summer is the Future Students mobile website. The mobile site allows prospective students to access admissions information such as program descriptions, admission requirements, transfer credit and financial support in an easy-to-read manner in the palm of their hands. Restructured so that it displays on cellphone web browsers, the Future Students Mobile website puts the most pertinent information front and centre.

“There’s no doubt to us, that more and more students are researching and connecting with York on-the-go, on their phones,” says Nick Valentino, manager of new media communications. “In this form, it is accessible from anywhere.” It also means students can access further York information immediately at a recruitment fair or school visit instead of waiting until they go home to visit the website.

Most recently, Admissions & Recruitment launched an iPhone app called YorkU Social Connect. Available through iTunes, the app gives students direct access to the YUBlog, keeping them up-to-date with news from current students, the York&U newsletter, which gives them information needed throughout the application and offer cycle as they transition to university, the Twitter feed for York students and the York Flickr stream, which gives them a sampling of campus life.

Right: York’s iPhone app

“This app truly speaks to how we know prospective students are engaging with us. It goes beyond just providing static information; it gives them direct access to asking us questions and starting a discussion about York,” says Laura D’Amelio, manager of print & e-media content development. “It also ties in well with our online communities, like our York University Facebook page for students, which has risen steadily to more than 8,000 fans.”

The YUBlog has continuously raised its profile among prospective students and their parents in both popularity and content offered. The YUBlog boasts more than 7,000 unique visitors and more than 12,000 page views per month. In October, the YUBlog hit 1,000 posts and more than 1,100 comments answered.

The success of the blog, says Cope, is due to the team behind it, which includes a Social Media “E-Ambassador” Team of four work study students trained specifically to create online content and to interact with prospective students online. New to the YUBlog this year are first-year bloggers. In July, a call went out to incoming students who connected with Recruitment on Facebook and Twitter, inviting those interested in sharing and writing about their first-year experience at York to tell the the University why. Eight students were selected from a pool of more than 20, and they have been volunteering their time to contribute to the blog, giving prospective students insight into what to expect as they transition to university and continue through their first year.

“We’ve been able to tap into the talents of our current students and the whole communications team within Recruitment to really change the way we do business,” says Cope. “The result has been a success: more students are interacting with us online, our recruiters have seen increased traffic at events and interest in York continues to grow over last year.”