“I came to Oklahoma Christian for their Spring Visit, and that’s when I started to realize I wanted to experience it for myself.”
This is why Molly Odell, an interior architecture freshman, picked Oklahoma Chiristian University. Odell came to Oklahoma Chrisitan because she stepped on campus and wanted to experience the environment for herself. However with COVID-19, Odell’s experience is harder to come by. The pandemic has impacted the college recruitment process at every stage, affecting how coaches and admissions staff meet prospective students and show them Oklahoma Christian. Jancy Scott, chief of admissions, said much has changed for her department since March 2020.
“We’ve had to pivot and be able to flip on a dime,” Scott said. “We’ve had to change what we’ve done forever and do things we’ve never done before.”
Gone are summer camps, concerts and other large-scale events that put recruiters in contact with thousands of high schoolers. Avenues that used to advertise Oklahoma Christian to students for decades were no longer accessible. According to Scott, one of the biggest challenges of recruiting during the COVID-19 pandemic is simply getting the school’s name out to prospective students.
“We’re having to take more creative approaches to get our name out there to high schoolers,” Scott said. “This summer, my department sat down and brainstormed what we could to set ourselves apart. As a result, Dudley Chancey and I worked together and developed Oklahoma Christian branded content for youth ministers to share with their students. We also created a full ride scholarship that two incoming students can acquire. Unique ideas and great marketing is what has helped us stand out.”
For sports on campus, a lack of athletic events impacts their recruiting experience. For Wade Miller, head coach of the Oklahoma Christian track and cross country teams, the loss of last year’s track season threw a wrench in his recruiting process.
“The junior track season is critical to seeing a progression of development in high school athletes,” Miller said. “It gives you an indication of their potential to be a competitive college athlete. So without that to draw from it’s made it more complicated to put projections together that are based on facts. There’s less data to draw from.”
With travel also shut down, the admission’s department had to adapt. Last year, the admissions department was staffed with three full-time travel recruiters, two of which have moved to hybrid positions. With fewer staff members on the road and fewer students visiting campus, prospective students are having to experience Oklahoma Christian virtually instead of in person.
“We tried to create the best virtual experience we could,” Scott said. “The first week of shutdown, we made touring videos. Then, we did virtual visits. We started online workshops to help students with our online application. We also had virtual information nights where we would present information about Oklahoma Christian. Embracing the virtual aspect of the pandemic helped parents, students and staff alike.”
Virtual communication and experiences have been a key tool for engaging with prospective students. From Miller’s prospective athletes, virtual campus visits are easier than a physical visit.
“Campus visits have definitely been more difficult than previous years,” Miller said. “Virtual tours that campus has put together have helped showcase the university to future students.”
As vaccines begin to roll out and nationwide restrictions are lifted, recruiting at Oklahoma Christian still proceeds with caution. Touring on campus has been capped by the COVID-19 readiness team, and the annual Spring Visit is virtual for the first time ever. Scott said though these experiences may look different for potential students this year, they are still successful.
“People still want to experience this campus,” Scott said. “Our tours are full almost every day; 200 students have signed up for Spring Visit and when students and parents do come to campus, they appreciate the safety protocols in place to take care of students. Our numbers are looking good for next year and we have a lot of students who are ready to be here.”
The only thing unchanged by COVID-19 is staff members’ enthusiasm to welcome new athletes and students on campus.
“The counselors are constantly reaching out and calling, emailing and texting students,” Scott said. “That’s how we’ve always recruited but making everyone feel special is especially important this year. There’s something to say about giving someone the individual attention that they need, especially in a time like this.”