Provide Real Students, Get Real Questions


Most schools understand that connecting prospects with students greatly helps conversion rates. They have seen firsthand that providing authentic answers to questions a) creates trust, b) creates relationships, and c) provides real information to base major decisions on.

But unless schools use PeerPoint, they usually don't know what kind of questions might come to students through their web site. "Will this be a waste of our ambassadors' time?" or "Will people just ask admissions related questions that are better for counselors?"

These are valid questions, which is why we want to show you more of what happens behind the scenes. Because interaction is happening from your school site, it's very rare that people aren't professional. To most prospects, it's part of the due diligence process and they take it seriously.

Take a look at an actual message below that's been edited for brevity. See how the questions are all ones that are best asked to a student. Note the parents' involvement. And look how the previous response was so good that they came back for more.

We hope this is helpful and hope to give you a peek at more real conversations in the future.


Hi Alex, it's Paul again! Your previous response was very helpful, so I thought of some other questions that my parents and I were curious about.

- I've heard that the Life Sciences program is very tough. In your opinion, if one is well prepared and organized, is the program still very tough?

- How has your experience been so far?

- Are there a lot of opportunities to help me build up my profile, other than getting good marks at school, such as research opportunities and internships?

- Is it hard to maintain a high standing GPA? And when I mean that, I mean if you study hard, attend every lecture and tutorial, and stay organized with all your work, is it still very difficult to get a high GPA?

- On online threads, I've read both bad and good things. Some say that the school is "a dream crusher" where your marks go down the drain, yet others say getting high marks is achievable.

- And finally, do you suggest living on campus during first year? My parents own an apartment that's about 15 minutes away from the campus, and said that it is up to me if I want to live on campus or off campus.

I'm so sorry that this was very long, it's just that my parents have attended university in Europe, and this is their first time having to prepare and look into university for their children. I want to thank you again for your previous response and also for this one, if you're able to answer all these questions!

Trust Your Student Ambassadors and Reap the Benefits

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There isn't a more powerful recruiting tool for universities than their own students. Everyone in admissions will boast that word-of-mouth is where most of their leads come from, but it's been difficult to harness this social power until recently.

First came student-led campus tours, which at the time must have been revolutionary. Allowing students to spend time alone with prospects and their parents was a novel concept. I mean, who knows what they might say when there isn't a disciplinarian there to listen!

Then social media came along and opened new doors. It was pretty clear early on that administrators didn't relate as well to high school students on Facebook or Instagram. So they gave students a shot. And while it sometimes didn't make sense and students didn't use the exact language approved by the communication office, they were able to successfully build relationships with prospects online.

This social media breakthrough brought the next wave of innovation -- students messaging prospects. To some this seems like a risky proposition. Communication is sent through the internet with a record of its existence. And you don't have the built-in social security of a Facebook page where comments can be monitored. You just have to trust your students. The ones you have vetted and hired and trained and work with.

So what happens when schools let their students loose to communicate freely? Often it looks just like the above interaction. Question, answer, appreciation. A unique appreciation that might not be available with other schools. At least for now.

Student-to-student messaging is the future of recruitment for universities, and the schools who embrace it will reap huge benefits.

Postcards Are Sweet, Text Messages Are Effective Student Ambassador Outreach

We talk with a lot of schools about their outreach strategies for recruitment and there are some really common practices throughout the higher education industry. Technology is changing, though, so many are looking for new and improved ways to communicate with prospective students.

1. Postcards

The schools that are the most proud of their outreach strategies are those that send handwritten postcards to students after tours. They say things like, "the effort our students put into these is amazing, and I really think it shows the prospective students how much we care."

What we've yet to hear is a school saying something like, "prospective students love the handwritten postcards we take so much time to write and note that it was a postcard that helped them decide to attend."

When is the last time your students sent and received hand-written mail? Do they even know how much a stamp costs? It's just not how they communicate any more.

I think all managers would agree that an activity that takes a lot of time without evidence of a return should be reconsidered. Our recommendation is to start conducting surveys with incoming students that ask if the postcard played a role in their decision. If not, it's time to move on to more efficient activities.

2. Phone Calls

The most common description of outreach activities around the country is phone calls or call-a-thons. Some schools have heavily invested in a calling system for students to dial prospective students while others order pizza and get everyone in a room for an evening and go down a list.

But how effective is this? Almost every school says that high school students just don't pick up the phone like they used to and students are lucky to get anyone on the phone. But they continue to do it because it's what they've always done, knowing that the results will only get worse.

Just like the postcards above, incoming students need to be asked if those phone calls, or more likely, voicemails, actually helped sway their decision. Teenagers simply don't want to talk on the phone anymore and we're confident your survey results would make that fact quite clear.

3. Emails

We're getting a little closer to the best mode of communication as we move into the digital world, which is where every teenager lives. However, we talk with very few schools that have their ambassadors send emails to prospects. Why this is, we're not sure. It's efficient, more likely to get read, and easy to respond to. It's not the best choice, but it's a great alternative to the next mode of communication if you don't have the tools in place to do it.

4. Texts

By far, texting is the most efficient use of your outreach efforts. It's the way teenagers communicate with each other, easy to send, and easy to reply. And if done right, it doesn't use up much of your budget.

Be wary of companies that sell you on "texting" and then later you find out that what they're talking about is mass texts that aren't personalized. What you want is 1 to 1 texting where a real person is writing to another real person, which is what drives up the value of your communication.

PeerPoint is a great tool to help your ambassadors text with prospects. By using the PeerPoint Ambassador Mobile App, your ambassadors use their app to send a message that is sent to the prospect as a text. When the prospect responds with a text, that text is routed back through the ambassador app for the ambassador. This way they never know each other's phone numbers, you don't have to get cell phones for your ambassadors to use, and every message that is sent back and forth is routed through the PeerPoint system for you to observe.

Ask incoming students if the text they received from a student made a difference, and your survey results will change significantly. It's how they like to communicate and will be much more memorable.

Student Ambassador City Tours

Ryerson University in Toronto has a fantastic ambassador program. These students did such an awesome job showing off their campus during tours with prospective students, that they decided to start showing off their city as well! College campuses are embedded in the communities of the surrounding town, so why not give prospects a look at what that town has to offer? On their "Why Ryerson" YouTube channel, these ambassadors have a "City of Neighborhoods" series that show off the vibrant culture of Toronto. Prospective students want to know what it's really like to be attend your school, and that includes the city you're located in! It's great to find new and creative ways to show some home town pride. 


Jacob Howle: My Experience as a Texas Tech Student Ambassador

My name is Jacob Howle and I am from the small town of Idalou, Texas which is about 15 minutes outside of Lubbock where I attend Texas Tech University. Along with serving as an ambassador for Texas Tech through the organizations President’s Select and Chancellor’s Ambassadors, I also have the privilege of being a part of Mortar Board, serving as the official photographer on cabinet for the Student Government Association, and have served in the past as a Red Raider Orientation counselor where I had the awesome experience of welcoming the Texas Tech class of 2020 to the university. I have just completed my sophomore year at Texas Tech and studied abroad this past spring semester in Seville, Spain. I am actually writing this blog from San Luis Potosi, Mexico where I am participating in a month-long study abroad program through Texas Tech for a second time.

Being an ambassador for Texas Tech University has been the most rewarding experience of my college career. At Texas Tech, the majority of our ambassadors are members of an organization called President’s Select. Students selected each spring for this prestigious organization are evaluated based on their academics, extracurricular activities, how personable they are, and their passion for the university through an application and three-round interview process. After the next class of members are selected, they undergo a training period where they learn how to conduct campus tours, rules for athletic recruiting, and generally what it means to represent the university as an ambassador, both on the job and off. President’s Select works with three main offices on campus: the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, the Office of the President, and Texas Tech Athletics. Through this organization I have had the opportunity to travel to several events for incoming students with the President of the University, speak with recruits and their families about our athletic departments and facilities on the field during a Texas Tech football game, and I have given countless campus tours to where I could walk the tour route backwards without even checking behind me.

Overall, being an ambassador has provided me with unique experiences to develop as a leader, professional, public speaker, and person, and to speak with students in a pivotal moment in their lives when they are deciding to attend college. I understand fully what it is like to be a nervous senior in high school scared to step out into a world without supervision, and to be incredibly worried college won’t be the experience I have built it up in my head to be. It is one of my favorite parts of being an ambassador to share with students and their families that I was in their shoes not too long ago, and now I have incredible relationships with professors and colleagues, I have had awesome opportunities to travel and see the world through study abroad programs, and the best is that I have the opportunity to tell them why I love my university so much and provide them with tangible ways and resources to allow them to love it as much as I do. I think one of the coolest parts of ambassador programs on college campuses is how it puts a face to the university for the students and their families.

When I think back to all the countless schools I toured my senior year of high school, I don’t remember all of the specific landmarks and traditions of each school, but nine times out of ten I do remember the person who gave me the tour and how they spoke about the school they attended. This can put a lot of pressure on an ambassador because what the student is doing is they are observing how you love your university and passing judgement on whether or not they would like it based on how you speak of it. I don’t see it as pressure, because when I am giving a tour to a student and their family I’m sharing with them the opportunities that I’ve had here, the friends I have made, and the memories I am in the process of making. Love and pride for my school just continuously flows out of me in a way I can’t describe or contain. Like I said, being an ambassador is so cool and so unique because it puts a face to the university for a prospective student. Not the face of a paid staff member, or a beloved mascot, but the face of an actual student volunteering their time to share their campus with strangers. A student who has a heavy class load because they are taking 18 hours, and are also juggling a part-time job and several extracurricular activities, but who still takes the time to give a campus tour because it really does mean that much to them.

I am so thankful for the opportunities I have been given at Texas Tech through serving as an ambassador, and I am so excited to see where these next two years lead me as I meet prospective students and assure them that yes in fact, I was an anxious senior in high school as well.

Student Ambassador Manager Spotlight: Laura Bald, PSU Graduate Business Program

We recently sat down with Laura Bald, Admissions Manager at Portland State University's Graduate Business Programs, to talk about her experience with PeerPoint. Portland State was Versation's first client to use PeerPoint, our student ambassador software, and has been an integral partner in developing the platform. 

SH: What are some of the benefits you've seen being able to connect prospects and student ambassadors online?
LB: It helps to remove the third party of a university liaison and gives the opportunity for prospective students to have a direct and candid conversation with current student ambassadors. 

SH: What are some of the most powerful aspects of the student ambassador connections you've seen? 
LB: One of the greatest aspects of PeerPoint is the security and privacy it gives to our student ambassadors. They feel comfortable communicating to a prospective student without having to give their personal email or phone number.

SH: What sense do you get from your student ambassadors about their feelings around connecting with prospects online? 
LB: The student ambassadors seem to really enjoy talking about their experience in the classroom, which is something that we, as recruiters, can't speak to. They also talk a lot about work/life balance which is a major consideration for more graduate students.


SH: Has PeerPoint helped your office in meeting your goals of increasing peer connections in the admissions and recruitment process? 
LB: We have had new applicants and prospective students specifically comment about how accommodating and helpful our student ambassadors were. We do advertise the platform but then the prospective students take the reigns and find such value in the ability to connect with people they choose on their own.

The Future of Big Data in Enrollment

Just over a decade ago when I was researching colleges, I had a stack of glossy paper brochures to browse through, given to me by a real live person hired to help me figure out what schools were right for me. When I was applying, I stuffed separate envelopes with unique applications for each school. When I was accepted (or rejected), I received a thick (or disappointingly thin) envelope in the mail. 

In just a few short years, technology has changed almost every aspect of the college admissions process. Prospective students are now able to apply to more colleges than ever with the Common App; they can forgo the physical campus visit for a virtual tour from home; they receive and share admissions decisions through social media platforms.

The Atlantic just posted a great article entitled "What Is the Future of College Marketing?" that addresses the ways that schools are shifting "from demographics to psychographics in recruiting prospective students" in order to better asses the fit of potential students. Schools can choose to embrace these shifts and capitalize on the increase in applications, or be passed over for schools that do. There is, it seems, no real middle ground.

Quinton Richardson: My Experience as a Portland State Student Ambassador


Quinton Richardson, a member of Versation's Student Advisory Board, is a Student Ambassador at Portland State University. He recently shared with us about how his decision to become an ambassador has effected his college experience and prepared him for post-college life:

I chose to become a student ambassador during my Freshman year of college and have come to realize that is one of the greatest and most fruitful decisions I’ve made as a young adult. The mission for a student ambassador is to create an inclusive environment for prospective students, gain professional development, and learn what it truly means to be the face of a university. It can be intimidating to know that a job you have on campus can put you into a platform of being a “model student”, and I believe the student ambassador program properly prepares students to be in the spotlight.

When I think about my development as a young man, leadership has always been a prominent factor in my life. I am the oldest of two siblings and was raised by a single mother. Growing up in that kind of environment allowed me to step up into a leadership role by supporting my sisters and mother on a regular basis. As I grew up and began to attend Portland State, I recognized the student ambassador program to reflect this same exact idea of stepping into a leadership role and doing more than the status quo. Going above and beyond to support prospective students and their families; just as I did with my personal family.

At Portland State, we like to hashtag our team as: #STAMBFAM. This stands for “student-ambassador-family”. This speaks volumes to the mindset of this program and climate of our university. We seek for people to feel included and supported during their college journey. This is how we go about giving the daily tours for our campus as well, we want our students and guest to feel a part of the family. As a student ambassador, you are more than likely to be the first physical contact that a student or family is experiencing at an institution, so it’s important to be punctual.

My experience being trained in the program has brought me an endless amount of skills that I can use day to day. For example, something one learns as a STAMB professional is to have your name tag on the right side of your body, so when you shake someone’s hand they have a direct line of site to your name. Learning small details like this is what sets a student ambassador program apart from the rest; real life skills and awareness will set you apart in any job search. Another great skill that comes with the program is the three pump handshake. When you’re meeting for an interview, try not to exceed more than three pumps when you shake the interviewer’s hand; another small detail to make sure to reach your goals.

In college, it’s imperative that one gets involved, not only to improve your skill sets but to have a sense of belonging in your university. Although the student ambassador program is a job, it’s also another great way to support both your local, national, and international community. How does a student ambassador affect society on an international level you may wonder? People come from all around the world and come into our office with aspirations and a goal, and it is our job as student ambassadors to support them along their path to achieving it. 

To learn these kinds of skills can propel an individual into opportunity, success, and self fulfilment. Student Ambassadors are required to maintain a 3.0 GPA throughout their employment. This pushes us to remember you we are students first, and ambassadors second. Having a job on campus while going to school can be challenging with scheduling and the company/employer sympathizing with a student schedule. When giving tours I always make sure to warn students about getting off campus jobs, as the job does not have much obligation to empathize with student stress and scheduling as they are not affiliated with the school. Earning an on campus job will allow you to feel more connected and improve your networking. 
Networking! I ended the last paragraph with that word because it is another aspect of the student ambassador world that anyone can benefit from. For example, I am a health science/pre-physical therapy student and was doing an event at our university president's house as an ambassador. The event had many health professional from all around the city, including the president of Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU grad school). I began to mingle with the different professional’s, keeping in mind my three pump handshake and name tag placement. I began to strike up a conversation with the vice provost of OHSU and explained my goals and knowledge of health care. He then went on to discuss an internship at the hospital and connected me with the head director of rehabilitation services. I met with the director and she offered me to be one of the first students to pilot a weekend outpatient internship at OHSU rehabilitation services. Absolutely incredible. The interaction and networking experience I gained from the student ambassador program propelled me into an internship that will can help shape my entire career. 

Participating in the student ambassador program is a great experience and will give you life long friends and memories. You will be challenged, and will have an entire team to support you. The retreat is a great time to bond and get to know your co workers. Our team goes camping each year and all enjoy s'mores, hot chocolate, and funny stories. You will grow in this program and test your limits, it’s not easy to influence someone's decision to choose your university, but with your training and positive mindset, it will become easy and fun. 

That concludes my blog! I hope you enjoyed reading a little bit about me and my student ambassador experience. Showing pride for you university by recruiting prospective students and gaining skills that can be used in multiple settings is a win win. This program has changed me for the better and know it can do the same for you. Good luck and go viks!

Schools get older, students stay the same age.

It's truly fascinating how every year 18-year-old students and 100(+)-year-old universities find a way to connect and form multi-year relationships. At what point does this age gap cause a problem? Or is that already happening? As students constantly jump feet first into new technology without ever looking back, it's getting harder and harder for universities to keep up.

Take a look at this recent article written by InContext magazine that explains four ways to optimize admissions for Generation Z. I know very few admissions officers who'd say they have strategies for all of these areas. In fact, I'm not sure how many could say they're doing even one of them well. But they know they have to soon.

1. Students Expect Instant Gratification:

The article says that teenagers have an 8-second attention span and admissions processes should be audited to speed up the application process. This is a solid concept but admissions will never be able to respond in 8-seconds. The key takeaway here is that students expect quick responses, but that the response doesn't have to be complete. Maybe it still takes weeks to turn an application, but if the student asks for a status update, having someone in admissions quickly write back that they'll look into it is essential.

2. Students Expect Frequent (Automated) Communication:

The article says quick responses are very important, similar to what I said above. However, it stresses automating that communication. I can see this happening when certain steps are completed, like an application received, but again, a human responding quickly to a question, even if they don't have a complete answer, is most important.

3. Students Expect Digital Forms:

If your school still uses paper to communicate with students, we need to have a bigger conversation. This is a very valid point but hopefully it doesn't apply to many schools any longer.

4. Students Expect Digital Self-Service:

This concept is absolutely true and one of the best ways for schools to modernize their systems. All information for students should be easily available online without having to communicate with a human. Bringing student data together from multiple sources is no easy or inexpensive task, but still absolutely necessary.

While students expect to find all the information they need online, they also expect the ability to connect personally with students, teachers, and staff to better understand the culture of your institution and decide if it's a good fit. At Versation we strive to improve this important human connection because of the dramatic effect it has on student enrollment.


Kellen Larkin: My Experience as a UVA-Wise Student Ambassador


Kellen Larkin, a member of Versation's Student Advisory Board, is a Student Ambassador at UVA-Wise. He recently shared with us his experience as a prospective student visiting campus, and how that experience impacted his decision to become an ambassador:

As a high school student, visiting college campuses can be extremely overwhelming.  No matter what people tell you there is an anxious anticipation felt when walking the lecture halls, meeting professors, and ultimately wondering if each campus could be your home for the next four years.  As a prospective college athlete hoping to play baseball, I went on many college tours at different colleges and universities that I thought I might like to play at.  I scoured the listings of majors and minors at each school, and I researched the prestige that each diploma carried, hoping to find one that would speak to me!  When I had narrowed the list down to three I decided to return to these schools again for another visit.  

Upon returning to UVa Wise, I had scheduled an official tour with a UVa-Wise Student-Ambassador, not just a short-and-quick tour with the baseball coach as I had done before. I decided that I wanted to receive the student-perspective.  I wanted to see what people loved about their own school, and what students liked to do in their spare time.  I told my tour guide, “Okay.  I know you have things you have to say, and I know there are certain things you’re not allowed to say.  But just be real with me.  I’m choosing somewhere to spend four years of my life.  I don’t want to make a wrong decision.”  And off she went.  My tour guide showed me everything I expected to see from the classrooms to the cafeteria, and everything I didn’t think to ask, such as the pick-up basketball games, the library study sessions, and the hidden outdoor trails leading to secret fishing spots.  I was in awe, and I was excited.  But something else I experienced on my official tour I didn’t quite recognize until a couple of weeks later.  On the campus of UVa-Wise was reality.  There was life in the most genuine yet raw perspective.  Some students rushed to class and to get assignments crammed in, while others seemed to have their life together.  Some professors simply waved, knowing you were on a tour, while other professors welcomed me into their office to say hello and greet me.  I was given the most simplistic yet perfect tour I could’ve asked for.  I wasn’t given a speech or percentages and numbers I wouldn’t remember.  I wasn’t being stuffed full of random facts and information I would never need.  My tour guide showed me academic life, she showed me relationship between students and staff, and she gave me a true perspective on what it means to be a UVa-Wise Cavalier.  I was hooked.

Life as a freshman starts fast.  There’s no easing into college life, rather, it’s seems to be a dead sprint until graduation.  Classes, labs, baseball practices, club involvement and meetings; getting involved is time consuming.  Being successful is time consuming.  All I ever wanted was straight A’s, a great social life, and peak performance on the baseball team.  Is that so hard to ask for? Yes, yes it is.  Day in and day out I have to put in the study time, the practice time.  I have to sign up and apply for positions and clubs.  I have to stay up late at night to finish that history paper that I procrastinated on for so long that I actually forgot about it.  Success isn’t free, and it sure isn’t easy to come by.  Yet, it is possible and it is worth the struggle.  I never expected college to be quite this difficult to deal with.  I never expected to fight such a strong amount of stress when studying for finals and completing end-of-year projects.  But then again I also never expected to love what I’ve been learning about.  College changes your perspective on studying, schoolwork, and life.  You get to choose your path for the very first time in school.  You get to make your own schedule and choose to follow your own path.  

I learned to love school when I got the chance to create my own schedule and realized that it is my responsibility to become a success story no matter what life throws at me.  So when applications started being accepted to become an official UVa-Wise Student Ambassador, I couldn’t complete mine fast enough.  I remember walking to the admissions office and submitting my application along with a resume and cover letter.  I was walking back to my dorm thinking, ‘there’s probably a hundred applications being submitted.  Surely they won’t select a freshmen.’  But I was comforted by the intricacy I used to write my cover letter.  My interest in becoming an ambassador was honest and true.  I wasn’t interested in simply gaining a boost on my college resume.  Rather, I wanted to give people the experience I was given.  I wanted to welcome them home, not just fill their heads with a script.  

When I was given my first opportunity to give a tour, I couldn’t have been more nervous.  I had heard horror stories about people seeming uninterested so as to make you feel like you’re talking to yourself.  I had heard of the rude parents who were unhappy with their child’s interest in schools.  But when I first shook hands with my tour group, I knew I had made the right choice to become an ambassador.  My tour group asked lots of questions, they had interest in not just the school but in my experience as a Cavalier, and I was able to give them a REAL, and fresh student perspective.  One girl in my tour group (and her family) just so happened to be a potential recruit for the volleyball team.  As being a part of the baseball team at UVa-Wise, I was so excited to provide an athlete’s perspective on everything Wise.  It turned out that after my first tour, the volleyball coach was impressed with the excitement I was able to instill in one of her recruits.  It seemed that each week I was giving a tour to some sport’s recruit.  This was a perfect fit for me.

I love UVa-Wise.  I love being an athlete.  I love having academic mountains to climb and social responsibilities to care for.  But what I love most is being able to share that genuine and raw experience of what real life at UVa-Wise looks like, the same perspective I was once given.  I became a Student Ambassador to draw people in, to help potential students and athletes gain an excitement for the next four years of their life, and to hopefully interest them in becoming a UVa-Wise Cavalier for life.