THIS PAST SPRING, 1,200 students who had been accepted to the undergraduate program at the University of Hartford’s Barney School of Business in Connecticut received particularly fat envelopes with their acceptance letters. Inside, the school also had enclosed red-and-white branded Google Cardboard virtual reality (VR) headsets that students could use to take virtual tours of the business school and university campus.
The headsets (such as the one shown above, right) were part of a campaign to entice more accepted students to enroll in the Barney School’s class of 2020. The school’s marketing department worked with digital agency Primacy to develop the VR experience, which included tours of classrooms and athletic facilities. It also highlighted two events from the business school: a study abroad trip and a student engagement activity inspired by the TV game show “Family Feud,” in which juniors and seniors competed to answer questions related to their professional development.
Students could view the tour on a web-based app, also designed by Primacy, from either a desktop computer or mobile device. As a complement to the VR tour, the school developed a social media campaign in which students who made the decision to enroll at Barney were invited to tweet out a selfie wearing their headsets by the May 2 decision deadline. Those who posted a tweet under the hashtag #BSBGoesVirtual were entered to win an Amazon gift card.
The school invested about US$40,000 in the campaign, which it promoted via press releases and on social media. These efforts attracted additional attention from national and local media.
When the school sent follow-up emails to students about the VR campaign, it had a 56 percent “open” rate, and its post on Facebook reached more than 32,000 people. In the two weeks following the campaign, the business school saw an increase in the number of tuition deposits that was 70 percent higher than the increase in deposits for the rest of the university in the same time frame. The school plans to integrate VR into its admissions next year as well, although it will mail VR headsets separately, about two weeks after its admissions notifications go out. That timing will extend the impact of the initial acceptance offer, says the Barney School’s dean Marty Roth.
In a competitive market, it’s important for business schools to find ways to stand out, Roth emphasizes. “If we were a top-20 school, students might be waiting by their mailboxes because we were their first choice. But when we know many applicants are applying to many schools, introducing the virtual experience helps us make a really strong impression.”
Video vignettes from the Barney School’s virtual reality tour are posted at hartford.edu/barney/vr.