Success in Recruiting Students throughout Virtual Cycle


Like all universities during the 2020 recruitment cycle, Simmons University, a private women focused institution in Boston, MA, was facing a number of unprecedented challenges.
First, they were pivoting to an entirely virtual recruitment season. While doing so, they wanted to ensure that each prospective student received a personalized experience. Simmons prides itself on making each of their students feel like an individual, not just a number, and they work to give that same feeling to prospective students as well.

Finally, they had the challenge of constraints on their budget as they, along with many other universities, had been feeling the financial effects of the pandemic.


Simmons knew that in order to solve these challenges, they had to approach each aspect of the recruitment process with intention. For each phase of the recruitment cycle, they needed a plan in place to stay top of mind with prospective students, improve yield, and decrease summer melt.

Because in-person events were cancelled, that also meant their travel needs were greatly reduced, allowing them to shift some of their budget from travel expenses to other areas.

As they developed their campaign, they turned to promotional products to enhance their efforts. There were numerous benefits of incorporating promotional products into these campaigns. First, promotional products can create a sense of pride and excitement amongst their recipients. In addition, they provided a physical connection. This connection was especially important during a time when physical connections were limited. Also, since promotional products have incredible staying power, the brand remained in front of the prospective Simmons students well after the events.

To be effective, Simmons had to stay on brand, find items that would match the purpose for each part of the campaign, and ensure the items would be usable and long-lasting.

Phase 1 – Gaining Interest with Prospective Students

Their first phase of recruitment was all about gaining interest with prospective students. The team at Simmons participated in many virtual events and made them memorable. The virtual open houses featured a variety of panels, breakout sessions, and ways to connect with faculty and staff as well as other students. And while the events were successful, Simmons knew that they needed to ensure they stayed memorable even after the events were over.

That’s why, following each of their virtual open houses, they sent branded packages to stay top of mind with the students who attended. The package included a branded mousepad. Simmons and Magellan chose the mousepad because it would be in front of the students throughout the remainder of their virtual recruitment experience, helping Simmons stay top of mind.

The package also included a card thanking the students for attending the virtual open house, a branded die-cut sticker, and came in a branded envelope (or “brandelope”) that would stand out the moment they opened their mailbox.

Phase 2 – Admitting Students

Next, they wanted to make sure that when admitting students, they made the experience memorable and exciting. So rather than sending just the traditional acceptance packets, Simmons and Magellan incorporated promotional products into the receipt experience. This allowed the students the opportunity to show off their acceptance into Simmons.

The package included a Simmons-branded beanie, a folder containing all of the information they would need about next steps, a sticker sheet filled with fun stickers depicting the Simmons mascot, a card with a note inviting them to future Accepted Student Events, and more. They were sent in a bubble mailer that showcased the Simmons brand while also keeping the contents protected in transit.

These items gave admitted students a fun way to show off their acceptance through photos and social media posts.

Phase 3 – Staying on the Radar with Admitted Students

Next came the Accepted Student Days, where Simmons shifted to hold engaging and helpful virtual events to give accepted students a chance to meet other prospective students, learn more about life at Simmons, and more.

Following these great events, Simmons sent gifts to attendees, including Popsockets and Simmons Shark socks The enclosed card reminded students to submit their deposit and encouraged them to post photos on Instagram and tag the university as a part of a challenge where they would be eligible to win even more Simmons swag!

Along with Accepted Students Days, Simmons also traditionally hosts their Top Scholars at a dinner at Fenway Park. In a normal year, this event typically leads to their highest yield rate. Simmons needed a new way to engage these special students in a way that would be memorable and unique to that event, even if held virtually.

To make the virtual event memorable, Simmons offered the students their choice of Hello Fresh meal, which Simmons had shipped to each of the students to prepare and enjoy during the event. They also partnered with Magellan on beautiful key tags, which were embroidered with the name and date of the event on one side and the Simmons logo on the other. This special gift, paired with a thank you card to attendees and sent in a brandelope, was a great way to give students a reminder of the event.

Phase 4 – Helping Deposited Students Show Off Their Decision

As important as it is to make the acceptance package memorable, getting students to deposit is even more important. That’s why Simmons took special care with students who chose to deposit during Accepted Student Days.

By using timestamps on deposits and cross-referencing the list against attendees at Accepted Student Days, the team at Simmons was able to provide gifts to students who made their deposit during one of the events. This gift – an adorable (and very photogenic!) plush shark – gave students a fun way to show off their decision via photos on social media.

But they didn’t leave it at providing gifts for just students. Simmons recognizes the importance of parents and family in the decision-making process, and included a “Simmons University Parent” tumbler as a gift to parents of deposited students. This gift meant their brand would now go with these parents wherever they went as they showed off their pride in their daughter!

In addition, Simmons also provided parents with a garden flag for parents to display in their yards or in their homes and a magnet featuring an iconic building on the Simmons University campus. That meant that with the tumbler going with parents on the road, the flag in their front yard, and the magnet on their fridge, a reminder of Simmons was with them wherever they went!

Outcome & Feedback

It was a stressful year for the team at Simmons University, just as was likely the case in recruitment and admissions offices across the country.

Throughout the early stages of the recruitment cycle, the team was well behind goal. Alie Wilkins-Crowder, Assistant Director of Campus Visit & Events, said, “Our numbers were down pretty much from day one and everything we were doing felt like a shout into the void. Pretty much everyone was resigned to the idea that we were not going to make our class.”

However, with each virtual event, each social media post, and each gift sent to prospective students, things began to turn around. While still behind goal for most of the recruitment cycle, by May 1st, they were able to say that they had reached their deposited students goal.

It’s clear the intentionality behind each phase of the recruitment cycle ensured prospective students couldn’t forget about Simmons!

They also saw growth in social media engagement and had many students posting photos with their fun swag. While their social media accounts didn’t see tremendous growth, they did have significantly higher engagement in their social media groups that year.

It was no small feat to make their goal for admissions in a year when they couldn’t meet students in person or host on-campus events and visits. Simmons University was able to overcome the challenge by staying the course with many virtual events, reach-outs, mailings, and social media engagement. They also credit the promotional products they used throughout the cycle as a major part of the reason they were able to stay top of mind with their prospective students.

“We know a huge part of the reason we were able to be successful is because of the wonderful partnership we have with Magellan,” said Wilkins-Crowder. She also recognizes that even if students ultimately decided not to attend Simmons, they would still be able to use the items, helping further spread their brand awareness.

While the tide has turned back toward in-person events, there is no doubt that virtual events will continue to have their place in recruitment going forward, and Simmons will have plenty of experience in ensuring those virtual events remain positive and memorable for their prospective students.

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