Recruiting students in the digital age

Students walking across campus wearing masks.

It’s long been known that if a prospective student visits campus to take a walk under the maple trees, meet faculty members and coaches, and sit down for lunch with current students, there’s a good chance he or she will choose to become a Wildcat. So what do you do when campus is closed to visitors? You get creative, of course.

When campus closed last spring, the Office of Admissions quickly switched gears and set up a virtual recruiting environment. Video tours of campus were created and made available.

“We immediately began offering our campus visits in a virtual format,” said Director of Admissions Sydney (Doster) Nowak, ’13, MAOL ’18. “This allowed visitors to still interact face-to-face with students, faculty, coaches, and admissions counselors.”

University Admissions Assistants, always an important part of the visit experience, learned new ways to connect with prospective students and their families.

“The UAA team has been incredible in their adjustment to new visit processes. Interaction with current students, whether that be virtual or in person, is a crucial part of the visit experience.”

Madeline McCrary, ’18, admissions counselor

Nowak said Baker has also adapted to doing virtual college fairs and high school visits.

“In a normal year, admissions counselors would find themselves on the road traveling to high schools and large college fairs for seven to eight weeks during the fall,” she said. “This year, the majority of ‘travel’ is happening from our desks. We are adapting to the needs and requests of high schools on an individual basis and participating in college fairs on a state and national level.”

Recruiting for athletics has also changed dramatically.

With high school sporting events canceled last spring, coaches weren’t able to see athletes compete via video.

“Fortunately, we have a staff of critical thinkers and problem solvers,” said Director of Athletics Nate Houser, ’94. “Our coaches accepted the challenge to share all of the fantastic elements of their programs. The Baker staff were among the first to jump into the world of Zoom recruiting. The coaches maintained the relationships they had started with athletes and initiated many, many more.”

Head Wrestling Coach Cody Garcia found that virtual visits gave his team an opportunity to reach more athletes and introduce them to Baker University.

“I think the utilization of virtual tours and Zoom meetings with prospective student-athletes and their families was vital in last year’s recruiting process. It made us more visible and accessible to wrestlers that weren’t necessarily in our recruiting pipelines. Before, we had over 80 percent of our roster that came from a 100-mile radius of Baldwin City. This incoming class had over 20 out-of-state additions.”

Wrestling Coach Cody Garcia

Houser said Baker’s approach to treating a student-athlete as a “person first” helped to attract the biggest athletic recruiting class in history: 219 new student-athletes arrived on campus for the fall semester.

“This success has really highlighted the way we recruit at Baker,” he said. “It is a personal experience for student-athletes. It is focused intentionally around their individual student needs, goals, and desired postgraduate outcomes. Our department boasts a record 87 Heart of America Scholar Athletes from the last year. When we can show prospective students and their families real outcomes of the Baker experience, we know we will continue to attract the best and brightest to campus.”

As restrictions have loosened and in-person visits are again possible, virtual visits remain an effective and popular way to reach out-of-state and international students and others who can’t make it to campus for various reasons. However, nothing beats the in-person experience.

When campus reopened to visitors, it was fitting that the Weakley family, whose Baker roots run deep, was one of the first to schedule a tour.

Kevin ’91, and Mendy (Colburn), ’93 Weakley, accompanied their son Mason on his trip to Baldwin City. In all, 15 members of Kevin’s family attended Baker, including his parents, Jerry, ’70, and Patty (Francisco), ’88, Weakley.

While Mason learned about academics, housing options, and student organizations and visited with the golf coach, his parents reminisced. They pointed out updates to campus and shared memories of the swimming pool that was once in Mabee Memorial Hall.

Whether in-person or virtually, Nowak said students still want to feel a personal connection to the university community. “This connection is something we will continue to offer no matter what the changing recruitment landscape looks like,” she said.


  • Co-writer Halle Morrell, Marketing & Communications Intern

  • Co-writer Jenalea Myers, '08