On Monday, the university is debuting the FAMU Virtual Preview on its YouTube channel, with the premise that "establishing a strong digital presence is essential not only during this time of social distancing but in this era of recruitment."

Having seen its much-anticipated Spring Preview cancelled because of the coronavirus precautions, Florida A&M University’s Office of Enrollment Management knew it had to move fast.


More than 3,000 high-school students were planning on visiting FAMU on March 28 for a day jammed pack with events designed to convince them they needed to join the Rattler Nation.


On Monday, the university is debuting the FAMU Virtual Preview on its YouTube channel, with the premise that "establishing a strong digital presence is essential not only during this time of social distancing but in this era of recruitment."


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"It’s a mixed media production that highlights student narratives, deans’ welcoming speeches, tours of the facilities, embedded with links to the virtual tours," said Augustus Mitchell, assistant director of enrollment management at FAMU.


The FAMU Virtual Preview is designed to appeal to students accepted for the fall, prospective students, alumni and those in that other coveted category - donors.


Mitchell describes it as a tightly packaged multimedia effort that brings the FAMU experience right to student’s digital platforms, promoting the campus experience, academic programs, new construction and direct information important to them such as financial aid and housing.


Videos will be distributed virtually to accepted students and the targeted audiences.


"Our spring preview is our biggest on-campus recruitment event and we lost that opportunity," Mitchell said. "That was the nexus that birthed this other (virtual) project. We have to take the university to them. "


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The spring preview video is about 30 minutes, broken up into chapters, Mitchell said. The virtual advancement is designed to meet students and families where they are.


"But it has to be robust and effective," Mitchell said of the virtual approach. "We have to package the message to make it impactful. Our goal is to enroll."


The recruitment tool is not the only virtual expansion at FAMU.


The university also is offering Zoom sessions on Fridays, providing students with information on programs and student services. It is open to prospective students, as well as high-school counselors.


FAMU has also been successful through its participating in national Zoom recruiting sessions designed specifically for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.


"That drove us to increase our personal Zoom sessions, we received so much interest," Mitchell said.


"This will be the new normal – and it’s cost effective," Mitchell added. "It was imperative to remain relevant to this generation (of students). We have to establish a digital platform for this university."


Florida A&M, Florida State and Tallahassee Community College all feature 360-degree virtual campus tours on their websites. Last week, TCC hosted a virtual party for students that attracted 1,500 viewers.


"It was the most attended student event thus far during this academic year," Gerald Jones, dean of student services, said. "I believe we’ve found a new platform to engage students outside of the classroom."


The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of on-campus visits at Florida State University, said Julie Rubin, associate director for Visitor Services and Recruitment.


To compensate, FSU has enhanced an extensive virtual housing tour to its website, which also features a virtual campus tour.


In addition, the admissions staff has stayed busy this semester hosting virtual sessions with admitted and prospective students, where they can be provided information on support services such as financial aid, admissions questions and campus life.


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"There are a number of options available for students," Rubin said. "We have a virtual housing tour and a virtual campus tour, where it’s already pre-recorded. They are able to walk through campus that way or we also have the option for students to register for virtual programs."


The housing tour, a critical element for students, shows residence halls, common areas and laundry facilities.


Prospective students also can request specific Zoom sessions with current students to learn about the city and student life.


The housing tour generates nearly 5,000 visits, while the campus tour registered 21,853 in the past 60 days.


"What’s new are the individual Zoom calls, virtual webinars on financial aid, admissions, talking to student ambassadors," Rubin said.


Students and parents can request a Zoom conference with a student or admissions counselor.


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"They can attend an admissions presentation, they can attend a financial information session or a live Tally town hall with student ambassadors," she said.


"We’re trying to customize it as much as possible," she added.


Rubin admits for students and their families, it is hard to replace the experience of on-campus visits. At the same time, virtual visits can add a personal touch.


"I think it’s hard for families, especially for those of accepted students," she said. "People are still wanting to connect individually with a person.


"And, so, by offering it virtually we are able to connect with that person rather than email back and forth," she said.


Contact senior writer Byron Dobson at bdobson@tallahassee.com or on Twitter @byrondobson.


This story originally published to tallahassee.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.