The University of New Orleans hosted its second annual president’s reception for admitted students on April 29. These students have applied and were accepted to UNO for the upcoming fall semester, but they have not yet made a decision on which college to attend. Nearly 100 prospective freshmen and transfer students visited the Homer L. Hitt Alumni and Visitors Center for an opportunity to meet personally with President John Nicklow and faculty and staff from UNO’s academic programs.
The event was designed to promote individual interaction among guests and UNO representatives and was largely informal. President John Nicklow made opening remarks emphasizing the importance of new students and ensuring their success. Associate director of recruitment Carlos Gooden gave an energetic welcome and asked prospective students to see the UNO representatives in the room as their resources.
According to Christy Heaton, director of orientation and first year programs in UNO’s Office of Enrollment Services, the purpose of a reception like this one is much more than making a nice impression on prospective students and their parents in order to woo them. Heaton said events like these are critical steps in a long recruiting and admissions process where the level of student engagement exists on a continuum. UNO admissions staff visit high schools, participate in college fairs and engage in marketing and recruiting activities to raise UNO’s profile in the competition for freshman and transfer applicants. The importance of this reception, said Heaton, is that students and their families are the ones taking action to develop a relationship with the campus. It’s an important point on the continuum because it likely marks the beginning of that student’s engagement at UNO. The more engaged students are, said Heaton, the more likely they are to succeed. The reception builds on the connections made during the recruiting process and adds another level of engagement intended to bolster that candidate’s likelihood of success at UNO and college in general.
“Research in the college retention field shows that new college students know within the first six weeks whether they will stay,” Heaton said. For that reason, a strong, early support system for new students can make a big difference. For most of the reception guests, it was the first time they were able to have a personal interaction with a member of the UNO faculty or campus leadership.
According to Heaton, 40 UNO representatives were in attendance, including faculty and staff from each of UNO’s colleges, the honors program, international education, enrollment services, student affairs and athletics. The value of the reception lies in the opportunity for prospective students to meet face to face with a range of faculty and staff who can talk specifically about academic disciplines, research, career and campus opportunities in areas of interest to the group. Students who do attend UNO in the future will recall the connections forged at this event as they navigate orientation, advising, registration and course work.
“For transfer students and new freshman, developing connections like these early on gives them a head start on first year student success,” Heaton said. Prior to the reception, a prospect’s interaction with UNO was likely driven by a member of the University’s recruiting staff.
Gooden sees the importance of this event from a different perspective. One of the reception guests was a high school senior who first learned about UNO as a sophomore when she met a UNO representative at a college fair. Gooden notes that even though students are still being actively recruited at this point in the process, the reception also provided some measure of results.
“It allowed us to see the fruits of our labor,” said Gooden, who has maintained contact with the guest over several years. According to Gooden, being competitive as a college recruiter means reaching prospective students in ways that are increasingly targeted and individualized. In addition to a reception, Gooden’s office has used a number of tools to engage admitted students through one-on-one interaction. For example, Gooden or another recruiting staffer might host a pizza party on a high school campus for students who have been admitted to UNO but have not yet accepted. There is, in fact, a special UNO cookie for such an occasion.