Soon, the quiet in the halls will yield to chatter and footsteps. The lines at the campus food court will become exponentially longer, and the frisbee will resume its flight path over the quad. That’s right: students. They’re baaaack. Or they will be soon, anyway. So how do we plan content to herald this annual rite?
There are many aspects to the beginning of the academic year that present compelling content opportunities. I’ve got a few ideas (but I bet you’ve got more).
Uncover What’s New
The start of the fall semester brings with it several layers of newness. Sure, we’ve got a new crop of students, but what are their stories? Your admissions office likely knows these factoids inside and out. Alumni are curious to know how their alma mater is evolving, and students and parents like to know more about their new family. For instance:
- Where are they from?
- Who’s come the farthest distance?
- Who is the first person from their state or country to attend your school?
- Who’s coming from just down the road in your own host community?
- Who’s a first-generation college student, or a non-traditional student with an intriguing backstory?
Don’t forget, you’ve also got new faculty coming in. Talk to your dean or provost and find out who those folks are.
- Who’s coming in through an endowed professorship?
- Who was a big coup snared from a rival college?
- Who’s working on research that ties into one of your institution’s major focuses?
- Relatedly, what new classes or programs are kicking off this fall?
Both the student- and faculty-oriented stories would make great short profiles for your news site or homepage, or perhaps a photo accompanied by a brief description and a good quote. They may even make good media pitches.
For all of these campus newcomers—students, staff and faculty alike—think about what information they might need and create a newbie’s guide to your institution. It could be a video tour, a crowdsourced list of favorite dining hall staples (see more about crowdsourcing below) or a photo gallery of the coolest off-the-beaten-path spots on campus. If you’re short on time, dedicate a Facebook post to soliciting these tips and media from your followers (see more about crowdsourcing below), or send an intern out to shoot 30-second one-take videos of upperclassmen sharing tips for the incoming class.
How a Campus Prepares for the Fall
As we well know, summer on campus is never totally quiet, so why not talk about what’s been going on?
- Summertime is often spruce-up time on campus, so what buildings will be sporting fresh looks or facility improvements this fall? Instead of just listing the changes and the price tag, try creating a short video or audio slideshow featuring the carpenters and masons who restored the facade of your oldest dormitory or completed the process of making all campus buildings accessible. (Again, alumni always get a kick of how their campus has changed.) Let their pride in their craft and their commitment to the university community carry the piece.
- Another angle to consider is everyone’s favorite topic: food. Anything new on the dining hall menu this year? Go in the kitchen Food Network-style and capture the chefs at work. Parents want to know what Bobby and Sally are eating for lunch, after all.
Yes, the Talking Heads album may have been called “More Songs About Buildings and Food,” but don’t forget about your students — some of them have been hanging out on campus this summer, too. Let prospective students see how vibrant your campus is even during the summer. Some short, snappy Q&As can provide a great look.
- What plans have next year’s student government officers been cooking up?
- Which athletes have been training on campus in preparation for the fall season?
- If your college offers summer research or internship opportunities, highlight the work those students have done.
- And don’t forget about all the planning that goes into orientation — why do orientation leaders do what they do, and how do they pull it off?
Campus bookstores get a lot of flack for their high prices, but the actual space offers a snapshot of knowledge unlike any other. Content about this hub of early semester activity—whether it’s a photo gallery, short video or even a basic list—can help prospective students get a better feel for their would-be professors and what a college course is like.
- From classic Greek tragedies to the latest texts of geopolitical analysis, what books will our students stick their noses in this fall?
- In a similar vein, some of the rarer and more interesting works are often found on the reserve shelf in the library. How have professors stocked that shelf this year?
- Bonus points if you can track down the professors to talk about their reasons behind some of the more intriguing reading choices.
- Use social media to ask your alums to share the college course reading that made the greatest impact on their lives — or, alternately, ask them to craft their own course by suggesting reading from their respective fields.
Get Others Involved
Crowdsource it! While our audiences include more constituencies than just students, the good news is that most of them — parents, alumni, staff and faculty — were students once. Plus, they all have a vested interest in the well-being of our new and continuing students. These factors combined not only make them the perfect source of not only tips and insights for new and returning students, but a built-in audience as they relive and reflect on their own collegiate experiences.
- Ask them—whether it’s via Facebook or an email address included in a newsletter—to share their tips on dorm room must-haves, roommate relations, the first adventures they should have in their new city, things they wish they knew as freshmen, insider’s tips about the best foods in the dining hall or best study spots in the library. You can pull it all into a news story, but it would also make great standing content for your admissions website.
- Also, what songs are they listening to ahead of the coming academic year? Curate a killer back to school playlist using Spotify or Grooveshark and tweet the heck out of it.
If you want to think long-term, ask your incoming students to explain (in some measure of detail) what they hope to get out of their college experience. Then, in four years, find those same students and see how the outcomes match up against their eager-eyed expectations. At Tufts, we did this with our “Four Years, Infinite Possibilities” feature blending reporting, photos and video. The real story we got out of this feature was not “I thought I would do X but instead I did Y,” but rather why they did Y instead of X. How does the college experience shape and influence the course of our students’ lives? This is one way to begin to answer that question.
What content plans do you have to kick off the new academic year? What’s worked for you?