Patch High School (PHS) is a Department of Defense Education Activity school located on a U.S. Army Garrison in Stuttgart, Germany. This year, the school introduced college-bound students to a hybrid college fair, combining in-person booths with live virtual chats with admissions counselors from 60+ colleges and universities. Student advocates helped lead the charge, sparking engagement among prospective students.
PHS hosts an annual college fair to introduce their students to U.S. universities as well as local community colleges. “It’s a nice experience but we felt there was something missing,” said Army Liaison Officer Brian Pappas. “Students overseas don’t have the same opportunities as those who are stateside do. It can be difficult for them to get noticed and to directly connect to universities, and we were looking for a way to help them overcome this hurdle.”
Brian Pappas and Wayne “Joe” Holder, two school liaisons with Child Youth and School Services came up with the idea of creating a hybrid college fair. Working with CollegeWeekLive, PHS decided to augment its in-person college fair with online chat sessions with admissions counselors. This way, students could learn about schools beyond those that were able to visit in-person.
To maximize participation, the officers polled students and teachers about what universities they’d like to live chat with. This spurred the school to invite more specialty universities to the hybrid college fair.
They also felt it was key to have support from alumni of the universities that were participating. “One of our biggest challenges was getting representatives and alumni to participate,” said Wayne Holder. “We started working with alumni in the spring of 2014 time frame, so they could obtain college promotional materials from their alma mater.”
Realizing that peer-to-peer support was key to the success of the event, PHS invited AVID and National Honor Society students to act as student advocates during the event. These students went from classroom to classroom, promoting the benefits of the virtual college fair, helping fellow students to register at CollegeWeekLive ahead of time, and getting them familiar with the site.
To gain buy-in from teachers and students, they worked on projects together in the months leading up to the event. “We had our high school video production class create an infomercial on the benefits of online chatting with admissions counselors and how to register for CollegeWeekLive for free,” Holder said. “The teacher taught the students how to use multiple cameras, lighting, and editing. The final product was aired in every classroom for two days.”
To further generate excitement, the school:
- Rewarded students who visited a certain number of physical and online booths with gift cards
- Promoted the event through Facebook, newsletters, and community outreach
- Encouraged school clubs to provide food and beverages that would allow families to stay at the event
The school set up a computer lab right in the center of the event to maximize participation in online chats. They created a festive atmosphere, with student and community clubs sharing food as well as scholarship information. On event day, the student advocates were on hand, greeting PHS students and their parents and inviting them to come into the computer lab. They walked students through the online chat features. “When you see peers helping other peers, it changes everything,” Pappas said. “It brought a much higher level of engagement to the event. In addition, the support we received from CollegeWeekLive during event planning was fantastic. It was a great process.”
“Our college fair was a huge success,” Holder said. “We had families driving three hours just to attend our event. Combining physical with virtual provided students and parents a wider variety of opportunities.”
More than 225 students registered at CollegeWeekLive, and 70 participated in the virtual college fair. “Students loved chatting with schools online,” Pappas said. “The energy in the room was fantastic. Kids were spending a good amount of time and were very engaged in online chats. There was also a lot of great interaction going on with parents and children logging on. We heard from many students and parents that the online chats had a positive impact on their college planning. Many families are continuing the conversations by logging into CollegeWeekLive from home. It’s really served as a springboard for their college planning.”
Interestingly, the hybrid event generated interest from even more college admissions counselors, giving the school the opportunity to increase participation from 35 college representatives last year to 67 college representatives and alumni from across Europe this year. “None of the admissions counselors had experienced anything like it before,” Pappas said. “They saw it was a new way of communicating with students.” In 2015, the school is planning to increase the number of colleges represented even further.
Patch High School is planning to continue to host hybrid fairs in the future, and to use CollegeWeekLive’s High School Connect to arrange online meetings with individual colleges and universities. “High School Connect is pretty special in terms of what it can offer our students,” Pappas said. “Having individual conversations with specific schools will help give our students purpose as they move forward in the admissions process.”