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Professional Opinion

Welcoming higher ed admissions offices wow students

Attractive designs can give your school a competitive enrollment edge
University Business, July 2018
Lori Garrett is a senior principal and vice president at Glavé & Holmes Architecture in Richmond, Virginia. She can be contacted at LGarrett@glaveandholmes.com.
Lori Garrett is a senior principal and vice president at Glavé & Holmes Architecture in Richmond, Virginia. She can be contacted at LGarrett@glaveandholmes.com.

Creating a welcoming environment, especially in the form of admissions offices, is increasingly crucial to a university’s bottom line as schools are more dependent on tuition and fees as a revenue stream. Thus, new emphasis has emerged on the role of admissions offices.

Research indicates that the campus visit is the student’s most trusted source of information and a key factor in a student’s decision on where to apply. The design of admissions centers, whether in new buildings or renovated facilities, plays a critical role in any campus visit.

Administrators would be wise to consider the ways in which they can better leverage this asset. Three best practices stand out.

Arrange the arrival sequence

The admissions facility should have easy access from campus entrances with clear directional signage. Think about the walk to the admissions office front door, too: Is it attractive and well maintained? To create a truly inclusive environment, the facility should be easily accessible for all.

An admissions office should offer a gracious arrival by considering how someone enters and moves around the space. Hospitable interiors and inviting landscaping matter.

Virginia Tech located its Office of Undergraduate Admissions and Visitor Center adjacent to it main entrance, on a knoll overlooking campus. The facility includes a glass wall where visitors can picture themselves walking the grounds.

Furthermore, the school installed benches between the parking area and building entry because many travelers drive for hours to reach the campus and need a brief rest.  

Craft multiple wow factors

Choosing a university is a momentous decision. Use the admissions facility’s architecture, design and placement to forge a memorable connection.

Wow moments can include eye-catching architectural features, such as a two-story lobby space; beautifully appointed presentation rooms with impressive technology; a focal point, such as a fireplace; or a breathtaking view.

For example, Christopher Newport University’s new admissions office features a well-appointed reception area that is open to a skylit dome above. A beautiful environment elevates the spirit and creates a strong impression.

Establish or enhance emotional connections through immersive experiences, from touch screens and augmented or virtual reality to art and other visuals. Another key wow factor is the transition from the presentation space to the campus tour, often referred to as the golden walk.

The architecture of a presentation room should fit its size with the ratio of the width to length of the room between 1-to-1 and 1-to-1.6. The presentation room should provide easy access to begin the tour, with adjacent exterior spaces that can be used for groups to coalesce before departure.

This smooth transition to the tour creates a memorable connection.  

Serve a dual function 

Providing efficient and effective workspace for admissions staff must be balanced with the public spaces. Thus, establishing public/private zones and ensuring necessary security must be considered when designing, building and maintaining these facilities.

The most effective workspaces are configured to facilitate efficient production of tasks and collaboration. Collaboration areas shouldn’t be limited to conference rooms; rather, provide small seating areas along a corridor or at the perimeter of a work room for impromptu meetings and teamwork.

As admissions offices take a more vital role at the university, these facilities are asked to serve a number of functions. Yet, in the highly competitive admissions landscape, universities can’t ignore the need to invest appropriate resources into these facilities.

After all, they can serve as a linchpin in a prospective student pipeline and the university’s financial future.


Lori Garrett is a senior principal and vice president at Glavé & Holmes Architecture in Richmond, Virginia. She can be contacted at LGarrett@glaveandholmes.com.