The Complete Guide to Virtual Events for Universities

Universities have been hosting virtual events long before the pandemic. Greater reach, lower costs, and better analytics had many institutes hosting open days, housing fairs, job fairs, and alumni reunions online. When the pandemic hit in 2020, the remaining universities pivoted to digital as well. Since then, virtual events for universities are getting bigger and better every year. 

If you’d like to host a virtual event for your own university or college, you have come to the right place. We will walk through everything you need to know and do before hosting an online event. Let’s get started!

What are Virtual Events for Universities?

Virtual events for universities are online events hosted by universities for their students, faculty, alumni, employees, and community members. 

When you think of such events, webinars or live streaming of graduation ceremonies probably come to mind. However, that’s not even close to what these online events encompass. Going virtual opens up a whole new world of opportunities for colleges and universities. You not only address a wider audience but also offer creative solutions to various concerns.

The best thing about a virtual event is that anyone should be able to attend one as long as they have a laptop or a mobile phone and an internet connection. This allows widespread attendance and participation, especially if your audience isn’t limited to a single location.  

Types of Virtual Events for Universities

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Wondering about the types of virtual events that universities host?

Universities are not just home to academic experiences, but a hub of extra-curricular activities and cultural experiences. Many aim to help their students with job and housing search as well. Some want to set up an administrative portal to register for their semesters, pay their parking fee, and so on. All of these can be turned into virtual events or activities. Each event has its own goals, audience, and end results.

Here are some of the most frequent events hosted by universities using the vFairs platform.

1. Virtual Conference

A virtual conference can be anything from an academic symposium and climate action summits to a benefactor meeting. They usually feature speaker talks, panel discussions, and Q&A sessions. In addition, you can include an interactive exhibit hall to showcase programs, research, partners, and so on. 

Chat and networking features are a must for any virtual conference. These promote conversations about the topic at hand in more informal settings and help your attendees build their network. 

2. Virtual Open Day

A virtual open day helps attract prospective students from all over the world. These events let you showcase your campus, faculty, and departments in an interactive and accessible manner to a global audience. In addition, potential students and their parents can get all the details they need about tuition fees, scholarships, campus life, and accommodations. 

Many people may still be unsure about their university choices. An easy-to-access open day brings you on their shortlist, bringing them a step closer to registering.

If you’d like to learn more about how to host a virtual open day, check out our ultimate guide to a virtual open house.

3. Virtual Housing Fair

With this event, you can let students know about their on-campus and off-campus accommodation options. In addition, you can connect them with off-campus housing providers before they even arrive in your city. This makes things easier for incoming students based in different locations. 

You can have various booths in the exhibit hall for different providers. This will let attendees explore their options and make a well-informed decision. You can even arrange virtual tours at this event for a more interactive experience. Furthermore, students and their parents can ask all the questions they want from the admin and student departments and the providers you connect them with. 

Here is a step-by-step guide for hosting high-traction virtual housing fairs that you can use to help your students with their accommodation search. 

4. Virtual Graduation Ceremony

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many students had to abruptly shift to online classes. This also affected their upcoming graduation ceremonies. Seniors all over the world missed out on physical ceremonies.

Instead, many universities held virtual commencement ceremonies. These allowed outgoing students to get the graduation experience, without having to be physically present. 

A virtual graduation ceremony is also ideal if you offer remote learning to your students. Your remote students can be a part of graduation ceremonies that on-site students always get to experience. Offer features such as a photo booth, a scavenger hunt, a university shop, and serendipitous matchmaking to create a highly interactive graduation experience.

5. Virtual Job Fair

You obviously want your students and alumni to succeed in their careers. Your career assistance department can use virtual events to its advantage. A virtual career fair is just the ticket. It allows you to gather various companies in one place and have your students explore job opportunities and expand their network.

Often, companies may even shortlist and hire candidates at these events. You just need to offer a virtual booth, a searchable attendee database, and interview features for this purpose. A successful event using a virtual job fair platform will result in your students getting recruited.

Our guide for university job fairs can help you host the most impactful virtual job fair for your students.

6. Virtual Benefits Fair

Your faculty and staff probably have access to a wide range of benefits. In higher education, the people involved may have numerous subsidies, discounts, and insurance options to claim. However, they are often unaware of these benefits or how to choose the right ones. 

When you host a benefits fair virtually, you can brief them about the plans and the providers. Companies already hold these events for their employees, so you should utilize them for your community. Virtual benefits fairs are especially convenient if you have multiple campus locations and multiple providers. 

Host interactive info sessions with providers, offer a searchable provider database, and let your employees talk with providers at their booths. 

7. Online Alumni Reunion Event

Alumni reunions are a time-honored tradition. But many people are unable to make it to the event for various reasons. Sometimes their schedules don’t allow for the time to travel, or the cost of the trip is too much. That’s when your alumni will appreciate a virtual option. 

Such events are a great way to see how well your students have done for themselves. They also promote a strong alumni network, with ample job opportunities and other such advantages. Let your students reconnect with each other through an online alumni reunion. 

Remember to keep things engaging with live games and contests and features such as a social wall and a virtual photo booth!

8. Virtual Orientation Fair

Many universities have used vFairs to host their online orientation events. With online classes and international students, these are the best options. You can simply conduct all your ice-breaking and information-sharing activities in the virtual space. 

When you have a virtual orientation fair, you can have department booths, speaker sessions, and also open up networking opportunities. This way, students can get answers to their questions and the resources they need to kickstart their university experience. In addition, they can talk to each other and create connections. This is very helpful, especially when these students have online classes together. 

Other Virtual Events in the Education Sector

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The above options are definitely not the only kinds of virtual events in the education sector. Here are some others that come to mind:

  • Virtual resource fair
  • Club-based virtual events
  • Virtual fundraising fair
  • Digital capstone
  • Online hackathon
  • Virtual student gala night
  • Online networking event

All of these events are especially useful in bringing a dispersed student body together. If you have students spread across the city or states or even across the globe, these events will help you reach and connect everyone. 

In addition, the virtual space lets you experiment with your event options. You simply have to see what sort of event you’d like to hold. Then, you can work with your virtual event platform provider to carry out these events online. With the right provider and event features, you can offer students as complete an experience as possible. 

To sum up, there is almost no limit to what you can do with virtual events. You simply need to do your research and make your plans properly. Then, you’ll find the right sort of opportunities for excellent, interactive events. 

If you are a high school that wants to help students with their college search, check out this guide for a virtual college fair.

Are Virtual Events Worth it?

A lot of people aren’t familiar with the many benefits of hosting an event in a virtual space. Here are some of the advantages which make hosting a university virtual event well worth it. 

1. International Participation

Universities are usually quite diverse and have students from all over the world. This means that if students or alumni are in their home countries, they can’t attend physical events. Therefore, virtual events allow both international and local students and alumni to attend.

This international participation will let you capture as wide an audience as possible. Even when you host a virtual open day, you have the opportunity to attract a larger, more diverse set of applications. This allows you to get the best applications possible from all over the world. In addition, you will also be able to accommodate significantly more people than you could at a physical venue. 

Apart from a wider audience, you can also reach out to more speakers and exhibitors. Physical events can take a long time to plan, especially if your guests and speakers have to fly in from other states or countries. They might have full schedules and may not be able to commit to your event. If you go virtual, this concern goes out the window. You simply need a set amount of their time, with no logistics, travel, or accommodations required. 

2. Cost-Savings

This is a major plus point for virtual college events. When you host an in-person event, you have to think about numerous aspects. You have to pay costs for the venue, setup, refreshments, signage, and branding. You may also have to hire extra staff to manage the event. In addition, if you’re inviting guest speakers, their speaker fees and travel and accommodation costs can add up quite a bit. 

Therefore, virtual events are a great way to save money. You basically set your own budget, and then decide what virtual event features you need. Keep it simple to lower costs or include numerous exciting features if you have a higher budget. 

3. Accessibility

With physical events, people have to worry about things like wheelchair access and visual impairment. However, virtual events can offer a number of accessibility features that address inclusivity concerns. There is no physical accessibility to worry about, and the audio/visual components also take impairment into account. 

Furthermore, these events are also convenient for your speakers and audience. Speakers can present live or pre-record their sessions and your audience can view the sessions whenever it’s convenient for them. You do not have to worry about different time zones and other aspects, as long as your sessions are recorded and made available for viewing for later.

People can also use any device to log into virtual events on the go, so they can participate wherever they are. 

4. Greater Engagement

Sometimes, students may skip valuable events because they think they won’t enjoy them or aren’t comfortable with face-to-face interaction. This is especially true of millennials and Generation Z. With virtual events, you can add a lot more interactivity without taking students out of their comfort zone.

Your attendees will be able to engage with booth representatives, guest speakers, and other attendees at the event. Virtual university events can have a higher engagement rate than in-person events thanks to powerful features such as chat, networking, matchmaking, and gamification. Oh, and who doesn’t love skipping the long lines to talk to a booth rep?

5. Access to Data Insights

Virtual events not only offer convenience, accessibility, and engagement but also provide measurability. You can’t really measure audience interactions and track event metrics with physical events. Virtual events make all of this possible.

You can collect valuable data right from registration to after the event is over. You will be able to track attendance, attendee journeys, webinar views, booth visits, content downloads, and more. This helps you gauge event success and how each person benefitted. You can even present your event reports as a valuable asset to your exhibitors, sponsors, and partners.  

How to Host College Virtual Events

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Now that you know what and how virtual events for universities work, it’s time to learn to host them. Here are some steps you can follow to host a virtual university event. 

1. Determine Your Goals

First of all, you need to determine your event goals. Do you want to reach as many prospective students as possible? Do you want to get your students placements with top employers? Are you aiming to raise more funds than last year? Keep such questions in mind before you go any further. These goals will determine what sort of event you’ll host and the virtual event platform features you’ll need.  

Once you set these goals, you can carry out the next steps much more efficiently. Try to quantify your goals as much as possible. For example, your goal is to have twice as many people attend your open day as last year. This way, you can easily gauge your event’s success. 

2. Set a Fixed Budget

Include a detailed budget with your event plan. You will have to map out individual line items and keep separate amounts for everything such as platform fees, digital marketing, etc. Make sure your budget is in line with your goals. Do not go too low, or your event won’t deliver results. On the other hand, if you go too high with your budget, you may be spending extra resources without proportionate returns. It’s important to evaluate past events and the virtual event industry as you create the budget.

3. Choose the Right Audience

You should see whether your event is for current students, incoming students, alumni, parents, or others. You’ll approach each of these audiences differently, so you must decide this in the initial stages. 

When you know your audience, you can plan your event details and marketing strategies more easily. This will streamline your efforts and also prevent you from wasting resources on irrelevant audiences. 

4. Create a Detailed Plan

A detailed plan will help you map out everything you need to do to host a winning virtual event. From initial brainstorming to the final event layout, include everything here. It’s very important to assign roles in this event plan. You need to know who will be taking care of what before you proceed to execute the plan. Assign people for the following tasks:

  • Speaker sourcing and outreach
  • Virtual event marketing
  • Virtual event platform sourcing
  • Live event moderators
  • Live event chat engagers
  • Reporting/data specialist

Share this plan with the relevant stakeholders, and make any adjustments you need. Once you have a proper plan in place, you can work more efficiently.

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5. Choose the Right Virtual Event Platform

This is one of the most important aspects of your virtual event. You need to decide your must-have features and choose the right hosting platform. This way, you can focus on your own goals, and not have to worry about technical details and such. 

Check whether your shortlisted platforms have the features you need and whether they fit your budget. Then, choose the best options for you, and stay in touch with the platform for the ideal event experience. We will be talking a bit more about event features below.

6. Find Speakers

A virtual event can fall flat on its face if you don’t invite the right speakers. The right speakers will share knowledge that your audience is interested to learn about as well as have a personality and speaking style that keeps your audience hooked.

Getting speakers on board is easier if you are going to pick from your university faculty and staff. However, if you need speakers from outside your institution, it’s best to create a list of speakers you’d like to speak with at your event as soon as you have finalized your virtual event plan. Start reaching out once you have shortlisted your speakers and be prepared to connect your speakers to the virtual event platform for training sessions. 

7. Market Your Event

Virtual events for universities are easy to market because most times you already have access to your audience. You simply have to get your student, alumni, and partner email lists and send out invites to the relevant audience. Another great way to promote your event is to put up custom banners on your university website and social media pages. We will talk more about marketing in a bit. 

8. Create Content

The most important aspect of a virtual event is the content. Besides the webinar sessions, you need to create material for your audience. For instance, if you were hosting a virtual open day, you could create pre-recorded virtual tours of the campus, informational videos about student life, department and program brochures, tuition and scholarship documents, campus maps, department presentations, etc. 

All of this material can be added to document and video vaults within your virtual event for your audience to browse and download. 

9. Gather Insights

This last step comes after you’ve hosted your event. Use your virtual event to measure event performance and ROI. These features let you track webinar views, booth visits, document downloads, link clicks, and more. Furthermore, you can also download chat logs and transcripts. 

The information will help you gauge trends and understand what kind of content gives the most value. Tweak your future events based on event analytics. Then, share these post-event reports with your sponsors, partners, and exhibitors to give them more value.

Must-Have Virtual Event Platform Features

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Choosing the right features to include is key to hosting a successful event. Here are some sought-after features that vFairs customers love adding to their virtual university events.

1. Virtual Auditorium

Most virtual events require an auditorium. Here, you can host keynote speeches, presentations, talks, and panel discussions. You should be able to host concurrent sessions to cover more ground in a limited time period. If you want to boost engagement, add Q&A sessions, live polling, and breakout sessions to your webinars.

In addition, offer a personalized agenda builder so your attendees only get notifications for sessions that interest them. It’s also important to make sure that all these sessions are recorded. This way, those who miss them can view them later at their own convenience. 

2. Virtual Exhibit Booths

Exhibit booths are also really popular. These help exhibitors showcase their brands with virtual booths and design them accordingly. In addition, they offer resource downloads, chat features, and links to social media pages, products, and website for visitors.

For some event types, it’s also important to offer a meeting scheduler. This is integrated with the visitors and booth representative calendars so they can arrange meetings and calls properly.

If you have a number of exhibitors, you can even divide your exhibit hall into multiple floors or clusters and add an exhibitor search capability. 

3. Chat & Networking

Include chat and networking features in your event. These will allow attendees to meet booth reps, speakers, and even other attendees to encourage discourse. Also, make sure to offer chat and audio video calls, both. Some platforms will even allow for group networking. 

In addition, attendees can also network using features such as attendee auto-match and profile search. These features use registration data to categorize participants and then match them to visitors with similar interests. They also enable exhibitors to find their ideal audience. For instance, employers at a virtual job fair can sort resumes with search filters.

3. Gamification Features

Boring events make visitors lose interest and log out quickly. Make things exciting by deploying a range of gamification features. At vFairs, these features include scavenger hunts, trivia games, spin the wheel, photo booths, and much more.

Virtual games help break the monotony of virtual events. Gamification can also motivate your attendees to navigate your event. You can include a leaderboard with a custom points system for every desirable attendee action. Use the scores to reward visitors once the event concludes. 

4. Registration Forms

Gather attendee information before the event with custom registration forms. Your platform will offer a customized landing page for your event and show you who’s registered. The forms should include details such as demographics, interests, and location. These details will be helpful in understanding your audience and giving them what they need. 

These forms also help build an attendee database. For instance, if you are holding a networking event and need to match people with similar work experiences with each other. Employers are also interested in having access to a searchable candidate database during a virtual university job fair. If you are hosting such an event, it’s important to include a file upload field in your form for resumes as well. 

5. Accessibility

As a university, you need to be as inclusive as possible. That means making sure your events are accessible to everyone. Whether this involves increasing the contrast of the text or including captions in videos, you should do as much as possible. 

This way, you’ll get audiences with different abilities as well. This promotes a diverse and inclusive academic environment. It also helps you find talent in unexplored individuals. 

6. Data Analytics

Always include data reports and analysis in your list of features. Track everything from attendance to document downloads within your event. This data should be available in real-time so you can make changes to your live event as well as future events. These reports are instrumental in calculating event ROI and also interest sponsors, exhibitors, and partners.

How to Choose the Right Virtual Events Platform

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There are numerous platforms available online. However, not all of them are made equal. You need to make the right choice for you, your exhibitors, and visitors. Here are some things you should consider:

1. Budget

First and foremost, you should consider your budget as you pick a platform. Event hosting platforms have different pricing plans. You need to see what you can afford and what the expected return is, and then choose accordingly. When you have these figures in mind, you’re better prepared to get quotes from providers. They’ll create customized plans for you based on your budget and the features you need.

2. Reviews

Next, look at peer-to-peer software review websites. Check out ratings and reviews of virtual event platforms on websites like G2 and Capterra to assess the best ones. You can sort reviews by industry to get the most accurate insight about each platform. 

3. Feature List

The difference between various hosting platforms is the features they offer. Some may simply give you a static lobby, with a few Zoom integrations. However, all-in-one platforms like vFairs provide numerous features. These features help you recreate the physical event experience online. So, make sure you go through feature lists thoroughly and ask about their charges. 

Pick a platform that has both your must-have features, and then some nice add-ons as well. You can always opt for these if your budget allows.

4. Customer Service

The whole point of hosting a virtual event is convenience. The best platforms offer stellar customer support so that hosting an online event is a hassle-free experience. Find out if your shortlisted platforms assign you a dedicated project manager and how long they take to respond to emails. 

You don’t want to be left high and dry on the day of the event if technical issues pop up. Check if the platform offers live technical support during the event. 

5. Customization Options

Check how much you can customize your event. Some platforms offer you pre-made services and let you add your logos to them. However, some virtual events platforms are highly customizable. You can model your virtual event after your campus for a more life-like experience. Pick out a lobby, exhibitor booths, and avatars that suit your needs. 

In addition, you can also choose the mix of features you need and adjust them if required.

Why Choose vFairs?

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vFairs is a trusted source for virtual university events but is it the right fit for you? Let’s find out.

vFairs in Numbers

vFairs was founded in 2017 and took the virtual event concept to another level. It has achieved significant milestones since then. Here’s a look at some of them, four years later.

  • Over 2,000 educational events hosted
  • Over 40,000 education industry exhibitors served 
  • 150 universities and colleges represented
  • 50,000 student attendees served
  • 10,000 teacher/staff attendees served

2. Reviews & Testimonials

vFairs aims to offer its clients the best-in-class experience. The white-glove service offers everything from customized event planning and execution to post-event analysis. Because of how closely the project managers work with each client to hand-tailor each event, the reviews have been phenomenal. It’s also why vFairs is the highest-rated virtual events platform on G2. 

Here are a few of them from virtual events for universities. 

  • Cornell University – Graduate School Open Day. Here is a wonderful testimonial by their Senior Director of Recruitment. 
  • Nevada University – Multiple online events. Here is a great testimonial. 
  • German University Cairo – Internship & Employment Fair. Watch the video testimonial here.
  • Bard College – Open House. Here’s the glowing testimonial.
  • The University of Maryland in Baltimore – Multiple university virtual events. Watch the testimonial here

3. vFairs Customer Support

One of the best things vFairs offers is its 24/7 global customer support. Reviewers often gush about their project managers and how smooth the hosting experience was for them. Event organizers also receive technical support to troubleshoot on live event days.

This level of customer support has led to vFairs receiving numerous awards and badges over the years, the more recent being:

  • Leader – Winter 2022 – G2
  • High Performer – Winter 2022 – G2
  • Partner 2022 – Sourceforge
  • Category Leaders – Virtual Events – 2021 – GetApp
  • Mid-Market Leader – Winter 2022 – G2
  • Leader – Small Business – Winter 2022 – G2
  • Best Relationship – Mid-Market – Winter 2022 -G2

How to Promote Virtual Events for Universities

When you’re hosting virtual university events, marketing is key. After all, numbers are critical to the success of events such as open days and recruitment fairs. You need to get the word out and target the right demographic. Here’s a quick guide to promoting virtual events for universities.

1. Create a Landing Page

First of all, create a landing page with a registration portal. All your marketing campaigns should make users land here. This is where they’ll learn everything about the event and then register for it too. The landing page should include event details, agenda, speaker bios, and exciting visuals to capture the attention of your audience. 

Since this is where your marketing efforts will direct traffic, make sure it’s live a month before the event. Then, you’ll need the four weeks to start the promotions!

2. Use Your Website

Give your event space on your college website. Lots of students are exploring your website for information and updates everyday. Reel them in with a top banner on your website or an event pop-up. This will help more students sign up for the event.

3. Use Email Marketing

Designing an email drip campaign for your event is absolutely crucial. Use your email lists to let students, alumni, faculty, and partners know about your event. You can also send separate emails to each group as a way of segmenting the emails. Highlight what each segment can gain from your event so that they register. 

It’s also important to send reminder emails to your registrants a few days and hours in advance of your event. 

4. Use Social Media

Social media can no longer be ignored in this day and age. It’s also the most effective at building hype and attracting attention.

Market your event on your social media pages and encourage registrants to share the event. Include hashtags in each post and encourage people to tag students in the comments and share the posts with their friends. You can also start contests to boost your reach and get people excited leading up to the event.

In addition to this, you can leverage your speakers and sponsors. Request them to run event promotions on their websites and social media pages. You can also record short videos of your speakers and share them on social media to benefit from their influence. 

5. Create Video Previews & Teasers

Create short videos as event teasers. These will keep your target audience engaged, and will also generate hype. You can even create short countdown videos to keep up the activity. Once the event actually starts, share short highlight videos to generate social media conversation. 

Event marketing may seem complex but all you really need is to start early and build a plan. Here is our event marketing guide if you need more help.

How to Go Hybrid with University Events

Virtual events offer great reach and tracking. But a lot of people still prefer engaging in-person and sharing a cup of coffee.

Luckily, the best of both worlds is possible. Try going hybrid. 

Hybrid events let you cater to both your physical and virtual audiences. This way, you get the in-person experience without excluding people who can’t be present. This event type became popular in 2021 and its operations continue to become more refined.

vFairs can also help you set up an unforgettable hybrid event. The vFairs 3D virtual environment, mobile app, and AV partners, all work together to put together a seamless experience for every attendee.

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Summary

That was a lot of information to consume so here’s a short overview for planning a virtual university event.

  • Virtual events are well worth the effort because of their cost-saving, reach, and convenience.
  • There are many types of virtual events for universities. These include virtual open days, orientations, and virtual career fairs. 
  • Some of the key features these include are exhibit halls, auditoriums, chat, networking features, and data analytics. 
  • To get started with your own, choose the right virtual event hosting platform. Consider factors like features, customer service, and budget in this process. vFairs offers a wide feature set for universities. It’s also loved by top schools like NYU and Cornell.
  • Promote your virtual events to make them successful. Use social media, email marketing, and your speakers’ influence for this purpose. 
  • Try going hybrid for increased flexibility and rech. 

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The Complete Guide to Virtual Events for Universities

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