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Welcome Centres: Ensuring a Prospective Student’s First Impression is a Lasting One

The advent of welcome centres on college and university campuses is one of the most significant trends in education architecture. Recognizing that prospective students and their parents form an impression of a school within minutes of their arrival, the Welcome Centre must project an impactful and indelible first impression for prospective students and their parents. For students, many of whom will be away from home for the first time, the welcome centre must re-assure them that they will be supported and not socially isolated. For parents, they will need the assurance that their sons/daughters will be able to flourish socially and academically, and that the institution is a wise financial investment.

How do we make a student feel secure and comfortable on campus and confident that they have made the right choice of school? The development of any Welcome Centre is inextricably tied to stakeholder consultations with students, faculty, administration, and staff. During the programming phase, we work to capture and reinforce the message, values, and vision of the institution. Accessibility, Inclusivity, Equitability are key considerations. Adjacencies are sought that will unite prospective and existing members of the college/university community and improve operational efficiencies with special attention given to student-centred support spaces. The building needs to make a strong and immediate emotional connection to people. All should feel welcome and at home. The use of natural materials, comfortable furnishings, ample daylight, connections to outdoors are just some of the elements that we discuss when creating a comforting, supportive, and home-like environment. It is crucial that the Welcome Centre make each visitor feel simultaneously at home and part of a dynamic community.

Entrance to Conestoga College’s Welcome Centre

The most successful Welcome Centres align the institution’s strategic messaging and service delivery model with the flow, look, and feel of a new one-stop service hub. At Conestoga College’s Welcome Centre, the design involved the repurposing 21,500 sq.ft. of office space into a warm and inviting suite of spaces centred on student recruitment, registrar support, and meeting/classroom spaces. The College envisioned a Welcome Centre that would foster community and leave a nurturing impression. Student and service spaces radiate from a dramatic new entry hall allowing for a smooth transition between uses. The addition and renovations extend an authentic message of welcome by visually enlarging the space, introducing generous natural light, and animating the space with vibrant colours. The Centre is highly accessible, flexible, and easy to navigate. Bookable meeting rooms and technology-enhanced student and service spaces, radiate from the entry hall allowing for fluid use of space. The bountiful wooded landscape forms the perfect backdrop for the inspiring spaces within.