Coronavirus is changing the way universities connect with potential students

The Sir Christopher Wren Building sits at the head of the W&M campus, just before you cross into Colonial Williamsburg. (WYDaily/Courtesy of William & Mary)

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to change the many aspects of university life, local college admissions departments are still expecting a normal amount of incoming students for the next school year. 

At Christopher Newport University and William & Mary, admissions offices have had to cancel their on-campus tours and spring events due to coronavirus restrictions. But that hasn’t stopped the institutions from finding new ways to reach and engage potential students. 

“Anyone that has seen CNU in person knows how unique and special it is, so we want very much to have students considering a CNU education to get a sense of campus and life here,” said Jim Hatchett, chief communications officer for the university. “So it’s all disappointing when we can’t do that in person, but we’ve been aggressive and quick in getting opportunities online.”

Hatchett said admissions officers and other staff have been working to contact students through phone calls, texts and video chats as much as possible. 

William & Mary has also started offering live virtual information sessions with the one of the admission deans. While the college offers a pre-recorded version of the session, live versions allow potential students to interact with with college staff on a more personal level.

Both institutions have been offering virtual tours, video panels and other virtual means of interaction.

Tim Wolfe, dean of admission and associate vice president of enrollment at William & Mary, said even though there aren’t opportunities for students to interact on a face-to-face basis, the college hasn’t seen a decline in interest.

“As for current high school students, we haven’t seen a decline in interest as they begin their college searches—it’s just happening in different ways,” Wolfe said. “We continue to engage with thousands of interested prospective students through multiple formats—email, virtual visits, social media—and look forward to eventually welcoming them to campus at a later time.”

Many of those services are helpful for students who are considering applying to colleges in the coming year, but as the pandemic continues, the freshman class of 2020 has to make their decisions soon. 

Local institutions are still expecting decent numbers of admission acceptances as the statewide deadline approaches on May 1.

“Going into this year’s cycle, we had the goal of increasing the size of the entering class incrementally as part of the university’s plan for smart enrollment growth,” Wolfe said. “As a result, we already planned on making some additional admission offers.”

Wolfe added that as the pandemic emerged, the college started to make additional offers to students because they realized some students, especially those who come from far away, might be less likely to attend a college that’s at a greater distance from them.

Even with the additional offers, the college only expects its admission rate to change by 1 to 2 percent. In fact, the college is running ahead of its numbers from the previous year in terms of students who have accepted their offers of admission.

“Perhaps in this time of uncertainty, the value of William & Mary’s academic experience combined with our engaged, supportive student community is proving even more attractive,” Wolfe said.

At CNU, Hatchett said the university is still expecting a class size of approximately 1,200 students for the incoming class. As the deadline for admission acceptances approaches, the university has been able to track those numbers and predicts the number will remain steady.

Hatchett said the university does recognize this is an uncertain time for many people and those students who might not be able to confirm their admissions by May 1 can be worked with on an individual basis.

CNU is on-track to open for in-person classes in the fall but will follow state and federal guidelines as the time approaches. In the meantime, the coronavirus pandemic could change how university admissions operates in the long-term as well.

“Certainly as we transition to online and remote [experiences], our faculty and students have learned new technology and ways to communicate,” Hatchett said. “But nothing beats an in-person experience and that’s what built CNU.”

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