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Office of Admission suspends campus visits, offers virtual programming as alternative

Sophie Smith


In response to COVID-19-related cancellations, Willamette’s Office of Admission is changing its operations. This is in an effort to offer virtual alternatives to campus visits for prospective students, to support student employees and to mitigate potential enrollment decreases in the wake of the outbreak.

In accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, Willamette’s Office of Admission has suspended its campus visit programming until at least May 15. The office has postponed all admission events for the semester, including this year’s second and third Bearcat Days events, and has created online visits to allow admitted and prospective students to still interact with members of the Willamette community. 

The Office of Admission began creating virtual visit programming around the time of this semester’s first Bearcat Days, which took place March 12 and 13. The office first set up online information sessions, or presentations that admission counselors host for admitted or prospective students. As of April 1, about 60 visitors had participated in the virtual sessions. 

“Just having had four days of info sessions and having that many visitors engage with us I think is a really good sign,” said Mary Randers, the interim dean of admission. “Even though we aren’t able to offer the in-person visits that we would normally be offering at this time, we’re still engaging with as many students as we can through these virtual visits.”

Mary Randers. Photo courtesy of Willamette.

The office has also started hosting virtual student appointments, which are conversations between students and admission ambassadors, or student employees of the office. Bearcat Days usually allows for prospective students to sit in on classes, so the office has also set up faculty appointments that allow admitted students to engage with professors and current students at the same time. Randers said about 50 faculty members have already volunteered for this type of virtual programming.

The University contracted with a local business to film programs that took place during March’s Bearcat Days, including President Thorsett’s talk at the welcome program and a student ambassador-led campus tour. These videos are still being edited and are not yet available online.

“There is no shortage of work to do in the virtual world,” Randers said, noting that both counselors and ambassadors are staying busy as the office adapts to recent changes. Admission counselors, who normally travel extensively during the spring semester, are participating in virtual college fairs, often with consortiums of other schools. 

Ambassadors have been participating in virtual appointments and panels, as well as contributing to social media pages and conducting research projects for the office. All student employees of the office are able to retain their regular work hours.

“I think the benefit of having a work study job is that you’re a person and you’re a student first. So we tried to be responsive to students actually needing a little bit of space and time to process. But as soon as they’re ready to work, we have really important work for them to do,” Randers said.

The office’s employees are exploring alternative options to the suspended admission events, which may be held in the summer. Randers said one idea is having an event for admitted students that allows them to do some enrolling steps on campus, like participating in advising meetings or discussing financial aid. The $300 travel vouchers awarded to visiting students who live more than 250 miles from campus will apply to any program that might be held in lieu of Bearcat Days. The office is also trying to devise an alternative to the Access to Excellence program, which funds the travel expenses of first-generation college students and students of color who visit campus during Bearcat Days.

Randers noted that these solutions might be challenging for students who were depending on a campus visit in order to make their final college decision. “I really feel for families and students that are trying to make this decision,” Randers said. 

The University is working with students and families to address uncertainties such as pass-fail class credit on a student’s transcript, standardized test scores and changes to financial need based on recent job losses. The University has kept open its application to accommodate students who may be changing their college decisions based on recent events, such as students living in the area who have decided to stay closer to home.

“We are seeing applications still coming in for first-year students. It’s not a lot, it’s a couple applications each day,” Randers said. “So one impact too is maybe some additional applicants that we didn’t expect to have.”

Most years, Willamette generally accommodates students who request extensions of the May 1 enrollment deposit deadline. This year is no different, although the University has not announced a formal deadline extension.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the impact yet of what this will do,” Randers said of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think all of us are trying to be pretty realistic, that it’s likely that this class will not be at the target that we hoped that it would be. And that is completely understandable. But we’re doing everything we can to work with the families that are still considering Willamette and to make them feel comfortable about making that decision.” 

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