The spring semester is a busy time for high school seniors. The weeks leading up to National Decision Day on May 1 can be stressful, as many students agonize over making the decision of where to attend college. For this reason, many schools offer admitted student days to give students a better sense of what their next four years could hold.
But due to safety concerns regarding COVID-19, the University’s beloved admitted students program, WesFest, will not be held in person this year.
“With everyone’s safety as our top priority, including current and newly admitted students and their families, Wesleyan has decided to re-imagine our traditional WesFest admitted student program,” Senior Assistant Dean of Admission Ashley Lawrie wrote in the class of 2024 Facebook group on March 9, an announcement that preceded the University’s decision to transition remote learning on March 12.
While these circumstances have made the decision-making process considerably more difficult for the 2,531 students admitted to the class of 2024, the University’s cancellation of admitted students days is not unique; almost every university has cancelled their admitted students’ days due to COVID-19. As a result, high school seniors across the country must rely on different universities’ online resources to help determine where they will attend college.
The Office of Admission and WesFest team—composed of Assistant Director of Admission Events Jordan Nyberg, SOC (Student of Color) Fly-In Coordinator Sonia Vega, and student interns—have been working hard to offer as much as they can online. Throughout the next few weeks, the WesFest team has organized a variety of online webinars, panels, and info sessions for admitted students. Through these online resources, ranging from sessions on study abroad to a SOC student panel, the WesFest team is hoping to be able to provide the same information that they would have in prior years.
Additionally, pre-recorded classes are currently available online for prospective students to browse. Nyberg is working with professors to try to give admitted students the opportunity to drop into synchronous classes on Zoom.
Though some aspects of campus life at the University can be conveyed virtually with some degree of ease, the student activities fair at WesFest proved too difficult to reimagine on an online platform.
“We were trying to figure out how a student activities fair could happen,” WesFest intern Rachel Klein ’20 explained. “But we figured you can’t really have Zoom with 50 club leaders at once.”
While WesFest will be different from those of years past, there are benefits to the new format for accepted students.
“We have the entire month of April to try to get admitted students access to opportunities to help them ‘Say Yes to Wes,’” Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Amin Gonzalez said. “We’re not confined to the three days of WesFest anymore. We have the full range of the month.”
Nyberg echoed similar sentiments.
“It’s one of the great things that’s come out of this,” Nyberg said. “We’re not bound by those three days of WesFest like we were, and you know trying to cram 200 or so events into the course of three days. Now we can take our time, we can do it right, and we can offer these classes and panels throughout the whole month when students have time.”
Nyberg also emphasized that all sessions offered online will be recorded so that students who can’t make them will have a chance to watch at a later time.
“You know, they may not be free to take this particular session at 2 o’clock but if we offer it a couple of times, or offer a recording later, they can go back,” Nyberg explained. “When they’re really thinking about ‘where do I wanna go’ and getting ready to make their decision, they can take their time.”
Another benefit is that an online experience is more accessible. In the past, many admitted students were unable to attend WesFest for a host of reasons: transportation costs, school or work obligations, and more.
“But what’s interesting about this new reality is that there were many admitted students in the past who didn’t make it to WesFest, so now because everything is online, we might actually have wider reach and be more accessible to students who otherwise wouldn’t get campus,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez acknowledges that there will be aspects of WesFest that that may be entirely lost in the transition to a virtual platform.
“What’s going to be missing, of course, is that emotional attachment that students can form when they get to campus and find new friends and exciting opportunities,” Gonzalez remarked. “That energy is very difficult to replicate, but all the information and virtual opportunities to connect we are providing will be helpful with the decision making process.”
Klein had similar thoughts.
“You get a specific feel for a school when you visit, and it’s very hard to get that same feel over the internet,” Klein said. “Especially, you want to talk to students. You want to talk to people who are there.”
However, prospective students will still have the opportunity to speak to current students and get a sense of the University through their eyes. With no in-person tours to give, many tour guides have been reaching out to admitted students to share their experiences at Wes and answer any questions students may have.
“One of my favorite parts of work at the Office of Admission is talking to people who came in and having random conversations and talking about why I like Wes, their high school experiences, and what they’re looking for in a college and all that stuff, and I really miss that,” said Ori Cantwell ’22, who who manages overnight hosting, works as a tour guide, and answers phones for the office. “So having the opportunity to sort of do that right now has been really nice, and it’s nice to just talk to a person.”
Cantwell pointed out that prospective students have been very appreciative of this outreach.
“When I call, people are normally like, ‘Oh my gosh no other school has done this yet, I haven’t gotten a call from them,’ and they’re just really sweet and excited to talk to someone.’” Cantwell explained.
Cantwell also emphasized how in this time of self-isolation, a phone call can go a long way.
“I feel like because right now we’re in this time where they’re experiencing online and everything feels even more robotic and anonymous and there’s not that human component they normally get that through a college visit,” Cantwell said. “So being able to have that personal phone call experience, I think, has just made students happier about the fact that they have to make this decision in the middle of a global pandemic.”
While tour guide outreach is beneficial, Nyberg also hopes students will continue to be active on social media to help the class of 2024 make their decision.
“I think engaging on social media is going to be one of our biggest things this year, Instagram and also the Facebook 2024 page,” Nyberg said. “Getting current students, or even [Early Decision] students who are already committed, getting them on there and talking and saying why they’re so excited and what they love about Wesleyan and trying to get the others who haven’t made that decision yet excited as well.”
Hannah Docter-Loeb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.