Right now, in a normal spring, students across the country would be making final decisions about where to attend college in the fall. Admitted Student Days, which often include in-person visits, are a big part of making the choice—they provide opportunities to get a taste of what life would be like at a given university.
“Many people make their decisions based on their on-campus experiences,” said Molly Swagler, executive director of enrollment outreach and assistant vice provost for enrollment at the University of Pittsburgh. “That’s why it’s so important to find an alternative during this time.”
For admissions teams and prospective students alike, National Decision Day on May 1 looms large.
This year, COVID-19 threw a wrench in things. Since in-person events are canceled, admissions officers are taking to social media and Zoom to engage with admitted students. And at Pitt, the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid (OAFA) is getting even more creative.
Using amenities at Pitt Studios, OAFA created a welcome video in the form of a newscast. That was just the beginning: More branching video content allowed admitted students to explore different schools, get to know the deans, learn about the Honors College and interact with current students and Pathfinders. The series is a high production value, choose-your-own-adventure, said Swagler.
More than 3,200 people registered to participate in the first-ever Virtual Admitted Student Day on Friday, March 27—the largest day of its kind in Pitt’s history. “Our campus couldn’t have accommodated that many admitted students and their families at once,” noted Swagler.
Admitted students had their questions answered throughout the day on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook Live. Students could even set up individual appointments with a financial aid counselor or ask questions via text message.
“We have a great problem-solving culture, and we wanted to find a way to bring a little sunshine to folks,” said Swagler. “To give them a slice of life at Pitt and Pittsburgh from the comfort of their own homes.”
“We think we’re one of the first in the country to do this,” said Marc Harding, vice provost for enrollment at Pitt. “Being able to engage helps students and families reduce stress.”
Among the hundreds of students who committed to Pitt during the weekend after the virtual program, several did so sight-unseen, having never been to the Pittsburgh campus before.
Before coronavirus put restrictions on travel, Kelly Wolff’s family had planned to make the trip from Illinois for Admitted Student Day to see the School of Nursing. “We were all going to go together, so that was disappointing, but my family hooked it up to the TV” and watched the videos all together, to make an event of it, she said. “It was exciting.”
Wolff appreciated the Facebook Live features. “I really liked the student vlogs for everyday life. I’ve never been to Pennsylvania at all, so it felt like I was on a tour.”
“I’ve never lived in a city before, but the virtual day went over that kind of feel,” said Bin Kim, a prospective mathematics major from Virginia. “Seeing the students, seeing them talk about Pitt and all the research opportunities there, definitely intrigued me.”
“I had basically decided on Pitt before, but the Virtual Admitted Student Day solidified things for me,” said Teaghan Treherne, a hopeful ecology and evolution major from Pennsylvania. “In particular the ecology lab video and some of the videos more specific to my major were great.
“It was a little harder to navigate this whole process without being able to visit, but overall the resources out there made it more helpful,” said Treherne, a first-generation student, who added that “it really helped my mom to understand the process.”
“I talked to some students afterward, and they were supportive. It gave me a sense of the community,” said Kush Batra of New Jersey, who’s entering the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences on a pre-med track. “I watched it on my own and told my parents the pros and cons of each school and we decided together.”
“I applied to 11 schools and none of them offered anything like this,” said Gianna Benni, a prospective communication science and disorders major from Connecticut.
Overall, students were curious to see more of the housing and dining options. They also thought having something for parents would be appreciated. OAFA is collecting feedback from participants to enhance future virtual programs.
Prospective students who are still considering Pitt can visit OAFA's website to tour the campus virtually and learn more to make their final decision before May 1.