Online visits and remote info sessions: admissions transitions to virtual programming

Admissions information sessions and campus tours will continue to be based at the visitor center in Cohen Hall once campus reopens.
Credit: Gianna Ferrarin

As current Penn students and professors struggle with the shift to virtual learning, the admissions team continues to recruit new students, even in an uncertain future for the school and the nation.

Aside from the University-wide switch to remote operations, the last six months have been marked by significant change for the Admissions department. They quickly expanded their virtual programming, prepared to move to a new office space on Market Street, and announced that Dean of Admissions Eric Furda will leave Penn at the end of the year after leading the department for 12 years.

Because the admissions office is independent from academic operations, they have had more flexibility over their programming during the pandemic. The office has worked closely with Kite and Key to develop virtual programming events to encourage admitted and prospective students to engage with Penn online. 

“Although we’re not on the academic schedule, we’re certainly mindful of it. Think about the faculty that you are learning from right now. It’s just that everything that happened over the summer needed to take place in order for that to happen,”  Furda said.

The admissions office decided back in March that their fall programming – like tours and information sessions, as well as traveling to speak at high schools – would be virtual, five months before the University announced that the fall semester would be entirely remote.   

“We probably had an opportunity to be even more proactive because the decisions that we were making were not going to impact 10,000 undergraduates. So, early on, we were able to really say ‘we know we’re not going to be able to travel in the fall,’” Furda said.

In virtual admissions programming, Yale students play starring role

Even as campus remains closed to visitors amid the pandemic, tens of thousands of high school students around the world are getting an inside view of the student experience directly from Yale undergraduates.

Since April, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has been offering daily hour-long virtual information sessions with admissions officers and current students, as well as informal virtual student forums that give participants direct, real-time access to Yale students. 

Given the turmoil of the pandemic, the admissions office initially expected summer registrations for the new virtual events to fall short of the more than 20,000 visitors who attended on-campus events in summer 2019. But the opposite has been true: total registrations were up nearly 40%. 

Virtual events really make our reach global,” said Debra Johns, associate director of admissions, who coordinates the office’s visitor programming. “In a single virtual session in June, we had prospective students participating from 23 different countries.”

The new sessions are offered at various times throughout the week to make attendance convenient irrespective of time zones.

Yale’s undergraduate admissions office has hosted nearly 100 virtual information sessions since April, plus 50 virtual student forums and 50 virtual events with other colleges and universities. The number of people exploring Yale’s popular virtual tour also has increased significantly between April and August — by nearly 300%­.

Before public health considerations ruled out in-person admissions events, the admissions office had never offered virtual events to the public. 

We’ve learned a lot in a very short amount of time,” said Mark Dunn, the office’s director of outreach and communications. “One of the most obvious lessons is that there’s no going back. I expect we will continue to offer virtual events even after campus opens to visitors again.”

The pandemic has also led Yale’s corps of admissions officers