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College Admissions Staff Say Hybrid Approach Has Made The Process More Intimate

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Part of a virtual tour by Duquesne University.

Colleges admissions offices in Pittsburgh say they had to make plans on the fly to keep students applying during the pandemic. More than a year later, admissions staff have a better idea of how to blend this new virtual approach with their traditional in-person events.

Tours are back now at many campuses, but they’re smaller, masked and don’t go through the same areas as before to avoid crowds.

Duquesne University student ambassador Elizabeth Hartung said it was important for the college to offer in-person tours, since virtual platforms limit communication with students.

Whenever they either can't even go to campus, there's no tour option, it's really, really hard to commit to the next four years of your life without knowing anything about the campus,Hartung said.

Ironically, some students find it easier to communicate online, according to Duquesne admissions officer Anthony Cappa.

“We've seen huge engagement on virtual chats from students who may not feel as confident speaking to us when they're on campus,” Cappa said.

It was critical for colleges to keep admissions going, since fewer students enrolled in higher education in general. A February 2021 study from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that spring undergraduate enrollment was down 4.5%.

The biggest benefit colleges say they saw from online programming was the ability to be more personal and specific.

Carlow University admissions officer Melanie Gaebel said they were able to dive deeper into their school’s offerings, like their biology major with a master’s in cardiac perfusion technology. That degree prepares students for operating room jobs working with heart and lung machines. Gaebel said this wasn’t always possible before the pandemic since the busy format of college fairs didn’t give admissions staff a lot of time to delve into specifics.

So we would go over the different majors that we have to offer and really ask the students, you know, 'what are you thinking? What do you enjoy studying in high school? Let's kind of find what might be a good fit for you,'" Gaebel said.

While private institutions like Carlow and Duquesne say they’ve had some success recruiting students despite the pandemic, community colleges have always had a different approach. They focus on enrolling as many students as possible as opposed to weeding them out with the admission process.

Community College of Allegheny County vice president for enrollment management Brian Sajko said CCAC saw more transfer students this year. He said this rise might be because many students are second-guessing the value of spending more money to experience the culture at private universities when many classes and experiences are online.

“In some weird way, I think COVID has accelerated that value mindset because people have now had a year in which they kind of missed being with people, but they’re also thinking ‘Is it worth paying fifteen thousand dollars more a year just to be opposite people? Are there other ways I can do this?’”

The deadline for many students to pick a college for the fall is Sat. May 1.