By Isabel Austin ‘22 (she, her), Staff Writer
Throughout the country, college admissions offices are experiencing the stress of adapting to COVID-19. The pandemic has limited colleges’ capacity to host prospective students on campus, visit high schools, and attend college fairs. High school seniors, many of whom are missing their proms and graduations, are anxious to apply to a college that maintains a sense of accessibility, personal connection, and empathy throughout the admissions process and the pandemic.
Kassidy Liggins ‘25 says that she felt “left behind” by many of the colleges on her list during her college process, and that many admissions offices felt “impersonal.” By contrast, she says that the Davidson Admissions Office has really “stepped up during this time” and made her feel “important and cared for.”
Christopher Gruber, Dean of Admissions, outlined some of the ways Davidson admissions has achieved this sense of personal connection throughout the college application process and adapted to the pandemic while remaining true to the spirit of the school.
One of the ways that the Admissions Office has conformed to COVID-19 is by expanding the number of remote activities offered to prospective students. Dean Gruber mentioned the influence of student engagement on the remote activity offerings. He cited student creativity as enabling the school to offer guided virtual tours and include students in information sessions. Liggins says that she especially appreciated Davidson admission incentives and Access Davidson. Other online resources such as live information sessions, Ask a Wildcat live, and live Q&A sessions have allowed for Davidson admissions to remain true to their goals while still adhering to COVID-19 protocols.
Although Davidson has had to sacrifice much of their in-person outreach, Dean Gruber said that the admissions office has been able to “re-engineer our programming so as to still deliver the desired takeaways that one would have received by being on campus.” Rather than allowing the pandemic to limit outreach, the Davidson admissions office is employing creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to attract new students virtually.
Unfortunately, the commitment to provide a campus-like experience online has forced the Admissions Office to increase their work hours. Due to the fact that much of their job is now remote, the admissions staff have been forced to adapt to a variety of time zones in order to connect with all students equitably. As Dean Gruber mentioned, the new demands of their work have lengthened their days significantly, sometimes resulting in workdays that run from 5 a.m. until midnight. Although grueling, these hours undoubtedly allow the admissions team to avoid the “impersonal” trend that many other admissions offices throughout the country have been susceptible to.
Another challenge that admissions offices around the country are facing is the difficulty of giving students an honest sense of what their freshman year will look like in the midst of COVID-19. Davidson’s Admissions Office has prioritized transparency and honesty when speaking to students about this topic. Although many prospective students are desperate for a guarantee of normalcy, the Admissions Office is “sharing precisely what we are sharing with current students on campus.”
Luckily, as Liggins mentioned, Davidson’s track record of low cases on campus allows for a degree of optimism. She commended Davidson’s frequent testing and contact tracing, and said it’s clear that “safety and responsibility” are qualities that Davidson has maintained throughout the pandemic.
Lastly, the Admissions Office is striving to address the financial impacts of the pandemic. Dean Gruber mentioned that they have worked with many families throughout the pandemic — many of whom are struggling financially — and mentions that they will continue to work with students for years beyond the pandemic as families attempt to recover from the financial strain of COVID-19.
This new emphasis on remote activities, prioritizing transparency and honesty, increasing work hours, adapting to new time zones, and working with a new set of anxieties and stressors has, undoubtedly, paid off. “The Davidson Admissions office has done a wonderful job at adapting to the current circumstances,” said Liggins. Unlike her experience applying to many other schools, she says that the new changes the Admissions Office has made to adapt to COVID-19 have “made her feel welcome.” She said that the Admissions Office’s “kindness and hospitality” have made her feel confident that Davidson will be a home to her for the next four years.
Not only has Davidson admissions managed to foster empathy, accessibility and human connection in the midst of a pandemic, but many of their adaptations may remain long after the pandemic is over. Dean Gruber guarantees “that the remote program offerings will be a mainstay going forward,” and admits that many of these programs could have been beneficial to Davidson admissions pre-COVID-19.
Dean Gruber mentioned that this time for the admissions office is “a time of much greater uncertainty.” The Office’s ability to adjust to the challenges presented by the pandemic has, undoubtedly, been a central part of Davidson’s ability to adapt and flourish despite COVID-19.