Admissions office adjusts programming during COVID-19

With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, St. Olaf’s admissions office made changes in their approach to recruiting prospective students and giving them a taste of campus. Chris George, dean of admissions and financial aid, provided insight as to what the College’s plans are for the fall semester and coming months. 

George reported during a Zoom call that, “the biggest challenge St. Olaf has faced is adapting to the rapid pace of change that came along with a global pandemic.” Face-to-face contact with prospective and current students is lost at this time, meaning admissions has to try to replicate what they used to do in-person, such as interviews, campus visits and overnight stays for prospective students.

The admissions office has created a new driving tour of campus through an app that provides pre-recorded information at each of its 11 stops. When prospective students and their families arrive on campus, they will retrieve a bag full of items that they will need on the tour, delivered with no contact. This experience allows prospective students to see the campus and learn more about it with minimal risk. 

In addition to a driving tour, the admissions office has plans to create synchronous virtual tours with student tour guides. This will allow a back-and-forth conversation between current and prospective students and is a great opportunity for those that live out-of-state or internationally. 

George emphasized that the admissions office hopes to build community connections, “through virtual campus visits that may happen over a week or two weeks so that students do not have to sit in one Zoom meeting for several hours. 

“Sessions can then focus on specific subjects, such as the music programs, conversation programs, the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, the Center for Academic Advising and Support, and more,” George said.  

In regard to the student population for the class of 2025, George informed us that, “it’s definitely possible that more students from Minnesota may opt to go to school closer to home.” However, this does not mean that out-of-state and international students will lose interest. 

“St. Olaf plans to work with these students to give them options, especially those who may experience travel bans or visa bans,” George said. 

The College also decided to become test-optional with applications. This decision was accelerated by the pandemic, but the College decided that the most important aspect of a prospective student is how they challenged themselves in classes they took in high school, rather than how they scored on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT. 

The College recognizes that students cannot visit campus, so they have made a temporary non-binding early action program for students to find out if they are admitted around January. Depending on the restrictions of COVID-19, perhaps these students will be able to visit in the spring and make a concrete decision. George wrote in an email that, “The changes in place are based on our goal to be student-centered and reduce anxiety in the admissions process.” 

George also stated that any opportunity to engage prospective students with current students is important. This may mean that current students who work in admissions will conduct interviews for a more personal approach. There could also be evening or weekend programs led by students in order to expand time slots for prospective students and their families. 

George reiterated that the admissions office loves to connect with prospective students, but, “also wants to give them the opportunity to speak more with current students on campus so they can have more of a lived experience of the College.”