The closure of colleges and universities across the nation in response to the coronavirus pandemic has left prospective high school seniors currently making their college decisions while unable to visit campuses.
Many colleges and universities, including Lehigh, have begun utilizing an online platform, Wisr, in order to deliver information to accepted students. According to Wisr’s website, its goal is to provide tools for building programs for students, alumni, staff and faculty so resources can be offered to all affiliated parties.
“We are currently implementing a robust new admitted student community that will allow admitted students to engage directly with current students, faculty and staff through discussion boards on topics specific to academic and student life interests, and live panels about colleges and student groups,” said Lori Friedman, Lehigh’s director of media relations, in an email. “Faculty and current students can access the site and connect to admitted students.”
Bruce Bunnick, director of Admissions at Lehigh, said the introduction of Wisr has been helpful in providing content to students.
Lehigh’s Wisr is now being referred to as “The Lehigh admitted student community,” and has been relatively successful in attracting students to the site.
“Now that we are in this new period with COVID-19, the Wisr community allows not only admissions officers, but also faculty and staff members from different offices on the campus and current undergraduates to be ambassadors in these virtual spaces, so that we can monitor conversations, post videos and have many other online interactions with the students that have been accepted,” Bunnick said.
Bunnick said Admissions invited all accepted students to “The Lehigh admitted student community.” He said students from coast to coast, as well as international students, are joining the community — and that word is spreading well.
Members of Lehigh’s community, including current tour guides, have been invited to take an active role on site and serve as “ambassadors,” providing virtual tours, participating in forums to answer questions and making videos about themselves, Bunnick said.
Julia Patridge, ‘22, is a tour guide on campus. She said the spring is the busiest time for the admissions office, and tour guides are still talking to students virtually.
“Some tour guides are making videos to showcase what they are involved in and give accepted students a way to connect with us,” Patridge said.
Although Wisr has been an effective tool in providing students information about different colleges and universities, challenges to the operation still remain.
Bunnick said there will be difficulties across all college admissions operations in the United States in terms of attracting students to campuses.
“Not having that good face-to-face interaction during the month of April is going to be a challenge,” Bunnick said.
Mallory Fitzhenry, a high school senior at Freehold Township High School in New Jersey, said she is dealing with the realities of college closures while deciding which college she wants to attend.
Fitzhenry is choosing between Lehigh University, Boston College, Quinnipiac University and Saint Joseph’s University, and said she continues to make the best of the situation by utilizing the tools that colleges have provided for incoming students.
“Due to our current situation with the coronavirus, every single one of my choices has canceled tours, admitted students days, and closed their campuses completely,” Fitzhenry said. “It’s upsetting and unnerving that I have to make a choice, while unable to ‘feel’ what it is like to be on a college campus.”
Fitzhenry said many colleges have been transparent throughout the coronavirus pandemic, so communication has not been a problem. She said schools have begun to stream events online for admitted students.
She said it’s an odd feeling to Zoom with the president of a university, but that it shows how many schools are committed to their accepted students.
To deal with these new realities, some institutions have even extended commitment deadlines to June 1, something Lehigh University will not be doing, Bunnick said.
He said they are likely going to use their waiting list more than usual to fill spaces that might otherwise go unfilled.
“Even though there is a lot of talk on different social media platforms in college admissions spaces and from high school guidance counselors to extend to June 1, we feel like that just adds more confusion for students,” Bunnick said. “We are going to hold it on May 1, but we are going to be very nimble if it gets close to that date and students need more time to make a decision.”