Admissions adapts to pandemic

Wright House, Castleton’s Admissions office. Photo credit Ryan Boeke

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Castleton’s Admissions team still must recruit applicants, make decisions, and encourage enrollment.

But that can be a challenge when all of these things must also be done virtually.

Dean of Enrollment Maurice Ouimet is in his 19th year of Admissions at Castleton, and had been doing it years prior at other schools. He’s had plenty of experience with recruitment.

“This is a first,” he said.

He went on to describe some of the many changes that have taken place in Admissions since the onset of the pandemic. Joe Zeitler, assistant director of Admissions, was also quick to point out how different his work setting is compared to previous years.

“Typically, I would be in my rental car right now, or in a hotel room. I’m typically on the road for about two-and-a-half months in the fall,” Zeitler said.

Both Zeitler and his colleague, Brandon Kennedy, would be traveling throughout most of the fall, driving from school to school to attend college fairs across New England.

“We went from traveling 10 weeks in the fall, you know, being gone Sunday through Friday, to being in the office and doing all of our recruitment virtually, and so that is certainly a drastic change,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy is the associate director of Admissions, in his seventh “recruitment cycle,” as they call it. He remembers this spring, when the pandemic shut everything down.

“It seems like the changes took place overnight,” he said, “Things just, you know, it was kind of like a flick of a light switch. Things happened really quickly.”

In order to keep families and Castleton’s campus safe, and in adherence to Vermont’s guidelines, only families living in green counties—counties with less than 400 active cases per million—are permitted to visit for in-person tours. The admissions team provides families registered for tours with weekly email updates leading up to their tour, informing them of their county’s status.

Another change is the size of the tours.

“We’re only doing one family at a time, so it’s not big groups of tours. So far, it’s been pretty fun,” said student tour guide Adam Murray.

Zeitler agreed.

“It’s actually been somewhat rewarding because we’ve had a handful of families actually say, ‘Thank you so much that it’s just us,’” Zeitler said.

He went on to explain that families are not only worried about exposure to other groups, but also appreciate the more individualized approach that comes from a single-family tour.

“It’s allowed us for our tour guides to really focus in on that particular family, a particular student, on their academic interests,” Zeitler said.

Kennedy also spoke positively of tours this semester.

“Every review we’ve heard from our families that have come and visited, they’ve had a great time on tour, so I’m happy with how the tours are going,” he said.

Unfortunately, not all families can visit campus. But Admissions is offering virtual tours as well, along with virtual admissions counseling and information sessions.

Zeitler also said going virtual has given Castleton the chance to reach out to schools that are farther away.

“We’re able to kind of expand that horizon, where we don’t have to literally, physically be there,” he said.

Ouimet agreed.

“The technology has really opened the doors for so many students,” he said.

He’s making the most of virtual recruitment, and he believes it’s been a great success so far.

“I think one thing that we’ve done really, really well at Castleton, and certainly other schools have done it too, is although we’ve been forced into this virtual format, we can still be real with people and we can still be genuine,” said Ouimet, adding that “when people see that you’re human and people see that you’re real, it really resonates with them.”

When asked about enrollment this semester, Ouimet said it’s down 12%.

But he pointed out that many students have deferred their admission or taken a leave of absence.

“Twelve percent sounds a lot, but it translates into, you know, a couple hundred students, and we know exactly where they’re at. They’re still Castleton students,” he said.

Zeitler also has a positive outlook, and said going virtual may have even helped Admissions improve.

“That’s one of the most rewarding things to my job, is getting to know students, getting to know the families,” Zeitler said, “Thankfully, as weird as this may sound, thankfully with this whole pandemic, we haven’t lost that. If anything, we’ve gained more of that individual experience.”

Zeitler sees a lot of importance in building a connection with students, and he hasn’t let the pandemic change that.

“The term I’ve always coined with families and students is that communication is key. And I think we’re, to be frank with you, I think we’re freakin’ nailing it,” he said.

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