Educational institutions going virtual for prospective students
April is a big month in the life of a high school senior. It is typically the time of year when they are touring their top college and universities, and signing up for their orientations.
A campus would be brimming with excitement, families decked out in memorabilia, students asking tour guides questions.
But those highly anticipated events are being done differently this year at Florida State University, Tallahassee Community College and Florida A&M University.
The institutions are following the Florida Education System and CDC mandates, getting creative in how they reach out to their prospective students.
When you open TCC's virtual tour website, you are greeted with a student ambassador. She asks the question that is on every senior's mind, "You may be wondering, how can we have campus tours while campus is closed?"
Many, like prospective FSU student Amber Romero, had plans to tour FSU just last week.
Needless to say, she is disappointed.
"I had these expectations, going there, orientation, meeting all these people, and now I have to do it through a screen," she said. "It is just not the same, you know."
The universities and colleges in the capital city share they understand students grievances.
William Hudson, the Vice President of Student Affairs at FAMU shares the goal with virtual tours is not to replace an in person experience, but in the meantime, to get creative until students can see the real thing.
"We want to have students to have the best experience possible and for them to feel comfortable on our campus, I think a visit is necessary," Hudson said. "I think a virtual tour is great. But once you arrive on campus and the feeling you have when you interact with our faculty, staff and students, I think it is immeasurable."
Three years ago, he says he created the virtual tour as an option for their students in other countries to see what the Rattlers had to offer. This year, students can take advantage of the 360 online tour, as well as a spring preview video, which allows students interact virtually with deans, the president and financial aid advisers.
Florida State and TCC are also providing the 360 virtual online tour.
FSU released this statement regarding their new changes:
"We are moving our regular campus tour with student ambassadors to a virtual version, offering a variety of online presentations, and setting up one on one calls with students and/or their family members via Zoom."
FSU also shared that their peak campus visitation times were in mid-February through April and June and July.
As far as registrations, that they had for in person campus tours, they stated the following:
"We had 2,218 prospective students registered, adding their guests we would have seen a total of 8,769 people. We had 878 accepted students registered, adding in their guests we would have seen a total of 3,158 people. Total visitors for both populations: 11,927."
TCC offers not only the virtual tour of their main campus, but a Zoom component, where students can speak to admissions representatives, Monday, Wednesday or Friday at two different times. Their goal was to provide one on one treatment, as well as give opportunity for questions, the same as at an in person tour.
Mark Slik, the Director of Advising and New Student Orientation at TCC, shares, "When you start a journey it is all those nerves and all that anticipation and all those questions. And when someone is reaching out to you, and again it can be over the computer or over the phone, but someone is reaching out and building that relationship with you that allows for that relief to start happening."
This year, FAMU expected a record breaking number of foot traffic in campus tours.
On March 28 alone, they had about 3,000 registered. Online they have seen an increase in numbers.
FSU shares that this month, 7,982 people have accessed their virtual tour online. Last month, they had 9,292 views.
TCC shares that around 30 to 50 students per week have utilized their virtual tours.
"It is really about making a relationship and connecting with people at the orientation and college, and we are here to help them throughout this process," Silk said.
The hope for all institutions is to provide parents and students with ease in their decision making process. Christen Givens, the Director of Admissions and Recruiting with TCC, shares, "This is a very unprecedented time and we want them to feel safe and secure with the decisions they are making but to know that this is very temporary."
Hudson says they will host a virtual orientation for their Summer B session, and will play it by ear for the following semesters.
Courses will also be online for summer semesters. About 65% of their students get fee waivers, and those who do not qualify can have their payments deferred if they are suffering from financial difficulties during this time.
As far as SAT and ACT scores, they have not done anything, and are working closely with the Florida Education System.
Hudson states, "Everyone is concerned with that."
He shares that FAMU is working on it, "We do not want to provide students anymore stress with that."
As far as contingency plans for the future, Hudson says FAMU has brainstormed, "There is always talk about the future."
TCC shares that they do not have application fees, and prospective students can upload all of their documents online.
As far as SAT and ACT testing, they have discussed it, but TCC does not require that testing to be enrolled. Potential students can do a developmental education waiver that says you are college ready, or have TCC go off PERT scores. TCC has provided a way for students to take the PERT test virtually, since students cannot physically take the exam. They are also looking into waiving PERP requirements (since people can't take them at their schools).
As far as what the future holds, Givens expresses, "It is too soon to make that call for us."
Right now their students are taking classes using TCC Live which is different than online classes. They have not made decisions regarding remote learning for Summer 2 or Fall.
"We hope to go back to traditional delivery," states Givens, "We want to go back to being together as soon as possible."