How Lafayette enrolled the Class of 2025 in the middle of a pandemic

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As a result of the pandemic, only one tour guide could accompany each family, and prospective students could not enter College buildings. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College)

Nathan Kornfeind

Unable to meet face-to-face for much of the summer, the admissions office at Lafayette adapted their advertising strategies to successfully enroll the Class of 2025 amidst a global pandemic. By revamping tours and using new technologies, the admissions staff provided answers to an all-new set of questions from prospective students.

The effects of the pandemic were perhaps most stark with tours. Tours of the college were suspended from March until September as a result of COVID protocols. When tours started back up in the fall, there was one family per tour guide and families were not allowed to enter buildings on campus. 

Tyler Osipower ’24, who is a tour guide at the college, noted that as a result of the one-family-per-tour policy, he spent much more time showing families around campus. He also faced difficulties showing all that the College has to offer.

“As far as when I visited here [as an incoming student], you got to see all these cool things about campus. You get to walk into Van Wickel Hall and see the geology museum, you get to go and see the Kirby library and things like that. Obviously you didn’t really have that opportunity this semester,” Osipower said.

“It’s very tough to convey the Lafayette spirit without being able to see things and to go into depth. So the real thing that’s going to sell the College at that point is your personal experiences–those stories that you can tell about you and your friends, and things you’ve done here on campus.” 

Nevertheless, Osipower noted that many families valued the opportunity to be on campus. 

“I heard a lot of stories from students who visit similar colleges such as Lehigh, Bucknell, and Villanova that weren’t offering in-person guided tours. And this is something that you really feel proud to be a part of [as a tour guide]–a school that is taking it seriously and doing as much as we can for our prospective students,” he said. 

In addition to virtual tours, the admissions office offered online information sessions. Events like “Experience Lafayette College,” traditionally held on a Sunday in April, were also transferred into multiple online events. While ideally the office would have liked to bring people on campus, they enjoyed the reach granted by virtual events. 

“The successes we found in the virtual offerings mean that the virtual experience will be combined with the in-person experience going forward. We were able to reach people from far afield who would not have visited during a non-pandemic year due to the distance from campus or resources to get to the campus,” Susan Newquist, associate director of admissions for events and campus visitation, said.

Like other colleges across the country, Lafayette opted to make standardized tests optional for the incoming class of 2020-2021 as a result of the pandemic. This has created a unique situation for students, who have created their college lists in different ways, and for the admissions office, as comparatively more students were accepted later in the admissions cycle.  

“Many students chose to apply early decision to extremely selective universities, such as Ivy League schools. Highly selective institutions like Lafayette saw an increase in applications later in the process as those students were not admitted early decision elsewhere,” explained Newquist.

“The interest in Lafayette has remained stable and that is a good sign for us. A sudden explosion in applications can be as difficult to manage as having too few applicants,” she added.

The admissions office likewise received new questions from prospective students and families. While still concerned with “the basics”–research opportunities, housing, campus life at Lafayette–the admissions office saw a dramatic change when asked about the pandemic more broadly, Newquist said.

“They have asked questions concerning how Lafayette has handled COVID-19 and if vaccines will be required.  Just as important and timely are questions about how Lafayette handles issues of race, racial injustice and systemic racism on all levels in our college community,” she noted.

With a larger incoming class expected to compensate for the shortfall caused by the pandemic, the admissions office is proud of their work and the tenacity of the incoming class.

“We are proud to have offered admission to a diverse population of students from across the country and around the globe and feel that the resilience the graduating class of 2021 has shown during this difficult process will be reflected when they come to Lafayette with a different lens than any class previous,” Newquist said.