Stanford goes virtual to encourage admitted undergraduate students to enroll

With the traditional Admit Weekend festivities canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Undergraduate Admission has gone virtual in its efforts to show admitted students that Stanford is the right place to pursue their higher education aspirations.

For the past five weeks, staff members in Undergraduate Admission, in collaboration with departments throughout campus, have been working to transition Stanford’s annual Admit Weekend from an in-person to a virtual event.

Thanks to the help of offices throughout campus, the Office of Undergraduate Admission has recreated the personal experiences of the past, albeit via robust webpages filled with student stories and interactive virtual gatherings held both before and after Saturday’s festivities. (Image credit: Courtesy Undergraduate Admission)

Virtual Admit Weekend, which will be held Saturday, April 25, is yet another example of a shift in plans caused by the coronavirus shutdown. The jam-packed and exuberant weekend has traditionally been the time when prospective undergraduates, many of whom are still weighting multiple college offers, try Stanford on for size in person in time to make a decision by the May 1 deadline.

Last year’s Admit Weekend, for instance, included open houses, picnics, concerts, classes with faculty members, panel discussions with current students and tours of memorable campus spaces. Many participants spent the night in dorms, experiencing residential life first hand.

“The deep value of Stanford’s Admit Weekend has always been the personal contact – the chance to look into a person’s eyes and realize that you are coming into a community where you will feel like you belong,” said Karen Ransom, assistant dean for marketing events and yield in the Office of Undergraduate Admission.

COVID-19, however, left Ransom and her staff wresting with a vexing question. As she put it, “How do you celebrate without a cake?”

Capturing wonder and curiosity

As a Stanford alumna, Ransom understands the importance that Admit Weekend has held for prospective students. So far, nearly 1,100 have signed up to attend this year – a number commensurate with years past.

“I remember coming here and wondering if they had made a mistake in admitting me,” she said. “Admit Weekend is the time when we get to encourage them to accept our invitation. It’s a decision that sometimes gets made because of an expression on a face or the feeling in a moment.”

Thanks to the help of offices throughout campus, Ransom is optimistic that she and her team have recreated the personal experiences of the past, albeit via robust webpages filled with student stories and interactive virtual gatherings held both before and after Saturday’s festivities. They are confident they have captured what she calls the “wonder and curiosity” of the Stanford experience while creating a “visceral” connection with the prospective Class of 2024.

On the agenda for Saturday, for instance, are virtual welcomes from current students and from Richard Shaw, dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid. The president and provost will talk to prospective students via a live-stream conversation, followed by panel discussions featuring students, as well as student affairs, advising, financial aid and community center professionals. Participants will also get a chance to take a virtual, 360-degree tour.

Enhanced yield efforts

Enhanced yield efforts – which are programs designed to encourage accepted students to enroll – began as soon as acceptances were sent. In fact, virtually all colleges and universities, confronted with the uncertainties created by COVID-19, have made similar enhancements.

All Stanford undergraduate admitted students, for instance, have been called by both alumni and current students eager to share their experiences on the Farm. Each acceptance included a personal communication from admissions officers containing specific references to the attributes that merited their Stanford admission. Before Saturday, each prospective student also received the type of welcome package – filled with Stanford swag – that they would have received at an in-person Admit Weekend.

Before and following Admit Weekend, Ransom said individual departments throughout campus have offered online programs that convey the inclusiveness of the many communities at Stanford. She hopes that prospective students who participate in what she called a “massive campus cooperative effort” will feel like they belong at Stanford.

“We have been able to bend old ways into new ways,” Ransom said. But what Stanford – as well as other colleges and universities – can’t answer is the understandable questions prospective students and their families have about plans for the fall. In recognition of those uncertainties, Ransom said the Admission Office has worked to infuse all interactions with what she called “kindness and understanding.”

Exciting day

Despite the uncertainties, Ransom said she and her staff are optimistic about the type of virtual experience prospective students will have when they visit online on Saturday.

“Everything we have planned conveys the academic might inherent in the Stanford experience, as well as the irreverence that characterizes student life and the playfulness of Stanford students,” Ransom said. “Although we can’t offer a tangible experience of the Farm this year, we have curated a full series of new and reimagined programs that will engage hearts and minds.”