Admissions goes virtual to host incoming students

The pandemic has forced many at Iowa State to do their jobs a little differently, and the admissions office is no different. With prospective students unable to step foot onto campus, admissions is going virtual to host visits.

Virtual visits for prospective, admitted and transfer students have begun to allow them to learn more about the university, answer their questions answered and connect with representatives from their chosen academic field.

"We wanted to provide as much of an experience as we can," admissions assistant director for campus visits Kristin Chapman said. "Obviously, nothing beats being on Iowa State's campus and meeting all the wonderful people here, but we are doing the best we can to deliver that Iowa State feel to them."

The visit

Virtual visits occur every Monday and Wednesday for admitted and prospective students, with transfer student sessions on Fridays.

Each session begins with an admissions presentation, depending on the audience, followed by a panel of students who work in the admissions office. The virtual visitors can ask panelists questions through the Webex chat, with all full-time staff and students working from home.

The second hour offers virtual visits with representatives of an academic area of interest. The final hour is set aside for discussion with auxiliary partners like financial aid, study abroad or department of residence representatives. Visitors can decide how many sessions they wish to attend.

Dividing students into three groups -- prospective, admitted and transfer -- allows admissions to tailor the experience from those ready to come to campus with an academic plan to those still undecided on a major.

Each session requires four admissions staff. One presents, another hosts the panel, and two monitor and answer chat questions. 

"The early response has been positive, and people have been really appreciative," Chapman said. "It depends on the day, but we are having guests join for all of our visits."

From April 8-27, 507 students and 904 total guests -- students and guests -- attended the virtual visit programs. Currently, 103 students have registered for sessions through the end of May, with that number continuing to grow.

Quick turnaround

Not only did admissions have to put a virtual visit program together from scratch, but it needed to learn the software to successfully run the sessions. It was a process designed and implemented in the span of about three weeks that touched nearly every unit within admissions.

Students were contacted primarily through email about the visits, and admissions has worked with colleges and departments to have people available to answer visitor questions.

"It really has been a university effort, and the colleges and other units have been amazing partners," Chapman said. "They provide great sessions and customer service, and the Iowa State way is still permeating through this experience."

Students are able to give feedback after their visits to aid admissions as it continues to adjust the process.

"Every day it is evolving, and we are learning more," Chapman said. 

Making connections

The pandemic may force people to remain socially distant, but admissions is still finding ways to engage future Cyclones. 

The Cyclones Connect events allow incoming students to talk with other future students through a virtual chat held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Three to five students join in a virtual office with a current student or admissions counselor for a 30-minute chat session on topics of their choice. Students can choose to talk to others within their college or chat with a cross-section of future Cyclones.

Admissions also piloted a Cyclone Parents Connect event for families of incoming students to ask questions and get information from a panel of parents of current students. With the popularity of the first event, more are being considered.