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Area colleges adjust recruitment plans during pandemic | Local News

Colleges have been forced to change their recruiting plans on the fly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

More communication is being done remotely as plans were developed by schools to get their messages out to potential students.

Similar plans continue, while others are introduced as colleges continue the recruitment process.

Washington & Jefferson College recently began personalized virtual Augmented Reality (AR) tours, called Uncommon Tours, for prospective students and families.

“We decided that we really wanted to reach as many students as possible,” said Nicole Focareto, vice president for enrollment. “One of our concerns throughout the pandemic is that students who are a little farther away from W&J may not be visiting at the rate they normally had been. This Augmented Reality tour gives students an opportunity to visit and see the campus through the eyes of one of our student tour guides. It really allows students to keep W&J on their list of college choices.”

Student ambassadors are equipped with Microsoft HoloLens 2 headsets, which allow them to lead an interactive tour. Video is transmitted via the headset and the tour guide can talk to the student.

Sophomore Jordyn White, one of the student ambassadors, has found the tours to be quite popular with students looking at W&J as a possible college selection.

“They love it,” White said. “They love the personal (nature) that comes from this experience. They feel they can see more of the campus. Our Augmented Reality tour offers more locations than just our general tour. They get to explore more of the scenery of the campus.”

White said the AR tour presents an opportunity for a family who may not be able to afford to travel to the campus to see what W&J has to offer.

“A lot of students may miss out on an institution because they may not have the means to go and get that real in-person experience,” she said. “The fact we’re able to offer an in-person experience virtually opens up a whole new gateway to how students can access institutions and make their decision easier when picking a college.”

The potential student selects up to five on-campus locations to explore. Uncommon Tours are available at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and on select Saturdays at 11 a.m. To register, go to, select a date and time and complete the personalized form, or call 724-223-6025.

“It’s really cool that they get to customize their tour experience,” said senior Bella Sholtes, another student ambassador. “We’ve had some out-of-state people and people from out of the country start to utilize it. We’ve gotten some really good feedback. People really like it. Pretty consistently, we have one AR tour every day. I think it’s going to grow in popularity, because it’s starting off with a bang.”

As restrictions continue to be lifted gradually, colleges are trying to bring back more of the on-campus tours.

“Once the pandemic hit and everybody went remote, we were very quick to respond,” said Tracey Sheetz, dean of admissions at California University of Pennsylvania. “We had to learn what we did very fast.”

A number of virtual opportunities were established. The Katura software system was used for virtual open houses. There were Zoom 101 calls available with campus counselors, a virtual family series with monthly topics and interactive self-guided tours of the campus.

“We’ve reached a lot of international students who can’t come to an open house or students from out of state,” Sheetz said. “It was a nice opportunity for a student to attend a virtual session when a parent can’t drive them here due to a work schedule. We were able to tap into a new market.”

The college also set up drive-through tours, which remain available upon request. A counselor is on campus in a car, while parents and students are in another vehicle following them for a tour while there is a phone connection between someone in each of the vehicles.

“People are really looking into the on-campus experience,” Sheetz said. “We’re not going to say we’re done with virtual options. Even when the pandemic is over, we will still offer these virtual-type opportunities.”

The campus recently hosted an open house that Sheetz said was so large it had to be split into two locations.

Dr. Shari Payne, vice president for enrollment at Waynesburg University, said the campus had to shift its strategies a number of times since the outset of the pandemic.

“When we first got shut down, everyone shifted to remote work and our admissions staff was no different,” Payne said. “We started doing virtual appointments, telephone appointments, appointments through (Microsoft) Teams or Zoom, if people preferred. We had Facebook chats with people, whatever we could do to have a conversation with prospective students and their families.”

Waynesburg also offers virtual tours, which are quite easy to access on the university’s website. They even feature a greeting from Waynesburg President Douglas Lee.

“It’s helpful for students who live far away, but want to speak with someone, want to meet with someone face to face virtually,” Payne said. “We’re going to keep it in place. That won’t ever go away. It is helpful for people who come from far, far away or can’t afford transportation.”

As time has gone on, more on-campus events have been taking place at Waynesburg.

The college did spread out the open house experience in the spring from one event that typically is attended by 500-600 people to three Saturdays, with 150 people at each session.

As more restrictions decreased, the campus started to normalize some of its operations.

An open house recruitment event was held in October, Waynesburg’s first in nearly two years. About 200 people took part, while adhering to health and safety precautions.

Also, counselors are able to attend in-house recruitment events.

“We were grateful to have that opportunity this year,” Payne said. “It was a transition for sure, but the team worked really hard to adapt and adjust to the changing situation.”

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