Undergraduate admissions faces new challenges amid COVID-19

In accordance with social distancing guidelines, Baylor has had to adjust its recruiting and admissions resources around the world. Brittney Matthews | Multimedia Editor

By Lucy Ruscitto | Staff Writer

COVID-19 pandemic has touched down all areas of Baylor’s campus, altering the ways and methods of departments. The department every student at Baylor has at some point interacted with, Undergraduate Admissions, is no exception.

Baylor President Linda Livingstone sent an email announcement Tuesday to all Baylor faculty and staff, explaining the budget cuts the university was making due to COVID-19 challenges. In the announcement, Livingstone additionally addressed the concern of recruitment of future Baylor Bears.

“It’s imperative that we do everything we can to encourage and enable both returning and prospective students to enroll at Baylor for the summer and fall semesters, as tuition remains our top source of revenue,” Livingstone said.

Jessica King Gereghty, assistant vice president for admissions and enrollment management at Baylor, said her team has been working to accommodate and adjust new students into the phase of acceptance.

“We had to cancel over 125 different events nationwide when we all went on shelter-in-place and lockdown,” Gereghty said. “We’ve just been able to be judicious stewards as we always are, and redeploy the dollars that we would have been using to recruit students in person into virtual recruitment instead.”

One of these “virtual recruitment” tools Gereghty mentioned was the “Why Baylor” webpage, an interactive site for recently accepted students to explore their options for the upcoming year.

Included on the site is also 100 “selfie videos” from the Baylor Family, congratulating and informing the students about what it’s like to be a Bear, videos ranging from “Men’s Basketball and Baylor’s 175 Birthday” to “Learn How to Sic ‘Em.”

Incoming Convoy, Ohio, freshman Morgan Dowler is an incoming member of the class of 2024. She said that she found the “Why Baylor” page extremely useful.

“As a senior in high school, COVID-19 has changed a lot of the plans I had for the upcoming months, but Baylor has been super accommodating to help me experience the university virtually online before I move [in] this fall. The ‘Why Baylor’ program has allowed me to learn and fall more in love with everything that is offered,” Dowler said. “The videos online truly capture the authenticity of the unapologetic Christian and family-like traditions… that I experienced during my on-campus tours. I’m so excited to be a bear this fall and would definitely recommend students explore the videos to find out why Baylor stands out.”

Gereghty and her team also developed a scholarship on the “Why Baylor” page to motivate students to visit the website and learn more about the university.

“With that website launch two weeks ago on a Friday, we did an opportunity for incoming … accepted seniors to apply for a scholarship for visiting the website instead of visiting campus,” Gereghty said.

More than 1500 accepted students visited the webpage and filled out the scholarship questionnaire.

“If we think about it in terms of our freshman class goal, it has about 40% of our class that engaged with us through that website,” Gereghty said. “It’s a great indication of students’ interests still at Baylor.”

In terms of previous years’ engagement with in-person visits and communications, Gereghty said she thinks the numbers for this year is in some ways higher, due to the accessibility of information and ease of availability.

“They didn’t have to pay all the costs to come visit us from around the U.S.,” Gereghty said. “I can’t say exactly more or less, but high, high for the way the world’s been changing these last few weeks. We’re engaging with them daily, in personal one-on-one conversations, in virtual visits, and then for some … mailing ideas that we’re pumping out as fast as we can.”

Despite the overwhelmingly positive reactions of domestic students, Gereghty said she and her department worry more about those students that are from out of the U.S.

“Our sweet and amazing international students are definitely not getting as much face to face time as we wish we could be getting them,” Gereghty said. “We had four recruitment trips planned to China this spring alone, and we only got our first one executed before we weren’t allowed to go back.”

Despite the challenges of travel bans and distance, Gereghty said her team is still able to do things for them, like sending Baylor hoodies to all accepted international students and communicate via phone calls with their parents.

“We actually work through the night to have face to face Skype with out students in different time zones around the world,” Gereghty said.

Many international students additionally were not able to test for the ACT and SAT in order to determine their merit scholarship amounts. Gereghty said though that the undergraduate admissions department had regional relief scholarships to assist with that, if international students went “test optional.”

“We know that that is the government doesn’t go out and get visas in time because of the shutdown of immigration officers, then we’re going to have to offer them an ongoing option for the fall,” Gereghty said. “We’ve worked closest with the Provost’s Office and the College of Arts and Sciences to develop a school curriculum for all incoming freshmen that would be International, to make sure that they can actually enroll regardless of what happens with international immigration.”

Gereghty said the department of undergraduate admissions has been through the financial and external situations of COVID-19 with their international students, and is working to help domestic students as well.

Although the cutoff for US students to retest for the ACT or SAT was May 1, students testing in both March and April lost their opportunity to try taking the exams again to gain more scholarship funds.

“We’re willing to reconsider anyone’s family finances or special circumstances. We’ll still individually review students’ finances based on any economic hardship,” Gereghty said.

Additionally, accommodations such as the extension of the deposit deadline and housing application to June 1 for the incoming class of 2024 have been made.

“We anticipate [accepted seniors are] excited to come in the fall and we are praying for all of them… and working diligently, probably actually much harder than we were even without travel, and see them to face to face to make sure that we still provide them with the highest level of service and care and attention,” Gereghty said.