In the time before, the Office of Admission used a wide variety of tools to help prospective students discover Wellesley: Fall Open Campus, Spring Open Campus, tours, travel by staff to college fairs, high schools, and other organizations, and alumnae interviews, plus some online options. Then, of course, everything changed last spring.
All in-person recruiting efforts were suddenly suspended. “We had under two weeks to pivot and come up with other solutions that would not involve an in-person visit to campus,” says Jessica Ricker, director of admission. Because the campus closed just before admission decisions were sent out, admitted students had to determine whether to choose Wellesley without any further interaction with the campus itself. Many of those admitted had not yet visited the College, and the uncertainty of the situation made decisions even more difficult than usual.
“It became a rocky experience,” says Jocelyn Rodriguez ’24. Although a brief campus visit during her junior year in high school prompted her to apply early, she was less certain when the time came to commit to Wellesley. “I had no idea what would change, and I even briefly thought about taking a gap year,” she says.
An online tool called Wisr came to the rescue. “It’s like your own Facebook tool where you can have events [and] individual student messenger chats,” Ricker says. “We could get people across campus—enrolled students, faculty, athletic coaches, people from student and residential life—all involved in trying to transcend the devices to share the spirit of the Wellesley community.” The office scrambled to build out the platform for the incoming class in just nine days. “We usually have very high enrollment after Spring Open Campus, and we replaced it with Wisr,” Ricker says. “We made our class and even had room for some melt, so I’d say it was pretty effective.”
Rodriguez agrees. She not only followed the office’s Instagram, but also the newly formed Wisr community and a group chat for her year. “That really helped me with sticking with my decision to start this fall despite the changes,” she says.
Next up was recruiting the class of ’25. “We try to be strategic about the programs that we’ve engaged in so that our reach is as potent as possible,” says Joy St. John, dean of admission and financial aid. “We want to invest in things where we’re going to actually engage with sizable numbers of students.” The admission staff built out a Wisr platform for prospective students and have collaborated with peer institutions on virtual college fairs. They have also offered live and recorded webinars on the College website, covering everything from financial aid to student life. Students can also get a sense of the physical Wellesley through an upgraded online tour that features 360-degree views of campus.
“One piece of feedback we received that has been incredibly helpful was how much students valued student-to-student interaction, so we made sure that both in our Wisr communities and in the other opportunities we’re offering that we have that option,” Ricker says. “It doesn’t exactly replace that late-night talk in Lulu … but it’s the closest we can provide for that authentic interaction and for them to see the true Wellesley.”
Wisr is host to a variety of customized communities where prospective students can interact with each other and enrolled students, including the See Yourself Here community for historically underrepresented students. Haley Lee-Burke ’24 works with this group as a diversity intern with the admission office. “We give application tips, things we wish we knew,” she says. “It’s definitely really helpful to have people your age to help you.”
Faculty interaction is another important aspect of the Wellesley experience, so faculty have provided recorded lectures and live master classes, and answered questions on Wisr. “We have been able to convey … how much faculty members care about their students and engage with them in very deep and meaningful ways,” St. John says. Alumnae are also continuing to engage with the admission process, but all interviews are now virtual.
Due to the pandemic, the College has suspended early evaluation decisions this year and made standardized testing optional. “Being test optional is a really important decision that the College made from an access perspective,” St. John says. “I think that has the possibility to encourage students who maybe otherwise wouldn’t have applied.”
That is also true of the remote recruiting efforts in general. “We’ve been able to engage with students that we perhaps weren’t able to reach in the past because they weren’t physically able to come to campus,” St. John says. She says the work of the admission team is engaging a larger number of students and a more diverse group, both economically and geographically. For that reason, there is no going back to “normal” for admission. “Wellesley and most colleges like Wellesley are going to have to have a more robust virtual recruitment platform and more virtual opportunities available to students forever moving forward,” she says. “We really do want Wellesley to reflect a more diverse domestic and global community.”