Skip to Main Content

Amid COVID-19 Campus Closure, Welcome Day and Orientation Going Online

Prospective Students Get Personal Virtual Tours, Individual Meetings with Admissions Counselors

Brayden Toth is a high school senior accepted to UMass Lowell Photo by Olivia Gatti
High school senior Brayden Toth is unable to visit campuses as he tries to decide where to go to college.

By Katharine Webster

High school senior Brayden Toth is trying to decide where to start college this fall, and he’s frustrated that he can’t visit his top two choices. 

One of them is UMass Lowell, where he was accepted early action as a mechanical engineering major and an Honors College student. He and his family came to campus for Welcome Day in February – before schools across the country closed down to slow the spread of COVID-19. His other top choice didn’t have a winter event for students admitted through early action.

“It’s hard to figure out where you’re going to fit in if you can’t go on campus,” says Toth, who lives in Byfield, Mass. “We were planning to go on campus a few more times, eat in the dining halls and talk to students.”
UMass Lowell South Campus Photo by Taz Sidi Urnek
South campus on a beautiful day.

Instead of visiting, Toth has been following UML Admissions on Instagram and checking his emails. He took advantage of an invitation to talk one-on-one with an admissions counselor about studying aerospace engineering, a minor. He also wanted to learn more about clubs and activities, especially the UML Marching Band.

Toth says he’s leaning toward UMass Lowell in part because the university quickly found ways to reach out to him and other accepted students, answer their questions and make them feel welcome.

“UMass Lowell has done swiftly what other schools are still struggling to do – putting everything online, admissions and other conversations. They made it incredibly easy to connect with whomever you’d normally connect with,” he says. “What impressed me was how personal the university can be, despite being quite large.”

With the near-total closure of campus in mid-March, the university’s admissions team mobilized to help students like Toth. They’re offering one-on-one admissions counseling, virtual tours of campus, virtual events and social media forums where prospective students can ask questions.

The first step, says Director of Undergraduate Admissions Christine Bryan, was to get virtual information sessions, like the ones normally offered during campus tours, online, and offer students plenty of ways to contact admissions counselors. That includes one-on-one Skype, Zoom or phone appointments with counselors, who can answer questions or refer accepted and prospective students to financial aid counselors, Disability Services staff and other supports. 

Accepted and prospective students can ask to speak with a UML student about campus life, too. Admissions staff will try to pair them with student tour guides and orientation leaders in the same college or major.
The UML Marching Band outside the Tsongas Center Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Toth, an accepted student, talked to an admissions counselor about joining the UML Marching Band.

UML also extended its enrollment decision and application deadlines to June 1, recognizing that for some students, their financial circumstances may have been affected by COVID-19 related layoffs and other factors, says Bryan.

“We want to make sure that students can make informed decisions and figure out what their options are,” she says. “And we recognize that they may need more time to work out a financial plan.”

Appointments with admissions counselors and students are also open to high school juniors, many of whom had planned to visit colleges over spring break and during the summer – and now find those plans up in the air. They can call, email or set up a videoconference, Bryan says.

“It’s not often that students get to talk one-on-one with an admissions counselor, and this gives them that opportunity. That’s the positive side of this situation,” she says. “I got to talk to two admitted students yesterday, and it was the highlight of my day.”

Now, Admissions is also planning a virtual Welcome Day on April 24, virtual summer orientations for incoming first-year and transfer students, and one-on-one virtual campus tours with experienced student tour guides, says Erin Keene-Crouse, director of orientation and enrollment events. 

Tour captain Emily Hatfield, a senior, is particularly excited about the virtual tours, which she’s helping to set up. While the university already has a comprehensive virtual tour and a virtual tour of residence halls, admitted and prospective students will soon be able to make an appointment to get a personal tour from a student tour guide via Zoom and screen-sharing.
UMass Lowell virtual tour screenshot of Southwick Hall Photo by Screenshot
Student tour guides are preparing to offer one-on-one virtual tours of campus. Or accepted students can explore virtually on their own.

“The tour guides like to make it very personal, answering individual questions and sharing their own story and experiences, so that’s what we’re trying to roll over virtually,” Hatfield says. “Whatever the students and their families want to talk about, we hope to provide it for them.”

Welcome Day will be held April 24 using conferencing software that allows each college and department to hold presentations and student panels for accepted students and their families in different virtual “rooms.” Students can also visit a virtual version of the Resource Fair to find information about living-learning communities and meal plans, student clubs and activities, and support services from advising and tutoring to the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Orientation, which is ordinarily an on-campus, overnight event for enrolled students, will also be held online, Keene-Crouse says. 

Instagram has been key to getting the word out about how accepted and prospective students can get the information they need.

Starting April 15 and every Wednesday between now and June 1, student tour guides will post Instagram stories about their majors and extracurricular activities. Hatfield, a mechanical engineering major, says she’ll talk about the engineering labs and classes as well as club sports (she plays club rugby). Accepted and prospective students will have a chance to ask her questions at the end. 

Admissions also has set up a Facebook group, UML Class of 2024, where admitted students can connect with each other to find possible roommates, share information and start making friends with their future classmates, Bryan says. 

“We wanted to let the students drive it,” Bryan says. “Helping them to find what they need is what’s going to help these students choose to be River Hawks.”