For many, the spring of senior year in high school is filled with the excitement and uneasiness that comes with choosing a college. During this time, students decide where they want to spend the next four years. For some that means traveling to campuses for accepted student days.
However, this time around is quite different. Seniors in high school do not have the luxury of attending Jumbo Days, due to COVID-19 closing the doors to campus. Universities around the world are having to share their school virtually with admitted students.
Every spring, Tufts hosts a series of admitted student weekends called Jumbo Days. During these weekends students can meet their future classmates and professors in person and experience the atmosphere that makes Tufts unique.
This year the Tufts Admissions team has proactively put together a variety of events that admitted students can now access from the safety of their own homes. They are calling this virtual experience Jumbo Month.
Susan Ardizzoni, senior director of admissions, described the quick change the school had to make from on-campus tours to virtual ones instead.
“It happened really quickly. We had visitors on campus on March 9, and on that evening found out that visitors were no longer going to be able to be on campus,” Ardizzoni said. “We had to pivot very quickly from our campus Jumbo Days programs to [having] to make this a virtual experience for our admitted students.”
One of the more difficult challenges in building Jumbo Month was creating platforms in which students, both current and admitted, could interact together, Senior Admission Intern Maddie Stewart said.
To combat this issue, admissions has used social media platforms like Facebook, GroupMe and Zoom to connect students together, Associate Director of Admissions Beky Stiles said.
“We have almost two dozen GroupMe chats going on that are by category, so students can join them, talk to each other and talk to current students. We also are doing virtual hosting,” Stiles said. “We have been able to pair current students with admitted students. We had over 550 current undergrads volunteer to be virtual hosts.”
Shoshana Goldman, a senior admissions intern, was concerned with not only how they were going to connect students but also how they were going to recreate the Tufts atmosphere, something many people cite as making the university unique.
“I remember a big thing for me deciding to come to Tufts was a palpable vibe that I could feel when I visited campus. So it’s like how do we emulate that when students aren’t able to actually come to campus and see Tufts in action?” Goldman said. “[Jumbo Days] is one of the most lively events, and a lot of Tufts students and prospective students are coming together and engaging in different ways. So it’s like how do we still create that sense of community without actually all being together in person?”
To emulate Tufts’ personality as a school, the admissions team had come up with creative solutions.
“We have been doing things like takeovers on Instagram with a lot of different current students just to show there’s a lot of dimensionality to the Tufts experience and to show all the different ways that you can engage with our community,” Stiles said.
The admissions team went as far as to recreate the beloved sundae Sundays, the open ice cream bar Tufts students have access to every Sunday evening in the dining halls.
“We’re doing this kind of fun random thing called sundae Sundays. It’s a take on our sundae Sundays, where admitted students can come to a Zoom session and hang out with each other,” Stiles said. “We have our senior interns putting [admitted students] into different breakout rooms. While they’re eating dessert or just hanging out in their pajamas, they can talk to a very small subset of people and really get to know them.”
A common event for on-campus Jumbo Days is getting a taste of what Tufts is like not only socially, but academically. On these select weekends, students are giving the opportunity to sit in on lectures from Tufts professors. This year for Jumbo Month they have created online lectures that admitted students can attend, according to Stiles.
Isabelle Dumazet, a member of Tufts Class of 2024, described her experience watching an online lecture from her home in Puerto Rico.
“I thought the class was very interesting; the professor made it interactive and it did not feel like a taped lecture. Even through the technological barrier, he was able to project his personality and humor, which is often hard to do,” Dumazet said. “I knew I was interested in psychology, but this class showed me that in my next four years at Tufts I want to [also] explore classes outside of my comfort zone.”
Dumazet said that she feels even more prepared for starting college next fall.
“After attending various student panels, I got a better sense of what to expect next year in terms of social life, dorm living and the general workload,” Dumazet said.
One silver lining about the shift to online-only programming is that Tufts Admissions has the opportunity to create programming that is more accessible for prospective students and families. The admissions team has learned there is much more it can add to its existing on-campus programming. In a given year, not every student can travel to visit Tufts, but they may be able to interact online, explained Ardizzoni.
“I have just been so thrilled with the number of students who have taken advantage of the various sessions … I think it may be because we’re all trapped in our houses and that we may have a little bit more time on our hands, but I [also] think that it has given us an opportunity to reach students in different ways,” Ardizzoni said. “We definitely would not have had the opportunity to do [virtual Jumbo Month] during a single day of programming.”
Another benefit of online programming is that the Tufts Admissions team can offer more to Spanish-speaking families. During Jumbo Month, it has held many office hours in Spanish, Stiles explained.
Ardizzoni expressed that although COVID-19 has changed the direction of everyone’s year, the admissions team won’t let that stop them from planning for the arrival of the Class of 2024.
“It’s been heartening that we are on track for the enrollment of what the class should look like,” Ardizzoni said. “I think for me it’s been kind of surprising and I guess heartening that students and parents are really being very positive and thinking, ‘Okay, this [COVID-19] was hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience that we’re all having right now … [and] we’re going to get back to that [normality again] and you know, Tufts is where we want that to happen.’”