Following the surge of the omicron variant of COVID-19, Tufts is now conducting exclusively virtual campus tours and information sessions with a planned return to in-person programming on Feb. 14. Despite this setback, admissions officials report that recent applicants have been satisfied with the university’s virtual offerings.
Tufts began offering virtual tours in June 2020. According to Associate Director of Admissions Lauren Wilkes, the admissions office piloted virtual admissions events just as COVID-19 took off in the U.S. back in April 2020. Once the office gained a better understanding of how to adapt to an online-only system, the cohort of virtual summer admissions interns debuted its first set of virtual tours.
Wilkes explained that both in-person and virtual formats offer a meaningful way for prospective students to get a feel for Tufts.
“Our virtual offerings provide greater access to students to connect with Tufts and complement our in-person offerings in an impactful way,” Wilkes wrote in an email to the Daily. “They also enable prospective students to learn about Tufts without enduring the often financially prohibitive costs of a ‘college road trip,’ which expands access to our admissions process to students from further away and to those with limited financial resources.”
In-person events returned in July 2021.
“Tours were offered throughout Summer 2021 and during Fall 2021 while our virtual programming continued concurrently,” Wilkes wrote. “Restarting the in-person visit program required a lot of planning and preparation, as we knew it would work very differently than our pre-pandemic program.”
Tufts also offered virtual self-guided tours in summer. The self-guided option used virtual materials to guide participants around the physical campus. Sophomore tour guide Olivia Kelly said the self-guided tours received positive feedback from campus visitors.
“We had to direct people to [self-guided tours] a lot over the summer, because we had so many people coming to visit and only a certain capacity for the in-person tours,” Kelly said. “People would come back and just tell us that it was a really great tour, or similar to in-person tours if they’d had the feeling.”
Despite the virtual and self-guided options, the majority of tours were given in-person by tour guides like junior Kyle Krell, and other student tour guides mainly led in-person events.
“Last semester we had mostly in-person tours that functioned the same as in-person tours pre-Covid,” Krell wrote in an email to the Daily. “We also had virtual tours in conjunction with in-person tours, but as far as I’m aware the majority of tours were in-person and most guides only did in-person tours.”
This new system continued operating through the summer and fall 2021 until the omicron variant emerged in the winter, at which point the university decided to postpone in-person events to protect faculty, students and visitors.
According to Wilkes, Tufts was not alone in this decision.
“Most universities are continuing to offer both in-person and virtual programming,” Wilkes wrote. “Several Boston-area institutions have delayed their start to in-person visit programming this semester as well.”
Neither Krell nor fellow tour guide Kelly have given virtual tours. Both believe that most tour guides have stuck with in-person tours.
Kelly explained that when students returned to campus in fall 2021, tour guides who wanted to remain on the team were given a choice between leading in-person tours, virtual tours, or both. Kelly chose to lead only in-person tours and is looking forward to getting back to work.
“I think, just as a general rule, I and everybody else are very tired of the online format for everything,” Kelly said. “You have the same access to the person who’s giving you the virtual or in person tour in terms of questions you could ask, but I just think it’s more fun to give it in person.”
Kelly admitted that due to her preferences, she does not know much about how virtual events operate.
“I know that they happen,” she joked.
Kelly said that Tufts has received mostly positive feedback on the virtual offerings
“From what I know, we’ve had really good feedback on the virtual tours, as well as the self guided tours,” she said.
Responses to admission department surveys have also displayed positive feedback on virtual events.
“In our post-event surveys, we see that prospective students and families are thankful to be able to connect with current students to learn more about their Tufts experiences, ask questions, and see snapshots of campus,” Wilkes wrote.