Brian Gardner '23 and Julia Fraone '22 stay six feet apart while leading a live virtual campus tour. (Lee Pellegrini)
Every week, Bijoy Shah ’22 spends around four hours talking over Zoom with prospective Boston College students. The conversations are free-flowing and unscripted, with the exception of one line that Shah has found himself reciting immediately after introductions.
“I say, ‘I'm not here to convince you to go to Boston College. I'm here to help you find the right fit for you,’” Shah recalled recently. “It eases the pressure, and they start asking the tougher questions that they really want answers to.”
How do you get to know a university when your only interactions with it are through a computer screen? Director of Undergraduate Admission Grant Gosselin posed this question to his team in March during a socially-distant retreat held just days before the BC campus shut down due to COVID-19. The answer, which is still evolving, has featured virtual information sessions and tours, online panels with faculty and alumni, and of course, conversations with current students, Zoom-style.
“So much about the Jesuit education at BC is about finding conversation partners,” said Gosselin. “That seemed to be a good mechanism for us to use to continue to engage with students in a personal way.”
Under normal circumstances, conversations between prospective and current students would take place informally: lingering in the admissions lobby after a campus tour; chatting in the dining hall during an Eagle for a Day visit. Prospective students must now sign up for half-hour time slots on the Admission website, but according to Shah, that’s where the formality ends.
“It’s special because it’s not an interview—they can ask us anything,” he explained. “We can talk about academics or get down to the nitty gritty of what the social scene is like and how they might fit into Boston College and the community.”
Last spring and summer, Boston College welcomed nearly 50,000 prospective students and their families to campus, leading to an applicant pool of nearly 30,000. It’s a tough act to follow, with or without a pandemic, but so far, virtual offerings have been met with overwhelming enthusiasm: a recent virtual information session on the liberal arts, for example, saw more than 600 students register in just three days. Conversation slots with Shah and his peers often book up a week or more in advance.
“We’ve been receiving rave reviews from students to the point that many of the things that we've adopted, we anticipate will become part of our program moving forward,” said Gosselin.
From the comfort of their own homes, prospective students can take live virtual tours of the Chestnut Hill campus, with student tour guides answering questions along the way. Or they can register for a Virtual Eagle Eye Campus Visit, which covers the application process and financial aid and features a panel discussion with current students. Meanwhile, Gosselin’s team is adding to its library of online information sessions (current topics include the new human-centered engineering major and liberal arts), and planning a virtual open house for the fall.
“I think we all have realized—prospective students and those of us here at BC—that we have to adapt to the uncertainty that exists right now,” said Gosselin. “Over the course of the year ahead, there are going to be a lot of new and exciting ways to engage with colleges and universities.”
When Mary Kenny ’22 logs in to Zoom to speak with a prospective student, she’s reminded of her own college admission experience. During a campus visit, it was a casual lunchtime conversation with a group of BC students that convinced her to spend the next four years on the Heights.
“I remember feeling like BC students were kind and smart and just passionate about something—it didn't matter what—and I was sitting there and I thought, ‘I want to be like one of them,’” she recalled. “It made a world of a difference.”
“Now it's my job to be here and be real and vulnerable with these students in a time when maybe they can't get a glimpse of that for themselves,” she added. “I want them to see that Boston College is a place where we are men and women for and with others throughout the process. That's the heart of what I think Boston College is.”
Alix Hackett | University Communications | June 2020