Soon-to-be college students have until May 1 to make a final decision about where to attend next year. Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., is getting creative to welcome potential students for one last campus visit as that deadline looms.
The small liberal arts college is hosting an interactive driving tour of campus, complete with science experiment demonstrations, arts performances and to-go meals from the dining hall.
"As families are trying to make that final decision around May 1 - that national deposit deadline - we thought, 'OK, is it possible for us to provide a campus visit that's both meaningful - that has value for students and their parents - and is still safe in terms of COVID protocols?' " explains David Hawsey, vice president for enrollment management.
Pre-pandemic, Earlham says students would typically schedule an overnight visit and attend panel discussions and a class.
Most colleges stopped campus visits when the pandemic struck in spring 2020. Virtual online "visits" soared, and some in-person visits were slowly reinstated as the year wore on.
Expecting a surge of last-minute final looks, Earlham developed its drive-thru plan. Families will loop through the campus by car, stopping occasionally to get out and watch demonstrations, performances, or to hear from students and professors. They'll also be able to listen to a presentation on an FM radio channel as they go.
Displays include slam poetry, an outdoor campsite talking about the college's wilderness experience, drum ensemble performances, horseback riders, a "visually explosive chemistry experiment," and a dance performance. There are also some video and virtual elements to see inside buildings.
"This year is very challenging as higher education admissions officers and for families," says Hawsey. "It's tough to get out and it's tough to make that final choice if you haven't spent quality time on a campus."
Hawsey says the goal is to offer a personalized experience despite the pandemic.
While the May 1 deadline is near, Hawsey says Earlham isn't pressuring people to make a choice by then if they're not ready.
"There's so many things held up by COVID - letters of reference from teachers, guidance officer letters, the application itself - we're just going to stay open all the way through spring and summer for anybody who wants to apply; wants to take extra time to visit the college; (or) just more information. I think it's important that we do that as a customer service. This is a tough year."