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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Would you commit to Grinnell if you couldn’t visit?


For any current Grinnell College student, the primary focus of the last few weeks has been the school’s campus shutdown and transition to remote learning due to the threat of novel virus COVID-19. But now that the immediate closure process has been completed, the College administration faces another crisis: this year’s admitted student commitment rate. With the campus closed to everyone but essential staff and students given permission to stay, in-person tours are no longer a possibility for admitted students — and the repercussions could be serious.

“The vast majority of students who commit to Grinnell do so after having visited campus,” wrote Director of Admission Sarah Fischer in an email to The S&B. “There are, of course, exceptions to this, including a majority of our international population. However, there is no denying the importance of a campus visit in a student’s decision as to which college to attend. Admitted students’ inability to visit campus raises significant concerns for the admission office and makes it even more difficult for us to predict yield.”

Fischer explained that the Office of Admission has been working on virtual materials to help admitted students get a feel for Grinnell. While she says that nothing can fully replace the experience of an in-person campus tour, Fischer is hopeful that the variety of content, including videos, online chats, social media outreach, live student panels and Webex videoconferences with Grinnell faculty and staff each Wednesday in April, will help create strong virtual engagement with the College.

“There is no denying that we are in uncharted waters here and we must do everything we can to mitigate any potential loss in yield,” she wrote.

Rachel Hinkley ’21 works for the Office of Admission and has created her own independent major in higher education. She said that one of the major points of contention for students deciding whether to attend Grinnell is the rural location, and that campus visits are an important component of helping them understand what Iowa is really like.

“Admissions has always tried to push back on current assumptions of Iowa via their marketing, and then used the campus tours as a way to convince students that living in Grinnell, it’s totally possible to have a very full college experience, whether you end up exploring Iowa itself or you just take advantage of all the things that are available to you at the College,” she said.

Hinkley is specifically concerned about how the cancellation of the planned admitted students’ weekends affects prospective student’s impression of Grinnell. During these weekends, admitted high school students from around the country get to stay overnight with a host student from Grinnell College.

“That’s a huge deal, because not only does that provide peace of mind, but that actually does provide answers to questions that you can’t answer online,” said Hinkley.

Bailey Vandekamp ’22 also works for the Office of Admission. She said that admitted student weekends give prospective students “a chance to feel like a student on campus.”

In an effort to create a virtual version of that experience, the Office of Admission is asking students who have been trained as overnight hosts to submit a favorite song that represents a part of their Grinnell experience, as well as a video explaining its meaning.

“It’ll hopefully give students a slice of what life at Grinnell is like,” Vandekamp said.

Sarina Lincoln ’21 submitted the song “Shark Smile” by Big Thief. She explained that she chose the song because one of her first friends at Grinnell, Rachel Eber ’21, introduced her to the band who then performed at Gardner Lounge in her second year at the College.

“It was the best thing ever; I just remember it was a lot of wholesome love,” said Lincoln. “I remember being so happy and freaking out. It was one of the first moments where I was like, ‘This is a cool space.’”

Although she thinks that the song sharing program will connect to admitted students who like music, Lincoln said that the virtual exchange is no substitute for a campus visit. “I don’t think this can replace that,” she said.

Fischer wrote that the song project is “part of a robust social media plan that we are folding into our overall yield strategy”.  The College will be opening a TikTok account as one way of sharing the project videos.

Vandekamp is also concerned about the ability to transfer the in-person tour experience online. “With tours, we typically split up the parents and the students, so parents can ask their real questions and students can as well,” she said. “I think it might be hard to replicate those things that students ask, that are very personal to them.”

On the ongoing problem-solving related to the campus closure, Hinkley said, “On the plus side, it’s not like Grinnell is facing this alone — there are lots and lots of other colleges that are having the same issue. But, on the downside, I think it is still really important that students come to visit Grinnell, because that location factor is a really big deal to come or not.”

However, Fischer is optimistic about the school’s efforts so far. She wrote, “I am so proud of all of the work the admission team and the Office of Communications has done in the past couple of weeks to create a robust on-line virtual experience. In two weeks, we’ve created content that would normally take months to plan and execute.”

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