AfterWord: Reflect, Appreciate and Change the Way We Do Admission

Laptop with site on screen

Let’s start deleting from our vocabulary the words “pivot,” “unpredictable,” “unprecedented” and the “z” word. Phrases like “work-from-home casual” have reached their sell-by date.

As we search for that hopeful trend, a cure, that craved normalcy we took for granted in the past, we know that our landscape has changed without need for a lexicon. 

In early March the admission and financial aid office was focused on admission decisions, aid and scholarship awards—preparing to make phone calls or dispatch emails or thick envelopes that spark excitement just by arriving, much less their opening. We were ready to build the class of 2024. We were going to mail eye-catching cards and invitations for events on campus and in cities across the country and make personal contact that all follows a strategy and timeline. The goal: encourage admitted students to click, type, say or, preferably, shout ‘Yes!’ to Davidson. 

And then we weren’t…at least not in the same way. 

The college sent current students home. Classes turned remote. Offices—nearly the entire campus— closed under North Carolina’s stay-at-home order. Much of the barrage of communication, gatherings, face-to-face conversations with admitted students now had to be reengineered. We couldn’t even shake hands in congratulations. Every one of our planned activities was upended. 

Faculty and staff worked hard to reconfigure courses for our current students. We dug in to yield this class and recruit the next one. 

"The epiphany here is that we should have been doing these things before we ever heard of COVID. The traditional visits to high schools, regional receptions, group travel, and coffees will one day happen again, but our newfound tools will remain with us."

Our team of more than 30 across the Charlotte metro area turned kitchen tables and basements into offices. We got accustomed to the “Brady Bunch” screen for meetings. Each previously planned event and activity was supposed to fulfill a purpose and prompt an action by our admitted students. Now we had to recruit our new class without the benefit of getting them on campus, into a classroom or just in the same physical space with someone from Davidson. That’s a hindrance for any school. For Davidson, whose distinction radiates from a palpable sense of community (when people ask how you’re doing, they actually want to know), it was potentially crippling.

We needed a new tool set, and a platoon of students, faculty and staff stepped up to create it. 

Davidson focused on live events that offered the perspectives of all of those volunteers plus admission officers. We shifted information sessions online and tailored virtual tours to the prospective students’ interests. Interested in chemistry? The camera would swing over to The Wall Center, as our tour guide said, “this is where you will be.” Academic departments showcased their curriculum, research and student engagement. An admitted student visiting virtually could get a glimpse of civic engagement or playing in the symphony. We offered the samples of campus that spotlight our smart, driven and kind students, and did so at all hours to accommodate students, families and counselors from time zones around the globe. 

The epiphany here is that we should have been doing these things before we ever heard of COVID. The traditional visits to high schools, regional receptions, group travel, and coffees will one day happen again, but our newfound tools will remain with us. 

Our boundaries disappeared years ago. The development of online education that brought a classroom to anyone’s desk at any time could have fired up our creativity engine earlier, but we are accelerating now. When Davidson’s July Experience (a three-week academic summer immersion for high school students) was cancelled, the program’s team proposed and created a workshop series designed to prepare high school juniors and seniors for their college search and application process, with evening sessions for parents and mentors. They were so successful we ran them through the fall. 

We long for the days when all students are back on campus, enjoying their Davidson experience free of pandemic restrictions. On any one of those days, two prospective students might visit Davidson at the same time. One will enter the front door of Grey House for their information session, tour and time with our student ambassadors. The other will log into a Zoom waiting room, be greeted in an identical fashion, and participate in all the same events without ever leaving home. We will be ready to meet students where they are, which is where we need to be. #DAVIDSONTRUE.

Chris Gruber is vice president and dean of admission and financial aid.

This article was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2020 print issue of the Davidson Journal Magazine; for more, please see the Davidson Journal section of our website.


  • January 11, 2021