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Colleges admissions officials adapt to virtual tours amid financial stress of COVID-19 pandemic

Most high school seniors will decide where to attend college by May.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — While campuses sit empty during the pandemic, college and university officials still are finding ways to bring high school students through the admissions process. 

"Nothing takes the place of actually walking on campus," said Jodi Chycinski, associate vice president and director of admissions at Grand Valley State University. "That's probably the greatest challenge for us."

Colleges are turning to virtual tours through school websites and Zoom, hoping to somewhat replicate the experience. It changes the dynamic for tour guides and admissions staffers that strive to connect with prospective students, said Bill Vanderbilt, Hope College's vice president of admissions. 

"We still have about half of our tour guides giving tours," Vanderbilt said. "The tour guide would use a zoom session with the student or family, share their screen and walk them through how they're experiencing Hope." 

It took some adaptation, but the guides and staff have rallied to create genuine relationships with students, he said. 

Many families are also experiencing financial hardships during the pandemic, Chycinski said. 

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"The financial aid office is ready to talk with them to find out what resources may be available," she said. "Any family in that situation should not hesitate to reach out. We're prepared and have been having those conversations."

This financial stress is similar to the experience of many during the Great Recession in 2008, Vanderbilt said. 

"We have students at Hope in every socioeconomic class, so if families move from one to the other, we certainly want to walk with them through this time," he said. 

Grand Valley is extending scholarships and merit awards to some students and adjusted its deadline for retaking standardized tests to late August, Chycinski said. 

There is still a lot to figure out with SATs likely pushed back to the fall and advanced placement tests changing, Vanderbilt said. 

"No two students' education will look the same as it did a year ago," he said. "We'll get through this and get stronger because of it."

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