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The University resumes in-person undergraduate admissions tours

University Guides lead groups of 10 students and their parents on limited in-person tours of Grounds

<p>Before the University reopened its undergraduate admissions tours to the public, the University Guides practiced their tours with each other to ensure a smooth performance by June 14.</p>

Before the University reopened its undergraduate admissions tours to the public, the University Guides practiced their tours with each other to ensure a smooth performance by June 14.

For prospective undergraduate students, touring Grounds and getting a physical sense of the atmosphere at the University has often proven to be one of the most influential factors in deciding whether to apply to and attend the University. Starting in March 2020, the pandemic limited prospective students to virtual tours and Zoom-based admissions information sessions, making it incredibly difficult for students to picture themselves calling the University home. Fortunately, with increasing vaccination rates and decreasing COVID-19 transmission, the Office of Undergraduate Admission officially resumed in-person tours June 14 — welcoming groups of up to 10 students with one parent each to follow a student guide around Grounds and get a glimpse of University life. 

During the pandemic, the University Guide Service and Office of Undergraduate Admission navigated the public health restrictions, staying committed to their goal of providing information and insight into academics and student life by offering weekly virtual information sessions and tours. Many of these live sessions involved guides presenting PowerPoint slides that showed pictures of typical stops on a tour of Grounds, and participants could use the chat to ask questions that would either be answered live by a guide or through the Q&A feature on Zoom. 

“We’ve learned important lessons this past year about leveraging the virtual space to inform students about what makes U.Va. so special,” Director of Undergraduate Admission Doug Hartog said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “As a result, there are some really compelling ways for students to engage with our students, faculty and admission team online.”

With greater physical and time constraints in these online sessions, guides had to shift the focus of their spiels to a more factual and statistical, rather than anecdotal, presentation. As in-person tours resume, guides are once again able to engage prospective students with their firsthand experiences at the University, utilizing the physical space and popular buildings as talking points. 

“Everyone has Zoom fatigue after a while, so getting back to actually seeing students' faces and seeing them picture themselves at U.Va. is really nice,” said Isaiah Jenkins, an intern with the Office of Undergraduate Admission and rising fourth-year College student. “This work that we students are doing — bringing people into the spaces that we love and call home — actually hits home for prospective students and their families. You don't get that same effect over Zoom.”

In planning the execution of this return to in-person tours, the Office of Undergraduate Admission approached the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost in April with various detailed options for a safe transition that aligned with CDC, state and University guidelines. The final plan was reviewed and ultimately approved in May by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost and University medical experts. 

“It was exciting, complicated and even daunting at times to consider an in-person visit experience alongside the health and safety of our team, community and our visitors,” Hartog said. “But we felt that offering our prospective students the opportunity to be on Grounds in a safe environment was incredibly important, and our entire team contributed to the planning and execution after more than a year of virtual-only programs.”

The college application process is undoubtedly stressful for prospective students and their families. Kristen Walsh, U-Guide and rising third-year College student, shared how she uses her platform as a guide to not only connect with the entire tour group, but also with individual students to ease their personal concerns as the tour progresses — a personalized experience that is much more difficult to create in the virtual setting. 

“Prospective students are worried about all different things — workload, social life, housing, being from in-state versus out-of-state, etc. — and after breaking the ice with my tour group, it is so great when they'll come walk next to me between stops so I can speak to their specific concerns,” Walsh said. “This was inevitably missing from the virtual events.”

While the return of in-person tours is a major step in the return to normalcy, guides and their participants still face certain COVID-19 restrictions. Tours adhere to current CDC and state guidelines in that vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks, and unvaccinated individuals should wear a mask while inside. In addition to smaller group sizes, participants are required to sign up for tours ahead of time — all of which are currently completely booked until the first week of August. To avoid large gatherings, admissions information sessions are still held online weekly in addition to the continuation of virtual tours for those who are unable to attend them in person. 

During previous summers when the University was fully operating, many students and faculty would continue to use Grounds for research, classes and administrative tasks, so guides were able to bring their tour groups into various buildings, classrooms, the Rotunda and even dorms. However, this year, as summer classes operate online and certain COVID-19 restrictions remain in place, many University buildings remain closed to the public. Although this greatly limits prospective students’ ability to get a full glimpse of University life, guides have strategically altered their tours to embrace the select few indoor spaces available.   

“I designed my tour so that the majority of the tour stops are outdoors, with one exception halfway through to get some air conditioning,” Walsh said. “Clark Hall is open to us for tours, so I take my tour groups inside about halfway through our tour. I give a shorter stop here about U.Va. libraries, resources and secret societies, and then this serves as a great water, bathroom and A/C break.”

Despite these limitations, guides have been fully embracing the opportunity to physically deliver their passion for the University through personalized tours that leave a lasting impression on prospective students. Walsh recalls that her own University tour guide was an influential part of the college decision process that ultimately led her to attend the University and give tours herself.  

“I joined the University Guide Service because I had an incredible U.Va. tour guide who shaped my first impression of the school, and now I'm here and so grateful,” Walsh said. “I wanted to carry that forward for other prospective students through admissions tours.”

Jenkins was similarly inspired by his guide to attend the University and become a guide himself, but he also remembers feeling like he couldn’t relate and wasn’t represented well in the group or the tour. As such, he is committed to using his platform to represent the experiences of minority students at the University and to be a welcoming and relatable presence. 

“I wanted ... to be that person for people from my hometown, people who don't know a lot about college, first-generation students, African Americans — bringing those sorts of students to U.Va. is why I started with guide services and working formally with the [Office of Undergraduate Admission],” Jenkins said. “The purpose of the [Office of Undergraduate Admission] is to bring all different types of students to U.Va., and I wanted to be a part of fostering that diversity on Grounds.”

Ultimately, with the easing up of COVID-19 restrictions, University students can once again embrace the spirit of in-person tours — using their passion and love for the University community — to show prospective students a welcoming, inclusive and lively place they can call home. 

“The college application process is stressful, so to make that process a little more relieving — even just for an hour and a half, the duration of the tour — is part of what I love most about giving tours,” Jenkins said. “We can just talk and share that moment and hopefully put your mind at ease if I do a good enough job — that is the best feeling.”

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