April is generally the busiest month of the year for admissions offices, both across the country and at Kenyon. As admissions decisions go out, the College enters “yield” season, where they use every resource at their disposal to encourage admitted students that Kenyon is the right place for them to spend their next four years. This usually entails two massive “Thumbs Up” weekends—one in early April and one in late April—where hundreds of prospective students come to stay with a host student on a Sunday night before going to breakout sessions and sitting in on classes the following Monday. The incoming class of 2024 will not have these usual opportunities, so the Kenyon admissions staff has been forced to get creative with virtual recruitment tools.
Initially, the regular admissions decisions were set to come out on Saturday, March 14, a mere couple of days after several dominos fell regarding the national coronavirus situation, and just a couple of days before Kenyon officially announced they would be going online for the remainder of the semester. According to Vice President of Enrollment Management and Dean of Admissions Diane Anci, the original form for accepted students had several references encouraging students to come visit the campus.
“We were like, ‘we cannot be urging people to visit campus when there will be no visit to [campus],” Anci said. “So we made the decision at the end of that week that we were going to delay the launch of our admissions decisions to Wednesday … so that we could adjust the admit letter and the packets and the websites.”
On the updated webpage for admitted students, the landing page opens with a montage of Kenyon students in Kenyon environments, such as Professor of Music Benjamin Locke directing a choir, and Thomas S. Turgeon Professor of Drama Jonathan Tazewell ’84 leading a film class at the Wright Center. Immediately under the video is a recorded message from acclaimed author John Green ’00, addressed directly to the class of 2024.
“I’m really sorry that many of you will not be able to visit the College this spring and see its beautiful—some would say ‘Hogwarts-ian’—campus,” Green said in his video message. He also went on to acknowledge the pain that many high school seniors must feel about missing their own graduations that they worked so hard towards.
The message from Green ended up being one of Kenyon’s largest promotional tools. “We felt like this would be an appropriate time for us to reach out to John Green,” Anci said. “So we sent that out to everybody and it had a 95-percent open rate.”
Luckily, for Anci and the rest of admissions, a strong, robust early-decision pool had locked in over half of their target class size before the COVID-19 situation escalated. Between binding early-decision applicants and students who had deferred their acceptance from the class of 2023, the College already had about 275 confirmed members of the class of 2024.
To replace the personalized aspects of the “Thumbs Up” visit days, the admissions staff created a “connect with us” form for the accepted students website. Instead of preparing large open-house admissions events, admissions event-planning staff such as Senior Associate Dean of Admissions and Director of Student, School & Community Relations Terry McCue and Assistant Director of Admissions and Enrollment Events Director JJ Jemison ’13 have been matching prospective students to professors and current students based on their interests. The Office of Communication also updated the College’s virtual tour and the online “24 hours at Kenyon” photo project.
After the initial rush of revamping the entire yield-season process to shift to our new virtual reality, Kenyon has hosted multiple faculty panels and a student panel for admitted students. The first faculty panel, livestreamed on April 8, included professors from a variety of disciplines and was led by President Sean Decatur. The student panel consisted of five seniors and one junior who work for the Department of Admissions, led by Senior Admissions Fellow Jodi-Ann Wang ’20.
Overall, the transition seems to have worked to secure a strong class despite the uncertain circumstance. Kenyon’s deadline for admitted students to commit to the College is May 1, but enrollment numbers seem to be similar to previous years. “So far, so good,” Anci said. “The class [of 2024] is enrolling … the responses are coming in more quickly than they have in the past and they’re coming in strong and well. At this stage in the game we are not worried about missing our target.”
President Decatur echoed these sentiments. “If you were to profile where we are [on April 20] compared to where we were on April 20 in previous years, it’s actually pretty similar, which was pretty surprising to me,” Decatur said. “All of that said, a lot of things come in [during] the last few days.”