COVID-19 forces admissions events online, drives application rates up

March 8, 2021

Almost immediately after the pandemic shut down the nation in March, in-person events like tours, open houses and interviews––some of the school’s most effective tools to court prospective families––became impossible to carry out safely, shifting all programming to take place virtually. Simultaneously, a pandemic-induced migration of families to independent schools has led to an uptick in Upper School Day and Domestic Boarding applications.

Many prospective students have been unable to visit campus prior to applying, and have had to rely on Zoom webinars to get a sense of their potential fit at the school.

Felipe Queiroz, an eighth grade student at The Windward School in White Plains applying to Masters as an incoming freshman day student, has dealt with the effects of embarking on his high school search during the pandemic. Felipe’s sister, Carol, is a sophomore at Masters, and he noticed the stark differences between his experience in considering Masters and hers. 

“It was a totally different experience,” he said. “The only thing I got to see were pictures from the website.” 

It was a totally different experience. The only things I got to see were pictures from the website.

— Felipe Queiroz

Although many boarding students have interviewed for the school virtually in the past, the lack of in-person interviews for all prospective day students has been new.

Director of Enrollment Management Emma Katznelson has missed the casual interactions before and after an in-person interview, which she said can be telling of a student and their family. At the same time, she’s observed a new layer of intimacy coming from home interviews.

“You get to see their home life, which is very special,” she said, recalling instances of little siblings walking into prospective student interviews as an example. “They’re literally in my house with me. Sometimes I’m in my office––it depends where we are, but I’m always in their home.”

Katznelson said that the school decided to continue offering virtual interviews to applicants even after the effects of the pandemic subside, citing accommodation for dual-working households and single-parent households as key factors in the decision. 

The new reliance on virtual tools has provided the school with more flexibility than ever before––the admissions office has already hosted 26 events via Zoom, more than double the number of events from all of last year, and interview timing now ranges from 7:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m Eastern Time.

The school’s virtual admissions events have often become the first impression a potential applicant has of Masters. Katznelson noted that the school’s heavy use of Zoom has made it more important than ever to capture the essence of the Masters community during those events, especially given the local presence of other selective independent schools that share a pool of potential applicants with Masters, like Rye Country Day School (RCDS), The Hackley School and Ethical Culture Fieldston School.

“[Covid] has put the onus on us to be deliberate about explaining who we are, because [prospective students] can’t come to campus,” Katznelson said.

Some of the aforementioned independent schools near Masters have been faced with a similar situation. RCDS, for example, has also moved all interviews and admissions events to online platforms. The school, which is located just over 15 miles from Masters, is now offering its first on-campus tours since March, exclusively for admitted students. The tours, the first of which took place four weeks ago, only take place over weekends in order for the school to maintain a reduced capacity on its campus. Like Masters, Rye Country Day’s admissions team organized an increased number of events, all of which took place virtually. 

Rye Country Day Director of Admissions Matt Suzuki said, “For many families who are not familiar with schools, it’s a very daunting process to ask them to commit to a school for x amount of years without even visiting.”

The increase in applications among Upper School Day and Domestic Boarding applicants at Masters is likely to have been caused directly by effects of the pandemic, rather than the school’s new test-blind policy, or other factors, according to Katznelson. 

“I do think we’re seeing an uptick in applications because people are unhappy with the way their schools have handled virtual learning,” she said. “Specifically, many public school families have been frustrated with the lack of in-person education and synchronous education, so they’re making the decision to move to independent school.”

Katznelson noted that the increase has been inconsistent from grade-to-grade, but pointed to it as a general trend she has seen this year.

According to Suzuki, Rye Country Day’s applicant pool generally stayed the same between last year and this year, with a slight decline in applications in some grades. He hesitated to draw any direct connections to the effects of the pandemic yet, but noted that Rye Country Day saw a slight rise in interest around the beginning of the school year, coming particularly from New York City families looking to escape the densely populated city during the pandemic. 

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