The University of Maryland’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions will take a hybrid approach to new student recruitment this fall, according to Shannon Gundy, the undergraduate admissions director.

The university will hold some in-person admissions events but will keep virtual options to follow high school guidelines on in-person activities, Gundy said.

Even with more high schools across the country returning to in-person schooling, most schools are still encouraging virtual college visits, Gundy said. 

Several high schools that planned to have in-person visits and college fairs have backtracked due to rising COVID-19 infections. These schools either canceled admissions events or moved to hold recruitment virtually, Gundy said.

“We’re doing more virtual than we had originally thought,” Gundy said.

Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda plans to provide both in-person and virtual admissions sessions, according to Anne Hutchens, the school’s college and career information coordinator.

Whitman is letting the visiting college decide to make the admissions sessions virtual or in person. An admissions counselor from this university will visit Whitman virtually, Hutchens said. 

The virtual and in-person admissions outreach helps students get a clear perspective on which schools they want to visit, Hutchens said. She hopes prospective students this year will be able to participate in in-person campus visits by the spring, an opportunity that wasn’t always available for this university’s current freshman class.

“The goal for them would be that … come spring they’ll be able to actually go put their feet on the campus and get a sense of what that feels like,” Hutchens said. “I personally think that feel is a big part of how a decision is made.” 

[No SATs, virtual counselors: High school seniors reflect on applying to UMD amid COVID]

Some freshmen found that this “feel” for the campus was something lacking in this university’s virtual outreach.

“[Virtual recruitment] was nice for what it was,” said freshman government and politics and Spanish major Roya Ebrahimi-Qajar. “It was informative, to an extent, but sometimes you have to experience something in order to actually understand it.”

Ebrahimi-Qajar didn’t visit any of the schools she applied to, but she knew the most about this university because both of her older sisters attended. She didn’t expect to pay close attention during her virtual Maryland admissions session, but the admissions representative changed that. 

“She was very personal, very bubbly, very lively,” Ebrahimi-Qajar said. “Because of her energy, it wasn’t boring.” 

The admissions representative helped show the “vibe” of Maryland and outshined other counselors with lower energy from competing schools, Ebrahimi-Qajar said. 

Hutchens added that many of the new, virtual outreach events colleges provided — such as student panels and department specific discussions — impressed her. They’ve done well with keeping students engaged after a long period of virtual learning, she said. 

“The kids are tired of being online … the notion that you have to get back online to go learn about [college] is hard,” Hutchens said.

[Coronavirus complicates college decisions for Prince George’s County high school seniors]

Despite this, Ebrahimi-Qajar said online recruitment took away from her experience of getting to know this university. She encouraged future prospective students to ask questions and think critically about their college decision.

“You have all these different tools, and you have all these different applications, so you’re just looking but you’re not really deciding,” Ebrahimi-Qajar said. 

It is not likely that the university will switch to virtual high school visits permanently, Gundy said. But the university has found that holding some virtual events is likely here to stay.

Virtual open houses and university information sessions are events that may be available for prospective students in the future.

“I think everybody would agree that [virtual outreach] wasn’t ideal, but it still allows us the opportunity to connect,” Gundy said. “It still allows students to get excited about the University of Maryland.”