The Admissions Office

COVID on Campus: The Admissions Office

"We're taking everything into account when we look at students' applications this year." - Wesley Whiteside
Published: January 17, 2021


Wesley Whiteside Associate director of recruitment and diversity at Syracuse's Newhouse School.
Wesley Whiteside is the associate director of recruitment and diversity at SU's Newhouse School.

Having to move to virtual last spring helped us a little bit in the grand scheme of things. Like before this semester, we knew that we had to go online, and we knew how to conduct information sessions in that way, so the comfort level and preparedness were there.

Just like normal, the biggest thing that prospective students now still want to know in these information sessions is how they can get in and what it takes to be in Newhouse at Syracuse University. Another huge concern is finances, with merit scholarships and financial aid. This year, we’ve seen so many things like people getting laid off or losing their jobs and businesses closing down. So that’s something that we really try to talk about in the sessions. We usually do about three or four a week.

We have everything kind of in-house. Whereas Arts and Sciences and other schools, they’re kind of scattered around campus. And then some of the other programs, they’re kind of scattered around, so we had the luxury where everything was centered within three buildings. So we started offering live virtual tours of Newhouse because you know, a huge piece for some students is, hey, I want to see what Newhouse has to offer. And it’s obviously not ideal, because we’re walking around Newhouse with a camera with our cell phones. But it’s something.

The bottom line is that prospective students still want to hear from current college kids, especially in times like this. It’s the same thing with parents. They want to know if their son or daughter is going to be happy here and the student is thinking if they’re going to feel comfortable being in Newhouse at Syracuse University. We decided to utilize our Newhouse undergraduate ambassadors, who help me out with regular information sessions and tours. Because we weren’t doing them in person, we started offering online “fireside chats” with them in addition to the regular information sessions.

It gives prospective students the opportunity to ask ambassadors questions about things like how their classes are going during the pandemic, what there is to do in Syracuse right now, the cold weather and the professional opportunities they’ve had. If prospective students hear things such as “I’ve had an internship here,” “I had the opportunity to go abroad” or “I had the opportunity to do the New York or LA semester program,” they can leave saying “Okay, I can see myself here for four years.”

In regards to Newhouse, our numbers of prospective students this semester have gone up from what we would typically see for families attending information sessions on campus. That’s just because of the availability factor. With the pandemic, some high school students are taking classes remotely, so there’s an ease to just hopping on your computer and attending a 45-minute or an hour-long information session. Usually, it would be about families having to plan to drive or fly up to Syracuse and figuring out when that fits in their schedule. It’s easier to click a Zoom link than to figure out a whole trip.

We’re taking everything into account when we look at students’ applications this year. For those who are seniors in high school this year, the last six months have been completely turned upside down. They went as juniors finishing up their junior year remotely to coming into their senior year expecting to look forward to homecoming, prom and sending in college applications. Then boom, this hits that they’re not in in-person classes or they’re only going into school maybe twice a week or not at all. That’s a major factor. So, we are looking at those things on the application.

One thing that is important to our review process this year is the fact that Syracuse University is test-optional for the ACT and SAT because some students are just unable to take those exams right now. I’ve heard of places where they are offering those tests where they might not typically be, at places like a hotel instead of a school. I could imagine that mentally, just sitting there for four hours for one test is difficult.

We’re hoping that being test-optional is going to not only increase applications but also widens the applicant pool and range of applicants that we can bring in. Certainly, for me, I’m looking at that diversity piece. Hopefully, we can get a very diverse population to come into Newhouse and continue on that path as we move forward.

COVID on Campus

COVID on Campus

This as-told-to interview is part of COVID on Campus, a series created by students in the Reporting classes at the Newhouse School in Fall 2020. COVID on Campus documents the experiences of students, staff, and faculty living through this extraordinary time.

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is a contributor for The NewsHouse.