Mr. McCallum and a group of student ambassadors discuss feedback after the first session of virtual meet and greets with prospective students. Photo: Isabel Battista

In a year when so much focus has been placed on how the college admissions process has changed due to COVID-19, an area that hasn’t been covered as much is how the admissions processes at independent schools have adapted because of the ongoing pandemic. In the Pace admissions office, the pandemic has brought about many changes in how prospective students apply to join the Pace community, as well as how upper school admissions ambassadors can interact with prospective students and their families.

As of now, visitors are not allowed on the Pace campus through Nov. 12, although this date is subject to change. Because of this, the Pace admissions process has been moved online, with prospective applicants and their families spending the entire admissions cycle touring, interviewing, and learning about our school through a new, online format.

In addition, events such as shadow visits will not take place as they typically would. However, the challenges that COVID-19 presents have not stopped the admissions office from adapting to the circumstances and innovating new ways to connect with future Pace students.

For starters, the selection process for new admissions ambassadors was different than ever before. Instead of applying and then interviewing with one of the members of the admissions team for a spot in the program, students sent in videos of themselves talking about what they do, why they love Pace, and how they can share that love with prospective families.

“That’s how they’ll be engaging with families this year, and they were awesome,” said Director of Upper School Admissions Mac McCallum. “The strength of the applications was just stunning and the depth was great. With so many seniors this year, we knew we were going to need a lot of freshmen, and this was one of the stronger groups that we have had.”

The change in this process also benefited the admissions office, as more members of the team could get to know new ambassadors through the program. “Interviewing kids is always a highlight, to hear what they love about the school,” said Director of Admissions Jen McGurn. “The videos brought it to life and allowed us all to hear what we love. We even thought about repurposing the videos and using them later.”

Another aspect of the admissions process in which ambassadors play a major role is greeting families and giving tours of campus. “The perspective and what they are sharing is the same, but the format and the platform is all different,” said Mr. McCallum. Instead of hosting traditional tours or on-campus admissions events, there is a new 360˚ software that gives prospective families a panoramic view of different areas within the Arthur M. Blank Family Upper School, as well as other spaces where upper school students spend their time.

“What’s missing is [the ambassadors] sharing [their] experiences,” continued Mr. McCallum. “One challenge that we didn’t anticipate was that since our tours and shadow visits were during the school day, it’s harder to get students onto virtual tours during the day,” said Mrs. McGurn. Ambassadors still participate in greeting sessions with families, only this year, they are held virtually and directly after the virtual tour. This gives families and students more to discuss and more questions to ask. 

The largest admissions event of the year, the open house, is also facing changes this year. While there is not yet a formal plan for what will replace the event, it may have a positive outcome for families who would typically be unable to attend. “On open house day, there’s so much good information shared and connections made, but if you can’t attend, then you miss some of that,” said Mrs. McGurn. “If we can capture some of that in video, it’s not just the families that attend this open house session, but hundreds of others that end up viewing that.”

While many of these changes are temporary and wouldn’t take place in a typical year, there are also some portions of the admissions process that were rolled out because of COVID-19 that are here to stay. “Recently, we publicly rolled out PeerPal, which allows alumni and parents to connect with prospective families,” said Mr. McCallum. On the admissions webpage, prospective families can now connect with members of the Pace community who they would not typically see on campus to get a better understanding of what it means to be a part of the Pace family.

In addition, prospective students can now connect with ambassadors through meet and greet sessions, where students applying to Pace can Zoom with current students in a more relaxed setting without parents. “Whatever we can do to get [ambassadors] in front of everyone is so important for our process,” said Mr. McCallum.

There are many other aspects of this year’s process that are new, from the formation of a more organized parent ambassador program, to how administrations of the SSAT are adapting from their usual format, all of which will make for a memorable year in admissions. “We still hope to enroll our target as the same group of highly involved, highly motivated students,” said Mrs. McGurn. “Our end goal is the same, but our process just looks a little different this year.”


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