Online open house yields higher attendance

VCU's University Student Commons was introduced to prospective students during the virtual Student Resource Fair which was hosted daily during the virtual open house event. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Anya Sczerzenie, Staff Writer

An event showcasing VCU’s campus and housing options for potential students continued online this semester, and although some students saw faults in the virtual format, the university noted an increase in attendance.

VCU held its virtual open house event for incoming students from Nov. 9-13. It, like most university events, shifted from in-person to online due to COVID-19. 

Last month’s open house had 1,147 students in attendance, VCU spokesperson Michael Porter said. A similar, in-person event held last October had 427 attendees. There is not yet accurate data on attendance during this month’s open house. 

Porter attributes the increase in attendance to the accessibility of the virtual setting. 

“Even within this virtual setting, we have been able to create an interactive and engaging event by incorporating Zoom breakout sessions and featuring a variety of faculty, staff, and student panels,” Porter said in an email.

The weeklong November event included live chat sessions with representatives from different schools, including VCUArts, School of Business, College of Engineering and College of Humanities and Sciences. 

The university also held a virtual Student Resource Fair, which introduced prospective students to the student clinic, academic advising and the University Student Commons.

Porter said most of the departments that participated in previous open houses were in attendance for the virtual event.

Some freshmen who attended virtual open house and orientation events during spring and summer said they didn’t get as much engagement as they wanted. 

Freshman Paryana Dhindsa, an art foundations student, said it was hard to motivate herself to go to the virtual orientation for her major. 

“All the orientations were a little bit boring,” Dhindsa said. “It was kind of early, quarantine had messed up my sleep schedule, so I ended up sleeping through some of my orientation.”

Kathleen Covas, an elementary education major, said she went to an online orientation and toured the dorms online.

“I would have liked to have in-person, but I don’t think it would have changed my decision that much,” the freshman said.

At a VCU board of visitors meeting in September, one of the major concerns discussed by members was recruitment. Enrollment has seen a slight downward trend over the past two years, especially among incoming freshmen. 

Sophomore pre-nursing major Michelle Ugarte-Nuñez said she is concerned that incoming students won’t get the same experience she received at her open house, which she attended as a senior in high school. 

“I got to walk around campus for a full day, I got to go to the bookstore and really get a feel for campus,” Ugarte-Nuñez said. “I’m worried that students who are coming here won’t be able to do that. It’s hard to get a feel for VCU just from pictures.”

Ugarte-Nuñez said she’s not surprised that the October open house had more attendees but thinks it probably had less overall engagement.

“In online learning, there can be a lot of attendance, but the engagement can be so low,” Ugarte-Nuñez said.

Data from the board of visitors shows that more than 600 students who were accepted to VCU chose not to enroll, a 200-person increase from last year. These students cited that they were attending other institutions, going to community college or staying home due to the pandemic. 

Junior psychology major Ian Embry, who transferred from Tidewater Community College, visited the campus his junior year of high school. 

“I feel like the campus won me over a lot,” Embry said.

Embry said that if he hadn’t gone to visit VCU’s campus, he might have chosen to go to Virginia Tech. 

“I feel like visiting is more personal. You don’t really get a sense of the community if you can’t see the environment.” — Ian Embry, junior psychology major.

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