In response to limitations imposed by COVID-19, Binghamton University’s admissions process has adapted to cater to prospective students in the midst of college application season.

Applicants can expect to witness a heavier reliance on technology in the admissions process. Rather than traveling to high schools in person, admissions officers have been reaching out to prospective students virtually. Traditional events, such as open houses for potential or admitted students, have been moved completely online. Krista Medionte-Phillips, director of undergraduate admissions at BU, said applicants now have the ability to go on their own self-guided tour of BU’s campus in-person via a new mobile application created this year.

“Undergraduate Admissions recognizes the importance of prospective students having the ability to visit campus as part of their college search process,” Medionte-Phillips said. “With the pandemic, we are offering students the ability to take a customizable self-guided tour that utilizes Google Maps technology. Additionally, we know some families may not want to make the trip to campus, and we have a virtual tour [on BU’s website] for families to explore.”

During the most recent BU Council meeting, Donald Loewen, vice provost for undergraduate education and an associate professor of Russian studies, said the mobile application was a collaborative effort created by Information Technology Services (ITS), the University admissions office and BU’s communications and marketing department. Loewen said BU President Harvey Stenger has tested out the mobile application.

“[Stenger] can vouch for it,” Loewen said. “I think he gave us some good ideas on how we can make it better yet, so we’re working that way. The great thing about it is it’ll sort of tell you, ‘Hey, here are some stops.’ If you get tired halfway through, you can say, ‘I’m going to delete these stops,’ and the map will, just like your GPS, reroute you to your next stop. So, really excited for that, and it’s already started to get use only in the first couple of weeks.”

Loewen said the team is looking to add a new feature to the mobile application that would facilitate live interaction between prospective students and current BU students, either through text message or personal video chat. While the mobile application was developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Loewen expects it to be here for “the long haul.”

In contrast to past years’ admissions policies, the entire SUNY system has adopted test-optional policies for spring 2021, fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters. This means that students applying for these semesters will have the option to not submit standardized test scores. This provides more flexibility for students who were unable to take standardized tests last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Medionte-Phillips, the admissions office’s enrollment objectives for this year were met overall, meaning that BU reached the number of students that they expected to enroll this year. Medionte-Phillips referred to how orientation was conducted over the summer, with the entire event being done virtually.

“Our office and many other offices across campus collaborated from the point of admission to orientation and registration in this virtual environment,” Medionte-Phillips said. “We are carefully assessing potential future enrollment impacts.”

Medionte-Phillips acknowledged that more students may be applying regular decision rather than early action next year as a result of COVID-19. Additionally, it is probable that more students may opt to take a gap year.

“At this point, it is too early to tell,” Medionte-Phillips said. “We know with many high schools being remote that there is likely going to be students applying later. As of now, overall, our first-year application numbers are tracking very similar to last year’s, but we are hearing from students that are in the early stages of the application process.”

This year’s first-year class has already experienced a different admissions process. Some were able to visit BU’s campus before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the University to move completely online on March 11. Others, however, had to make their decision to attend BU before ever seeing it in person. Juliana Gaeta, an undeclared freshman, said move-in day was the first time she was ever physically on campus.

“I was supposed to come up and visit last April, but, because of [COVID-19], we never got the chance,” Gaeta said. “And since orientation was virtual also, I never got to see the campus before actually moving in.”

Another undeclared freshman, Liam Usticke, mentioned how not being able to visit BU led him to seek information about campus life through other avenues.

“I’m from Westchester, so I know a lot of people who go to [BU],” Usticke said. “So, I was able to get some information about the campus as a whole from them. They helped me out a lot.”

Along with the inability to visit campus before making their decision, current freshmen had a unique first semester away at college, with COVID-19 restrictions limiting the amount of in-person classes and preventing large gatherings. Gaeta said she found herself spending more time with the people she lived with rather than going out with new friends.

“I would say that it was weird, but, since it’s my first semester, I don’t really know any better,” Gaeta said. “A lot of the precautions that were taken seemed pretty normal, like the takeout in the dining halls. The one noticeable thing that was kind of disappointing was not being able to go into other dorms, but I get that they’re just trying to keep us safe.”

Usticke also commented on how his classes were affected by the social distancing guidelines and limitations implemented.

“Most of my classes were online or hybrid, which meant that they met every other week,” Usticke said. “I understand that the administration is just trying to make sure that people don’t get [COVID-19], but I think that they should also try to understand that some of the restrictions can be frustrating at times.”