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    • Hopkins students discuss their experiences at the Student Panel during the Admissions Open House in 2018.

Hop Admissions Process Adapts to Covid-19

Sophie Sonnenfeld ’21 Lead Features Editor
Amidst the Covid-19 crisis, the Hopkins Admissions Team is keeping standardized testing requirements and creating new ways to let students in while keeping the virus out.
Assistant Director of Admission Katharine Higgins ‘80 gave The Razor a look into the changes for the Hopkins 2020-2021 admissions cycle.

This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, prospective students won’t be able to visit The Hill for in-person tours. To give these students and families a feel for the campus, the Admissions Team created a 360 virtual tour in the new Virtual Admissions Center on the Hopkins website. The tour allows virtual visitors to explore 360-degree views of Hopkins in springtime as well as step into classrooms, hallways, study spaces, and athletic facilities across campus.

Higgins said the Admissions Team got started on the 360 virtual tours in late spring when they realized hosting guests in the fall might be impossible because of Covid-19 safety protocols. Assistant Director of Admission Elliot Faust met with a professional photographer/videographer who spent two days capturing aerial drone images and 360-degree shots inside and outside of buildings and campus spaces.

“After completing the photography work, we felt it was missing the human element of an in-person tour, and the stories tour guides share with prospective families” Higgins reflected.

To add that element, Faust reached out to some veteran student tour guides to send in recordings for different spaces on campus. Each room or space now includes student narration with information and personal anecdotes attached to the specific space. The student guides used Soundtrap to record their narration from home, which Faust edited together. Higgins commented, “Each recording took a couple takes, but we ended up with exactly what we were looking for and the project turned out beautifully!”

Along with the virtual campus tour, prospective students and families can check out live Google Duo tours, which Faust is leading, for families to see school in session. Additionally, Higgins said the Admissions Team is considering hosting a drive-through tour. In the spring, Hopkins held a cross-campus motorcade for seniors in the Class of 2020 and another campus drive-through event to welcome new students before the school year began. According to Higgins, this idea is still in the discussion stage for now.

In the Virtual Admissions Center, visitors also have the chance to attend several Hopkins classes. These include segments from Chinese with Ran Ran, HARPS with Priscilla Encarnação, Drama Rehearsal with Michael Calderone, and Art History with Jacqueline LaBelle-Young.

This year the Hopkins Open House took place over two days with the first day (Saturday, October 17) focused on academics and the second (Sunday, October 18) on athletics, student life and admissions. Higgins said they decided to split the Open House over two days to “help avoid Zoom fatigue.”

Each session was hosted by several faculty and students, and included a brief program overview with time for questions. While there was no tour component to the Virtual Open House, which was always a big part of the on-campus event in past years, Higgins said they encouraged families to try the virtual 360 tours. Similar to the normally on-campus event, the Virtual Open House also hosted a student panel on the second day.

Once prospective students submit their applications to Hopkins, they are typically invited to attend a “shadow day” where they follow a current student around to experience their classes, activities, and lunch. The in-person shadow days are not offered This year due to Covid-19, and Higgins said that a number of legal and security issues would arise from allowing students to virtually shadow classes. “While we cannot host visitors on campus for shadow days, we remain hopeful that admitted students will be able to have a chance to visit classes in the spring.” She added that the Admissions Team is working on potential sample classes for prospective students in the coming weeks.

All interviews for applicants will be conducted over Zoom or by telephone call if a family does not have the technology to support a Zoom interview. Higgins said the Admissions Team is expanding their interview time options to try to accommodate students and parents who may be working from home. They are also now offering some evening and weekend times for interviews in the fall. Applicants are still required to complete standardized testing this year. Both the SSAT and ISEE offer “at home” versions of the test for students to take in safe spaces to prevent Covid-19 exposure. Both the SSAT and ISEE at home tests have the same content, length, and score reports as the traditional test. Both tests are also using live proctors and artificial intelligence to detect and deter any cheating.

The SSAT provides free testing kits for students who are unable to access the internet or a laptop to take the at-home test. These kits include a laptop and a mobile hotspot for internet access.

Higgins said that Hopkins is requiring the testing to better help the Admissions Team assess the applicant, especially this year. “Many students had their grading systems changed to pass/fail or other non-graded options, and determining subject mastery from transcripts, when many students only have a remote option this fall, has made it hard for teachers to get to know them and accurately assess in-class performance. Thus teacher recommendations may not show the true ability of a student.”

Higgins added that the tests will also be useful in determining how to adapt curricula for the fall of 2021. She said that many students will likely have learning gaps, delayed content acquisition, and delays in general student progress. These test scores then will be useful for the Dean of Academics and member of the Admission Committee Kristine Waters to compare with past years of testing data. Based on this data, Higgins said they can work with faculty, particularly those who teach in seventh and ninth grade, to address these gaps with altered curriculums if needed.

Hamden Hall’s admissions page on their school website directs applicants to register for the ISEE or SSAT test and mentions the “at home” option that both tests offer. Greens Farms Academy’s website admissions page also lists the ISEE and SSAT as required standardized tests but does not mention “at home” testing accommodations for the tests.

Alternatively, according to Choate’s admissions page, standardized test scores are optional, but they strongly encourage students who are unable to submit test scores to send in a graded essay and third teacher recommendation for students. Hotchkiss, too, announced on their website that they will go test-optional on their website saying “We are aware that the pandemic has made it significantly more challenging for many students to register and sit for administered tests. Some students may also face technology barriers to testing at home. It is our belief that standardized testing is only one component of a student’s application. Assessing whether or not a young person will be a good fit with the Hotchkiss community relies on the broader context of each student’s academic and lived experience, and we do not want testing to be a barrier to entry for talented young people.”

Higgins said that the Hopkins missions practices and procedures are generally very consistent with other schools in the area. Director of Enrollment & Strategic Marketing Pamela McKenna is currently serving as President of the Fairchester Admission Director Group which includes 38 independent schools in Fairfield County, Connecticut and Westchester County, New York as well as a member of the Greater New Haven Admission Group which includes six schools. Higgins added, “All the directors from both groups meet regularly via Zoom to share best practices and compare what has been successful, and what hasn’t, for each of us in these changing times.”

Some of the virtual innovations from this year might become permanent additions to the Hopkins admissions process. Higgins said the Admissions Team will continue to assess each part of the virtual process for next year, but hinted that they will likely keep the new chat feature available on the Admission page, some version of the Virtual Admission Center on the website, the 360 tour, Zoom opportunities to chat with a member of the Admission Team for questions, Zoom interviews for families who can’t travel to New Haven, and potentially some parts of the Virtual Open House.
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