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Campus & Culture

A More Personal Approach to Campus Tours

Pandemic or not, demand for in-person tours on Hawk Hill is greater than ever. Our admission team has created new opportunities for giving prospective students a taste of life as future Hawks, says Karen Pellegrino, vice president for enrollment management.

An SJU campus tour near Barbelin Hall. A tour guide conducts a tour near Barbelin Hall. Families and guides are being paired one-on-one for tours this fall.

Written by: Erin O'Boyle

Published: September 16, 2020

Total reading time: 6 minutes

  • Saint Joseph’s admissions team is closing out a busy summer of giving tours to prospective students.
  • Saint Joseph’s offered 12 daily tours during the summer, and played host to nearly 1,000 families.
  • Because tour guides are now working one-on-one with families due to COVID-19 health and safety precautions, they are able to give a more personalized look at the Saint Joseph’s campus.

As the summer comes to a close, it has been a busy season for Saint Joseph’s admission team, which has welcomed hundreds of families for campus tours in recent months. Karen Pellegrino, vice president for enrollment management, recently discussed the resumption of in-person tours amid the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has created unexpected opportunities for a more personal approach to giving interested high school students a taste of life on Hawk Hill. The University also provides virtual options for discovering Hawk Hill, including an Oct. 10 virtual open house.

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Since the return to campus, what has the demand been like for campus tours?

Karen Pellegrino: The demand for tours has been constant and strong. As soon as we opened tour appointments on our visit page, they filled up immediately. We added additional slots as soon as we knew we had enough tour guides to staff each one.

What do campus tours look like this year, compared to previous years? What kind of training did you do for tour guides?

Pellegrino: Instead of a tour guide walking backwards, leading a group of 15 or 20 students and parents, we have been able to keep the tours personal – one family paired with one tour guide. Of course, everyone is wearing a mask and our tour guides maintain six feet of distance from the family. While there may be a bit of energy that comes from a larger tour group, these individual tours allow us to provide a level of detail and personalization that a larger tour does not. We can tailor the tour to the student’s interests.

The tours generally remain outside, and we are no longer able to show a residence hall. While that is certainly disappointing, it has not been a stumbling block. The tour guides answer any questions about the dorms, and in the follow up correspondence following the visit, students are sent a video that highlights the four freshmen residence halls. The families who have toured have been incredibly flexible and understanding. They are just glad that they have had the opportunity to tour the campus.

Karen Pellegrino
Karen Pellegrino

What are some surprising or lighthearted moments that have resulted from the changes to the tours?

Pellegrino: As mentioned earlier, I think the dynamic of the personal tour has been one of the most positive aspects of our tours this summer. It has been amazing to see the connections our student tour guides have made with our visitors – generally with no advance knowledge or planning. Whether it is a shared academic interest, neighboring high school or commitment to the same club or sport, these connections have emerged all summer. In a larger tour group, I’m not sure those same connections would have been possible.

What are some of your favorite places to have tour guides take families on tours – or the best times of day to see the beauty of campus?

Pellegrino: I think every tour guide probably has a favorite spot on campus to highlight, or a favorite story to tell. It is always great when we can see a real hawk circling campus. We have a beautiful campus that shows well all day, but several years ago we implemented Twilight Tours, which we offer during the last weeks of summer. As the sun sets and the summer heat dissipates a bit, the campus looks especially lovely and it is more comfortable for families to walk around. We try to do the Twilight Tours when the high school students have more flexibility in the afternoons and evenings, before they go back to school for the fall.

The demand for tours has been constant and strong. As soon as we opened tour appointments on our visit page, they filled up immediately."

Karen Pellegrino

Vice President for Enrollment Management

What is the feedback like from parents and students?

Pellegrino: The students and parents who have toured have generally expressed excitement to be on a college campus and gratitude that we are offering these opportunities. Not all colleges have been able to offer these opportunities. It does take a significant effort and tremendous organization to offer 12 daily tours during the summer, but I believe the investment of that time and energy have paid off. [Over the summer,] we have been able to offer over 900 students the opportunity to visit campus. Most of those students have been prospective members of the Class of 2025, but we did have some incoming first-year students as well who were excited to have another, or even their first, opportunity to see the campus, which will be a home away from home for the next four years.

What is your advice for prospective members of the Class of 2025?

Pellegrino: It goes without saying that this will be a very different admission process for members of the Class of 2025. There are a few pieces of advice I would highlight:

Take advantage of all opportunities to get to know a college, whether that is through an on-campus or virtual visit. While students may be limited in visiting colleges, the resources that many colleges have invested in their virtual visit opportunities may encourage a student to research and get to know a school to which they had not given serious consideration.

Try not to stress about taking standardized tests. Most schools have decided, at least for this year, to adopt test-optional admission processes. Saint Joseph’s has been test optional since 2014, and we do not require test scores for scholarship consideration or any academic programs. Students should not put themselves in a difficult situation in order to take a test, nor should they worry that an application will be viewed as “less than” without scores.

Keep in mind that most colleges are going to be especially understanding about the disruption that members of the Class of 2025 have experienced in their academic careers. We know students may not have taken the exact program they wanted, or they took classes pass/fail instead of getting a letter grade.

This is advice I offer for students every year: Think carefully about the schools to which you are going to apply, and try to cast a wide net. Every year, a great deal is written about the college admission process, but often those articles are focused on a very small subset of colleges and universities across the country. There are over 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone, and students truly have a wealth of institutions from which to choose.