Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer

After nearly a year and a half of virtual outreach, the admissions office plans to resume in-person campus tours in October, with some hallmarks of a successful virtual tour year to remain.

Yale’s admissions tour program, typically run out of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, was one of the first programs to move entirely online as the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. Since then, the admissions office has remained closed to visitors, opting instead for virtual tours and information sessions.

Now, the admissions office plans to once again host in-person tours beginning Oct. 4, this time out of the Yale Visitor Center. But with the shift, admissions officers are reflecting on the successes of the past year’s programs, many of which they plan to keep for this admissions season and beyond.

“The nature of the pandemic meant that on-campus tours were among the first programs to be canceled, and they are among the last to be reinstated,” Mark Dunn, the director of outreach and communications at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, told the News. “Throughout this challenging period, we’ve made it a priority to feature and include our talented guides virtually in other parts of our outreach strategy, and they have been universally fantastic in these roles. I’m very excited that our guides will be leading on-campus tours again soon, but I’m also excited that we have found these new opportunities to connect current and prospective students virtually.”

Being a Yale tour guide — historically one of the most selective student jobs on campus — typically means spending days giving tours to the tens of thousands of visitors that pass through the admissions office each year. But as all in-person tours were canceled, tour guides instead became involved in virtual information sessions and virtual tours.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Yale Visitor Center has hosted virtual campus tours, held over Zoom in the form of a presentation by one of the campus tour guides. The virtual tours are geared toward the general public, not just prospective students, and featured a general presentation about locations around campus as well as a question and answer session.

The admissions office has their own virtual tour available in the form of an interactive webpage. The tour allows visitors to click and “walk” through the campus. The office has also been hosting virtual information sessions geared toward prospective students as a replacement for the in-person information sessions that would typically precede a campus tour. The information sessions also involve Yale campus tour guides, who speak to attendees about their experiences as students.

Associate Director of Admissions John Yi ’13, who leads the tour guide program, told the News that the addition of student voices to virtual information sessions has proved quite successful and will continue even as tour guides resume their in-person work.

“In thinking about the best way to connect with prospective students and families amidst the ongoing pandemic, the Admissions Office was especially excited to include the reflections of current undergraduates in the virtual iteration of its information sessions,” Yi wrote in an email to the News. “Campus Tour Guides are especially well-suited to speaking about undergraduate life, and it was a very natural choice to draw from the cohort of guides in selecting our Student Presenters.”

Beginning in October, the Yale Visitor Center will offer six in-person admissions tour slots per day, six days per week. This is more time slots than were offered prepandemic; however, each time slot will offer just two tours of 20 people each, in order to mitigate public health risks. The Yale Visitor Center will also offer virtual Zoom tours once per week.

For the time being, the admissions office will continue hosting all information sessions virtually and will continue to involve Yale tour guides in the sessions. Dunn told the News that during the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, more students were reached via the virtual information sessions than would usually be reached from in-person information sessions, and therefore he suspects that some form of virtual programming will continue post pandemic.

“Regardless of the medium or setting, I believe that honest, authentic, first-hand accounts from current Yale students are the most valuable component of our outreach strategy,” Dunn said.

Debra Johns, an associate director of admissions and the team leader for hospitality, told the News that she, as well as Yi and Visitor Center Director Nancy Franco, have been planning for the return to in-person tours since the beginning of the summer. Johns said that the plan was executed after a “truly collaborative process” that involved the Yale College Dean’s Office and various other Yale agencies, which all worked to ensure that in-person tours could be held safely.

Despite the continued success of virtual programming, Johns said, there is something uniquely special about visiting campus, and she is glad to see prospective students finally able to return.

“We know that when visitors come to campus, they have an overwhelmingly positive experience on our tours,” Johns said. “Our hope is that visiting allows prospective students to get a clearer and more complete picture of the Yale College experience, leading them to make informed decisions about where to apply.”

The early application deadline for Yale College is Nov. 1.

Amelia Davidson was the University Editor for the Yale Daily News. Before that, she covered admissions, financial aid and alumni as a staff reporter. Originally from the Washington D.C. area, she is a junior in Pauli Murray College majoring in American studies.