The annual cycle of Lakeside admissions is in full swing. This year, the pandemic imposed new challenges upon the admissions team, who have been working hard to adapt to the virtual environment and provide an enriching experience for the applicants since August 2020. I interviewed Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Wellesley Wilson to get an insider’s view on this year’s process.
Open houses are the most direct way for applicants to visit, connect with, and familiarize themselves with Lakeside, said Ms. Wilson. This year, all open houses were conducted virtually. At a total of six hour-long open houses for the Upper School (three for academics and three for arts & sports), participants talked with representatives from each department. The sessions are heavily Q&A-centric in order to maintain an engaging atmosphere, and seeing people in their living rooms and kitchens was especially memorable.The virtual format of this year’s open houses may alleviate the intimidation of visiting Lakeside as part of the admissions process and offer an opportunity for applicants to connect with the faculty in a more relaxed and personal way—from the comfort of one’s home. “Our goal with the virtual events is that even if enough people can’t be on campus, they can feel like they know the Lakeside people and can have an opportunity to connect with us,” Ms. Wilson said. “I would say the open houses were successful.”
Besides visiting schools, the interviews are another landmark experience of the admissions process. I remember my interview experience when I applied for ninth grade two years ago: sitting on the couch in Fix Hall, I could feel my rapid heartbeat as I watched my interviewer jot down notes. Virtual interviews this year were conducted in a similar fashion, though the conversation contained some elements that were uniquely “2020”: discussions about virtual learning experiences, life during quarantine, and events such as the presidential election.
Zoom interviews come with some challenges, however. Interviewers needed to make sure that students were in a room by themselves and not reading off of a script. There were times when they had to ask parents to leave the room. There were also technical challenges with Zoom and internet connection.
Thus, transitioning to online processes was a key challenge for the admissions team. Fortunately, the admissions process is cyclical, and experience from previous years helped to frame the tasks for each month between September and March. In addition to virtual interviews, standardized testing (the SSAT and ISEE) were conducted online this year. Lakeside was mindful about equity inclusion: a question about access to devices with cameras and internet was included in the application, and the school also offered free access for those who needed. In addition, the Character Skills Snapshot, which was usually a part of the SSAT, was removed from the application. Other required materials and criteria did not change.
The most widely asked questions about admissions are “How does Lakeside evaluate which students were the best matches for the school?” and “What are the criteria?” According to Ms. Wilson, the admissions team makes decisions based on two considerations: the characteristics of rising classes and how well an applicant matches with the Lakeside community. By examining characteristics of freshman and senior classes to find gaps and concentrations in racial diversity, spectrum of interests, geographical range, and financial differences, the admissions teams can look to build a more balanced and diverse grade.“It can be really frustrating for families when they see that the type of people who were admitted in previous years may not be admitted in the following year,” said Ms. Wilson, “because it’s not a one size fits all process since every grade is different.”
The characteristics of a student influence how they fit into the student body. However, with no in-person interactions, it becomes harder for applicants and the school to fully express themselves. “They are putting an incredible amount of faith in us to be truthful about what we’re saying about experiences in Lakeside, and they probably won’t know if they truly enjoy it until school starts next year,” said Ms. Wilson, “It’s so bizarre to think that their first day of school may be their first time coming on campus.” This is also the biggest challenge that the admissions team face: trying their best to give an objective, thorough, and resonating narration of Lakeside experience without ever seeing the applicants in-person.
The admissions process had definitely been challenging for the admissions team, though Ms. Wilson regards the past few months with an optimistic view. “In September, when school will hopefully open, seeing the new faces on campus will make the difficulties worthwhile. We will feel ready and motivated to restart everything all over again.”