Every year, prospective Belmont Hill students attend the annual admissions Open House to get to know the school better and to see if Belmont Hill is the right school for them. Open Houses are important for Belmont Hill because their success ensures a wide group of applicants that represent the future of the school. In the past, Belmont Hill open houses have been school-wide events that involve hundreds of students giving tours to prospective families while teachers are in their classrooms talking about the school life. However, this year, the admissions team adapted Open Houses into a virtual setting in order to make sure a large number of families can get to know the school without worrying about the danger of COVID-19.
This year the Open House had to find a way to effectively educate prospective families on reasons to choose Belmont Hill without having any in-person interactions. When interviewed, Mrs. Larocque replied “Given ‘Zoom fatigue,’ we wanted to make our Open House worth it for families – so our focus from the beginning was on access and interaction.” This interaction involved current students being paired off with prospective families to talk about their personal experiences at Belmont Hill in order to make the experience more personal for the visitors. The open house also included an address by Mr. Schneider and chatting with a faculty member. Most would agree the Virtual Open House can be considered a success since both faculty and visitor feedback has been positive. Quantitatively, the Virtual Open House was absolutely a success with 355 families registering for just one of the three dates available compared to only 255 last year. Maybe a virtual open house will become a part of the admissions events in the future, along with an on campus open house, to give even more families the chance to learn about the school.
Looking back on the three open houses, one of the biggest positives of the Virtual Open House was the flexibility in dates for the prospective families. With three separate dates to choose from, many more students had the opportunity to find a space in their busy schedules to get to know Belmont Hill. According to Mrs. Larocque, “the meaningful roundtable and breakout-room discussions that allowed prospective families to interact directly with our teachers and students in very small groups” were one of the most important differentiating factors when compared to other similar schools. Of course, a negative of the Virtual Open House was that families would not be able to “to see first-hand the warm, welcoming, and fun community that we are.”
On the other hand, the admissions team noted that the most significant downside of a Virtual Open House was that families were not able to experience the campus and community culture which is an experience that cannot be replicated anywhere else. Although there is a campus tour available on the school website, as Mr. Masiiwa said, “You can never virtually recreate the intangibles that make Belmont Hill such a special place.”
With the large increase in families attending the open house, we wondered whether there has been a change in the number of applications. Also, with last year’s yield rate at an all time high, the school is currently over-enrolled for the year and was not able to admit any students from its waitlist according to Mr. Mahoney, the school communications director, in a recent article by Wicked Local. The admissions office feels fortunate, however, that they have seen a “generally similar number” of applications compared to previous years. They also stated that the continuing commitment from the school for need-based financial aid, is, in these uncertain times, outstanding.
Looking forward, the Virtual Open House may very well become a part of the regular admissions events. With the chance to introduce Belmont Hill to a wider range of students, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives. While the Virtual Open House does not offer the families as much of a chance to see the full school, it is still important that prospective families were offered a chance to interact with members of the community to get a sense of Belmont Hill. With so much uncertainty regarding the future, Admissions stated that they think that, “the priority would be to get our current parents and families back on campus first.” Certainly with the current infrastructure in place to hold virtual events, Belmont Hill would be able to hybridize online admissions with in-person events.