No College Visits? Young Alumni to the Rescue.

The list of things the pandemic has changed for Sidwell Friends students over the past two school years is long—and the list of ways they and the School have adapted is just as lengthy. One challenge? The loss of traditional college visits. The solution? Young alumni.

“In the spring of 2020, the Alumni Office was informally making connections for the Class of 2020, who were finishing up their college decisions, but couldn’t go to campuses and visit in person,” said Sarah Duda, assistant director of Alumni Engagement. “Over the summer, we made more of a formalized effort to establish a program that would be more long-lasting.” That meant contacting young alumni (usually those who graduated in 2015 or later) and passing on their information to a student interested in the school that the alum was either still attending or recently graduated from. Eventually over 60 alumni representing 40 schools offered their informal guidance about their specific college, their programs, or just the college-search process in general.

Occasionally the Alumni Office will reach out to older alumni when the current student has a specific need or interest—about playing a specific sport in college, for example, or a student who is planning on a certain field of study.  

“We have one student who’s going to West Point next year. Since we only have a few recent West Point graduates in our alumni community, we spent some time making a connection in the Class of 2002 for him,” Duda said. “He really appreciated that we went to that extent to find him someone to connect with.”

The Sidwell students (and their parents) have expressed gratitude for the program, and even more positive feedback has come from the alumni. “This is something that young alumni like doing,” Duda said. “They like sharing about being in college and life after Sidwell.”

The program also helps students who may not have connections at certain colleges. “Students who are savvy enough to make connections like this will go and do it—if they have a friend who goes to Berkeley or a friend who goes to Yale, it’s easy for them to reach out,” Duda said. “But that’s not the case for everyone. People have their different friend groups and they may or may not be confident enough to reach out to someone who was a senior when they were a freshman.” This program ensures that each Sidwell Friends student who utilizes it has the opportunity to make face-to-face (or at least Zoom-to-Zoom) connections.

Even as the pandemic and its accompanying restrictions slowly come to an end, Duda says the Alumni Office has every intention of keeping the program going. Not only does it give all students access to college connections, students who may not be able to travel to far-off campuses now have the opportunity to get the inside scoop on what life at a school is really like.

“Students and parents really appreciate that it’s here,” she said. “With all the good reasons to keep it running, I think it will be something the School will offer in the long term.”

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