Last December, we spoke to Co-Director of Admission, Rohan Arjun ’05, about how the global health crisis has caused the Admission Office to rethink their approach to showcasing all George School has to offer. While the pandemic has affected everyone in some way, our international student population has faced particular challenges. In a recent conversation with Co-Director of Admission Kim Major, we focused on how international admissions in particular has been adapting during this time.
Q: When COVID struck what were some of the issues facing international students and how did the community help?
When we realized that we would likely have students who would be unable to travel for spring break, we quickly decided to allow our international students to stay on campus for the break. Many of our students simply couldn’t find flights or could only find one that was extraordinarily expensive. Other families felt that their children were safer here on campus rather than traveling through airports and on airplanes.. As the situation evolved, and we realized that we would have to move to remote learning, we made the decision that we would allow our international students to stay on campus through the summer and through this school year. This allowed greater continuity of study for students who hope to return to some in person education in the fall and allowed graduating seniors who had plans to attend college in the US greater flexibility.
As the fall term approached, we knew that we had to provide distance learning, not only for those who had health concerns, but also for those living internationally who could not travel to the US. We structured our day so that we could accommodate a 12 or 13 hour time difference as much as possible. We offered a distance learning tuition rate and tried to make sure that we were using technologies that could be accessed easily in different countries. We tried to be equitable, we tried to be fair, we tried to take into account the needs of students in different areas.
Q: Can you share with us the effect that COVID-19 has had on the international admission process? How has the George School admission team adapted to these challenges?
It’s largely the same as the domestic pool. We can’t travel, so we can’t make those face-to-face connections. We can’t have guests on campus, so we can’t do interviews in person, which is challenging. What we did was create more events online, which actually helped us reach a wider audience. We had 12 countries represented, and 21 different states. This opened up the room for more people and allowed us to rethink how we’ll do things in the future. Going forward, we will always have virtual events for those who live farther away, particularly in the international arena.
A final accommodation was to allow our international students who did not want to start their George School experience online to defer their admission for a year. If they were admitted as a ninth grader, they could start as a tenth grader next year, as long as they have a successful transcript. This is not something that we normally do, but we made that decision to allow those deferred students to join the George School community at a time that would help them to be more successful.
Q: What changes have (if any) there been to the international admission process that potential applicants should be aware of?
It is harder for students to take the admission tests that we have usually require, so we decided to no longer require the SSAT. Instead, we ask applicants to submit a brief writing sample as part of the online interview process and a sample of math work. We are still requiring proof of language fluency, though.
Q: How can potential international families really get a sense of what life is like at George School, without being able to visit campus?
Attending a virtual information session is a great start! We’ve also made some changes to the interview process to facilitate a greater sense of community. All of the people interviewing in an Admission Office time slot are first put in a Zoom room with current students where they have the opportunity to ask questions. We also offer chats with Admission Ambassadors in info once a month and regular virtual parent chats, which make current parents available to speak with prospective parents.
Once we admit our students, there will be a whole series online events just for them. The benefit of this is greater accessibility which we hope will be more equitable for our students, who can participate in those events live or watch the recordings of them. We will be sure to continue to plan some of these events at times that are more accessible for those in varying times zones.
We also encourage all prospective students to follow us on social media, to hear the stories we share there.
Q: Why should international students think of applying to George School right now?
I should be clear, now more than ever, how deeply we care about our international students and their needs. We’ve taken health and safety precautions very seriously.. We will continue to facilitate a good experience for our international students and offer them the flexibility they need. The fact that we’ve been able to commit to this in really difficult times says that we’re a place that values the diversity of our international community.
Q: What do you want parents and families of prospective or current international students to know?
George School has historically committed to maintaining a large and diverse international student population, and that commitment isn’t going anywhere. This is a place where students can study and learn from one another by bringing real world experiences into the classroom. While we’re hopeful that all of our international students will be able to join us next fall, we will continue to offer flexibility as needed. The families of our international students trust George School to take care of their children and we continue to take that responsibility seriously.