Keegan Zanda, a senior at Hartselle High School and a member of First Baptist Church in Hartselle, recently accepted a scholarship to play soccer at the University of Mobile in the fall. His campus visit was made virtually, and his scholarship was offered by way of films submitted to the coaches. During an in-person visit to a different university (not Baptist), Keegan’s mother said only two students with their parents were on the tour, many buildings were off-limits, and students weren’t allowed in the dorms at all. To her, the experience was “like buying a $40,000 mystery box.”
Baptist colleges and universities are doing their best to avoid that “mystery box” feeling. They are endeavoring to follow CDC guidelines to keep current and prospective students safe while providing an adequate and realistic overview of the life and offerings on their campuses. Answering all the questions and allaying the fears involved in making a college choice are formidable challenges, but they have led to creative thinking and crucial implementation of technology.
Campus tours typically include just that — a tour of campus facilities, including academic buildings, housing/dorms, dining facilities and spots with historical significance. Some colleges plan additional activities, such as meetings with faculty, the opportunity to sit in on a class or lecture, and/or information sessions on financial aid, specific majors or other relevant topics.
Expect a campus visit to last a minimum of a couple of hours. Ideally, allow at least a day to visit the campus and surrounding community. Tours are traditionally the best way to see the environment and have important questions answered, but prospective students also can add to their understanding of what life would be like if they chose that college or university, by visiting the community outside the campus.
Most college towns have numerous hotel and restaurant options, along with recreational and tourist sites to enjoy while you’re there.
University of Mobile
At the University of Mobile, the next “UM Day” is scheduled for March 19 with two different sessions. According to Hali Givens, assistant vice president for enrollment, the number is limited to 50 students and two guests for each. Chairs will be grouped in sets of three, spaced throughout the room, with all guests symptom- and temperature-checked. Masks are required unless eating or drinking. Individually wrapped snacks and breakfast items will be available, and lunch will be served by the cafeteria staff, with students sitting spaced throughout.
They are particularly careful about dorm tours and only show a sample room rather than actual student rooms. Pre-COVID, students could sit in on classes, but now that is very limited. No on-campus accommodations are available for guests.
Foosackly’s is the local go-to for students eating off campus. Nova Coffee House on Saint Andrew Drive also is a favorite, with Waffle House popular for late-night dinner-runs. UM students are fortunate to have the beach nearby. Dauphin Island is about a 45-minute drive, and Gulf Shores is only an hour and 15 minutes away. Walking around downtown Mobile, riding scooters and playing disc golf also provide a sense of life around UM.
Samford University offers virtual visits on Thursdays at 6:00 p.m. and virtual faculty appointments. In addition, a 30-minute, in-person visit with a staff member and a one-hour campus tour conducted on a golf cart can be arranged.
These visits also allow for an opportunity to connect with a faculty member within the student’s academic interest, schedule permitting.
According to Jason Black in the Office of Admission, Samford is hosting Choose Samford days for high school seniors on Fridays throughout the spring. The number of participants is limited, and all CDC guidelines will be followed. These days will provide incoming students a chance to meet each other while on campus.
Neither meals nor overnight accommodations are available on campus currently. Brian Kennedy, Assistant Dean in the Office of Admission, added, “Providing engaging experiences for prospective students and their families requires a collaborative effort across campus, and we are very grateful to our faculty and staff for continuing to partner with the Office of Admission to introduce the very best part of Samford; our people!”
With Samford University’s location in Alabama’s largest city, there are endless choices for off-campus dining, shopping, and entertainment. The bloggers who contribute to SamfordStories.com have pointed out many of those with student appeal, including special places to satisfy a sugar craving and get started on adding the infamous “Freshman 15.”
Ambria Underwood, a blogger on the site, says that Continental Bakery in Mountain Brook is her favorite with its French music and cinnamon rolls “the size of your face.” She also discovered The Heavenly Doughnut Company in Vestavia, Cookie Fix in Homewood, Magic Muffins in Mountain Brook, and Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes, also in Homewood.
To work off some of those delicious calories, Oak Mountain State Park is nearby with its hiking/biking trails. Birmingham Botanical Gardens or the Jemison Walking Trail are also great places to stroll and exercise. There are dozens of chain hotels within an easy drive of Samford’s campus.
Judson College (in Marion) has Preview Days scheduled for February 18, March 27 and May 15. In addition, prospective students and their guests may schedule a private tour of the campus by contacting the admissions office.
According to Beverly Cox Keyton, a 2012 graduate, Perry Lakes Park with hiking trails and a birding tower is an asset, along with Barton’s Beach on the Cahaba River. The Social is a relatively new ice cream parlor, and Lottie’s is considered “the fanciest place in town.” Beverly fondly remembers Willard’s on Highway 5, about a mile from the campus, Lotus Garden and The Shack. Visitors to Judson will find a couple of hotels in Marion but might need to stay in Demopolis or Selma.
Baptist College of Florida
The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville offers both virtual and on-campus visits, utilizing social distancing procedures. Campus visits include a meal, classroom tours and a chapel service. No group tours currently are offered; only one-on-one tours with an admissions counselor, with whom guests may eat in the cafeteria. Visitors are shown the exteriors of key campus buildings plus one dorm room, and will have the opportunity to talk about financial aid. Sandra Richards, director of student life and marketing, said enrollment has been impacted by the pandemic, with many students now taking advantage of the fact that all BCF’s degrees can be completed online.
Baptist College of Florida has a tight-knit campus environment, and students enjoy gathering in the Deese Center for food and fellowship; at the BCM for play, socializing and community ministry; and around the Gazebo for worship, while maintaining social distance. They made the best of COVID restrictions last fall with a Drive-Through Harvest Festival and Drive-Through Christmas Parade. Check Chipley, Florida or Dothan, Alabama for lodging options.
Union, with its main campus in Jackson, Tenn., offers several options for prospective students. Preview Days, known as “Day at the U” are set for February 15 and March 12; Accepted Student Day is April 16. Personal visits are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. by contacting the undergraduate admissions office at least a week in advance. If the scheduled time coincides, lunch on campus is included, as well as attendance at a chapel service. Virtual visits also are possible via Zoom sessions with enrollment counselors. The Union Life blog provides great tips and perspectives from current students. For example, recommended choices at the Brewer Dining Hall are corn nuggets, pepperoni pizza, mac-and-cheese and chocolate ice cream.
Where to attend college or university is one of the most important decisions students and their parents make. Our Baptist colleges are doing an admirable job of assisting in the process.
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
New Orleans Seminary and Leavell College are offering campus previews for the seminary on April 23 and the college on March 5. For $25 per person, out-of-town prospects are provided two nights’ accommodation, and all prospects can expect campus and housing tours, a panel discussion by faculty members, a chapel service led by the president of the seminary and college, Dr. Jamie Dew, dinner on the grounds, and a tour of New Orleans. Individual campus visits may be arranged by giving the admissions office two weeks’ notice. It’s practically imperative to sample a plate of red beans and rice from the cafeteria if you visit on a Thursday.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky
Southern Seminary is hosting a Virtual Preview Day on April 16 from 1-3 p.m. (EDT). On-campus visits may be arranged on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday with a typical schedule running from 11:30-2:30. Southern is offering two nights’ lodging for prospective students and their families during an initial visit.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina
Southeastern Seminary has campus tours at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from February 16 until April 6. A college preview day is slated for March 19, with a seminary preview day on April 22.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas
Prospective Southwestern students are invited to take a campus tour or join a virtual tour via Zoom call. Either may be scheduled by calling the office of admissions.
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri
Midwestern Seminary will host Virtual Preview Days on February 24 and March 24 from 11:30-12:45. Campus visits are offered Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dorms are currently not open for visitors.
Gateway Seminary, Ontario, California
An hour-long, online Preview Day is available on the seminary’s website. According to Shane Canigawa, a member of the enrollment team, the campus is open for visits despite stringent COVID restrictions on the West Coast, and they would be happy to work with prospective students to arrange visits.
College contact information
University of Mobile – Hali Givens, assistant vice president for enrollment firstname.lastname@example.org
Samford University – Jason Black, assistant vice president for enrollment management and dean of admission email@example.com
Judson College – Leigh Ann Brewer – executive assistant to the vice president for admissions and financial aid firstname.lastname@example.org
Baptist College of Florida – Sandra Richards, director of student life and marketing email@example.com
Union University – Robbie Graves, assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions firstname.lastname@example.org
Seminary contact information
New Orleans – Michael Wang, director of admissions email@example.com
Southern – Jeremy Pelton, director of admissions firstname.lastname@example.org
Southeastern – Sam Morris, director of admissions email@example.com
Southwestern – Admissions@swbts.edu
Midwestern – Camden Pulliam, director of admissions – firstname.lastname@example.org
Gateway – email@example.com