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Monday, August 08, 2022

Limited tours and online Preview present challenges for incoming students

Some had to decide on UF without ever visiting campus in person

With campus tours at reduced capacity and new student Preview, which helps students transition to UF with tours and advising, held online, UF class of 2025 students are worried about how well they can get to know their new college.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, campus tours are limited and in high demand, and Preview, UF’s new student orientation, is online this year. As a result, students may have to make their college decisions without visiting UF in person, director of freshman and international admissions Charles Murphy said. 

While that could make decisions more difficult for some, Murphy said it’s good that the Office of Admissions is offering some in-person tours. Other universities, such as the University of Central Florida and University of Miami, are only offering virtual tours.

“The families that are able to go on them are really appreciative, because not every campus is able to offer tours,” Murphy said. “They really appreciate the opportunity to see campus in person, talk to a person in person with their Cicerone tour guide.” 

The Office of Admissions has worked with Florida Cicerones, students who serve as tour guides to UF, to offer reduced capacity tours since March, Murphy said. Tours are only reserved for admitted students, who were emailed an invite after their admission to UF with information on how to sign up, he said. Before COVID-19, anyone could sign up for a tour.

Besides Florida Cicerones, The Office of Admissions has worked with Screen, Test & Protect and UF to create COVID-19 safety guidelines for tours, Murphy said. These include a maximum of four families per tour and requiring that people wear and families stay six feet apart from each other during the tour, which is mostly outside. 

To prevent crowds at the Welcome Center when people check in for tours, the Office of Admissions spaces them out, Murphy said. Before the pandemic, there could be six to eight tours at the same time. In early March, there were five tours per day leaving every 30 minutes, he said. Now, there are to a maximum of eight tours per day, he said, with one leaving every 30 minutes.

“There are a lot more people that want to take a tour than we have the capacity to offer,” Murphy said. “But we’re glad that we’re able to offer some students and families that opportunity.” 

The tours will continue until the end of the Spring semester, Murphy said.

Taylor Lawrence, an 18-year-old upcoming UF marketing student, wasn’t able to go on in-person tours because there were no available dates. However,she went on two self-guided tours in March.

She said the tours didn’t affect her college decision, as she always wanted to go to UF, but they made her more excited to go. For people who don’t know as much about UF, though, she said having a tour guide would be more helpful.

“For people that are new, I think that going by themselves would be kind of pointless, because they don’t really know all the different things that a tour guide could give them,” Lawrence said.

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Preview has also been affected by the pandemic. Although Summer B classes will be in person, Preview will be online this year from May to June, Kristopher Klann, director of New Student & Family Programs, wrote in an email. Preview sessions will take place during Summer A before Summer B starts, Klann wrote. 

There will be a $35 charge/orientation fee in accordance with Florida State Statute. In the case of Preview, Klann wrote, the fee goes toward direct cost associated with operating the program, such as staffing.

Students can also participate in Gator Nation Visit Days (GNV Days), an optional one-day, in-person transition program in July, Klann wrote. This program is an opportunity for students and families to visit campus, meet other new students and engage with campus resources. GNV Days will take place during Summer B, when UF relaxes physical distancing requirements, Klann wrote. Masks will still be required.

Details on GNV Days will be published on the New Student and Family Programs website once they are finalized, Klann wrote.

This year, Preview will provide more synchronous programming throughout the sessions to give students an opportunity to engage with different areas, ranging from Multicultural & Diversity Affairs to Student Activities & Involvement, Klann wrote. 

But some incoming freshmen would still rather see their new home before classes start.

Eighteen-year-old Ethan Bhatt plans to study microbiology and cell sciences at UF starting in the Fall. While he doesn’t think he’ll miss out on the Preview experience by attending online, Bhatt said he would prefer the university to hold it in person if possible. 

“I don’t really know what to expect honestly with the online version,” Bhatt said. “Considering the pandemic, I admit it would make sense.”

Lawrence would also prefer to attend Preview in person. While she understands UF’s decision to limit tours, she doesn’t understand why Preview has to be online.

“I feel like if they’re able to give self-guided tours, then they should be able to let us come and see our school in person,” Lawrence said.

Like Bhatt, Lawrence said she doesn’t know what to expect with online Preview and doesn’t think it will be as beneficial as in-person Preview. She fears it isn’t worth the money, she said.

The lawsuit against Preview’s fees gained four plaintiffs in Fall 2020, resulting in five total. The lawsuit was filed Sept. 20, 2019, by a UF student’s mother, who argued she and others paid more for Preview and application fees than state law allowed. The parties asked for a refund and for the fees to return to state law maximums. UF does not discuss active litigation, Klann wrote.

“I think it’s a little ridiculous that they’re making us pay $35 to sit in front of my computer screen,” Lawrence said. “There’s also an additional fee to have your parents sit in and watch or something like that. I just think it’s a waste of money.”

Contact J.P. Oprison at Follow him on Twitter @JOprison.

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J.P. Oprison

JP is a fourth-year journalism major with a minor in history. He is currently the health reporter for The Alligator, focusing on how the pandemic is affecting Alachua County and the thousands of students in Gainesville. In his free time, JP likes to exercise at the gym and relax on the beach.

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