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Credit: Julio Sosa

A large crowd of students suddenly appears on Locust Walk, pointing at buildings and gazing around campus as if it’s their first time at Penn. Many in that group have indeed never stepped on campus before, but they’ll be back in a few months, this time as Penn undergraduates.

The Admissions Office will be hosting its annual ConnectED Quaker Day on Feb. 10, a daylong orientation for early decision admits to attend information sessions and get to know their new classmates. As of Wednesday, 920 individuals have registered for ConnectED, including 535 ED admits and 385 guests that the admitted students are bringing.

“At that point, I still hadn’t visited Penn, so that was good just to get a feel for the campus before I actually started school,” College freshman Stephanie Diaz said of her experience a year ago. “There was a large community of people who were really interested in social justice, and that there were classes and other groups on campus that really dedicated themselves to that.”

Class of 2021 early decision admit Aaditi Tamhankar shared some of the concerns early decision admits had leading up to the orientation, including the short duration of the event and the announcement of the date only three weeks before the occasion.

“Many find it cumbersome to come for one day, so maybe extending the event would be a good idea,” Tamhankar said. “People were also complaining that it was being announced really late.”

Dean of Admissions Eric Furda noted that housing and staff restraints prevent ConnectED from becoming an overnight program.

“By design, we wouldn’t be able to support [the] 1,354 students that we admitted early decision and their parents,” Furda said. “We just don’t have that capacity, so we’re trying to help meet the students where they are while also being realistic about what it is that we can provide.”

Although ConnectED could be incorporated into the Quaker Days event held for regular decision admits in April, Furda emphasized the difference in mindsets and needs between early decision admits already committed to Penn and regular decision students still considering several universities.

“Instead of saying, ‘So this is why you should study at Penn,’ it’s almost like ‘This is how you’re going to approach academic advising, new student orientation, all these different pieces of the transition,’ so that is really the main purpose,” Furda said.

In order to reach out to admitted students who lack the time or resources to come to Penn, the Admissions Office has redoubled its focus on Beyond Campus Initiatives — programming geared specifically towards the many admitted students who are unable to participate in ConnectED or Quaker Days.

“We’re going to be experimenting with a whole host of things, including trying to do some Facebook Live events for the first time,” University spokesperson Kathryn Bezella said. “We’ll be doing some Instagram stories, just so people can see housing choices and can start to get acclimated even if they can’t be on campus.”

“We’re thinking creatively about how we can bring what we do in-person into a virtual realm.”

Furda views ConnectED above all else as an opportunity to facilitate students’ transition from high school to Penn.

“It really strikes me when I see a group of students talking with each other and I’ll say ... ‘Did you meet on Facebook?’” Furda said. “They’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re kind of familiar with that, but actually this is the first time we’re talking to each other.’ People are meeting each other and finding out more about each other.”