JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It's a big weekend for anyone heading to college next fall.
Saturday is National College Decision Day, a deadline at many schools for students to submit their deposits. Jacksonville University usually holds a big welcome party for new students but this year they're doing things differently due to the pandemic.
Instead of bringing students to campus, a spirit squad with the school mascot, cheerleaders, drummers, the university president, and NBA JU Alum Artis Gilmore showed up at five different homes Wednesday to welcome new students. It was a surprise!
"I'm overwhelmed!" said Landon Veal, who will be going to JU with his twin brother Logan. "This is insane. I didn't expect this when I applied to JU."
"We're the welcome wave!" Vice President of Enrollment Management Dr. Teresa MacGregor told the Veals in their front lawn. "We are coming here because we're so excited that you're gonna be part of our dolphin family."
JU's plan is to be fully open to in-person classes in the fall. The university is on par with regular enrollment numbers, which is something not all colleges can say. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center finds freshman enrollment last fall went down 13 percent and community college enrollment went down 19 percent.
The students who were surprised Wednesday with the welcome wave are ready to head to in-person classes.
"I'm really confident in my choice of coming to JU," said Maggie Radloff, the first future student the welcome wave surprised. "My dad and my brother both went to JU. My brother's still currently enrolled. It just feels so familiar and I haven't even gone to school there yet."
Radloff plans to study nursing. One outcome of the pandemic is more interest in medical degrees. Application numbers reportedly went up by at least 25 percent last year at nearly two dozen medical schools.
JU staff plan to bring welcome packets and JU signs to 100 homes of future students on the First Coast.