Proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test is required, but that didn't stop hundreds of prospective students and their families from hitting the Montclair State University campus earlier this month for the institution's first in-person open house event since the pandemic began.

"We were able to have almost the same open house event as we had before the pandemic," said Wendy Lin-Cook, vice president for enrollment management at MSU. "And we're having another open house in November."

Colleges and universities had limited opportunities to give students and families a true feel for their campuses in 2020, when events were restricted through mandates or schools chose against big events themselves in the interest of safety — a vaccine wouldn't become available until December, and only for certain groups initially.

"We're very glad that we are back and that the students can see us in person and get a sense of what Montclair is for themselves," Lin-Cook said.

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The fall months are when higher education institutions typically open their doors to big crowds and show off their grounds, amenities, and faculty. Schools offer students a chance to book their own tours, but only so many are available each day.

"Registration has been strong so far, so we're looking forward to a great crowd on October 30th," said Chris Krzak, vice president for enrollment and retention at Georgian Court University in Lakewood.

GCU's open house will be mostly outdoors, Krzak said. Masks are required when guests make visits to indoor locations, such as labs and classrooms.

"The best way to find out if you belong on that campus is for students and families to actually come and walk around on the grounds," Krzak added. "Many times, it's a family that chooses a university together."

Rider University, located in Lawrence, is spreading its typical open house crowds over six dates. Two occurred in September, two more are scheduled for late October, and another two are scheduled for November.

Each event is three hours long, with the bulk of the time spent outdoors, but there are presentations indoors, where masks will be required.

"We're using what's called a free-to-roam concept. It's kind of like choose your own adventure," said Erin Sheehan, assistant director of admission at Rider.

Other upcoming open house events include:

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