Orientation programs come in all shapes and sizes, but the overall importance of a proper New Student Orientation program cannot be understated. It is the first chance to engage new students in the culture, expectations, and resources your institution has to offer. When done right, the results of your efforts are increased retention and student success. Here are 3 specific ways New Student Orientation programs impact student retention and success, (and what you can do to maximize this potential).
Encourage Social Involvement
A great part of orientation is the fact that it is the first time a big batch of incoming students is all coming together. Social involvement activities at orientation are chances for incoming students to interact with current students. This could be through icebreakers with their Orientation Leaders, student panels, or engaging with student clubs. For example, you could have student leaders speak candidly about their first years at college through a guided panel. This is a great way for new students to get an idea of what to expect and what to aspire to.Another good idea is to host an “involvement fair” which would feature campus clubs so students can see what opportunities are available for their interests. It's important to get students to connect with their fellow peers rather than having you, as the professional, be the main conduit for their interactions and questions. The bonds that students make at orientation can be their saving grace in those first few weeks as they are still figuring everything out and wanting to meet new people. If they feel alone, isolated, and like no one cares, then they are far more likely to check out of the whole college experience altogether.
Build Student Pride
An important component of New Student Orientation is welcoming incoming students into your community. This includes getting students excited about being a part of the campus and partaking in the university’s traditions. You should incorporate your mascot, branded swag, (shirts, hats, prizes, etc.), into your orientation activities as well as have students participate in a tradition such as learning the student slang or signing a class banner. (Don't have a tradition? It's never too early to start!). At the very least, just having a fun, engaging, positive, and friendly atmosphere for students is the least you can do to get students excited about attending your school. For instance, you could have a sizzle reel video that gets students psyched to be a new student and excited for the day of programs. Also, having upbeat music playing throughout the day, (especially during any down time), will create a more energetic atmosphere. Also, make sure to have a designated photographer to take photos of students with the mascot and their new friends. You can then post these photos on the school’s social media accounts. This is a great way to publicize the campus’ social media platforms and to encourage students to join them.
It’s important that during New Student Orientation students and their families feel like they are being supported. This is the time where you guide them through the process of getting into and through college successfully. It can be a very confusing and stressful experience to get acclimated to the large bureaucracies that many campuses have become. We shouldn't assume students and families, (especially those that have never gone to college before), can just figure it all out on their own. We need to make everything as simple and efficient as possible and let everyone know where to go if they have more questions or need more support. Registering for classes is a huge concern for most students and parents, so try to give students their course schedules at orientation or give them an opportunity to meet with an advisor. Simply taking the time to explain how the process works at your institution can also be extremely helpful. Giving your new students access to a financial aid counselor can also be a big help since right alongside having the courses they want, students and their families are always anxious about paying for college. A lot of times, people just need some reassurances during orientation. They might not need all the answers right away, but by just being empathetic, listening, and giving as much information as you can, can make a world of difference. I believe New Student Orientation is one of the most important functional areas in student affairs as it brings together a number of different departments in order to help shepherd in students and make them feel valued, excited, and supported. The tone that is set and the investments that are made during orientation can pay dividends later. I encourage you to continue to tinker and improve your New Student Orientation programs and make sure that as many students attend as possible. Your students and your institution will thank you for it.