First impressions count. A study out of the University of Texas – Austin found that “students who participated in orientation were more likely to be successful in their first semester in college and much more likely to re-enroll for their second semester at the institution.”¹ Yes, first impressions count. and at University/College level, that means Orientation. So how can we set up orientation to make sure students don't feel like they've stepped into the wilderness? That means an experience that provides an inclusive, fun environment but also serves functional purposes of educating, informing and advising?
We Have More in Common Than We Think:
States, schools and campuses are very different. The size, geography and culture of an institution all contribute to its uniqueness. Schools can be public or private, liberal arts or research focused, religious or athletic affiliated – or any combination of those. What isn't different across these schools is what students are seeking during orientation. The reasons why students attend orientation, what they're looking for and what they looking to avoid, have a lot in common across different universities and colleges. There are universal traits and fears across students of all races, genders and ethnicities. Students attend college, university or technical schools not just to learn from textbooks, but to learn from people: professors, teachers and their peers.
What Do the Students Have to Say About Orientation?
We surveyed a host of current and former students to see what we could learn from their orientation experiences. We asked them to answer four questions, keeping an eye for any patterns in their response. Their answers shed light on a very interesting shared motivation: feeling a sense of belonging. While their phrasing varied, the underlying theme for all students centered on feeling included and part of a community. We synthesized their responses into an insight associated with each question: 1/ What were you most excited about prior to orientation? Students are most excited to engage with others, build a network and establish connections. 2/ What were you most fearful of prior to orientation? Exclusion and rejection are the biggest prohibitive fears. 3/ What did you find most useful during orientation? Knowledge and insight are the most useful when delivered through peers, instead of handouts. 4/ What did you find the least useful during orientation? Traditional methods of disseminating information turned out to be the most dissatisfying to this generation of students. In light of these findings, how can we shape orientation programs and services to drive more inclusion and interaction? And how do we do that for a student population that spends over 3 hours per day on their cell phone? That is the framework in which we need to think now. Why? Because first impressions count.
¹ Lewis, T. A. (2011, August). The influence of a new student orientation program : first semester student success in a suburban community college. UT Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2152/ETD-UT-2011-08-3881 Selected Survey Recipient Responses:Participant 1: Current Second-Year Student
Most excited: To have the freedom to explore a new city and all the possible new experiences I would have (meeting new people, trying new things etc.) Most fearful: that I wouldn't find a group of people to connect with or be friends with during frosh- that I would be alone. Most useful: the leaders. They just seemed super knowledgably and took good care of us. There were a lot of health resources that were super useful along the way (red frogs for water, walksafe/drivesafe, MSERT) but I didn't always know how to access them or where they exactly were Most useless: It's not really an object or service, but the thing that functioned the least smoothly was trying to distribute contact information from leaders to the 20-25 froshies and have the leaders keep track of all their froshies Participant 2: Recent Graduate Most excited: meeting students from different backgrounds/ countries and developing my personality Most fearful: Not finding my place on campus Most useful: Rez Hall Floor Fellows, without them I would have not known what was going on Most useless: The frosh handbook. Very glossy handbook that all 6k students get, no-one read it as we don't get info in that way Participant 3: Current First Year Student Most excited: During orientation week, I’m excited to be at school. Most fearful: For a short time, I’m fearful about chit-chatting with someone I don’t know, but, eventually, a conversation happens. Most useful: The most useful thing is learning about different clubs and events at my school. Most useless: The least useful thing is the lack of information about all the services at my school.