* This was originally posted on The OOHLALA Blog.
With summer upon us, it is the season of New Student Orientation for colleges and universities across the country. Incoming students, fresh out of high school, are becoming acclimated to what will (hopefully) be their home away from home for the next several years. Orientation programs come in all shapes and sizes, and there will always be different form of programs that fit better for every institution. Nevertheless, 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, and the impact of your efforts, is increased retention and student success as a result of their preparation and knowledge that they are supported as students at your institution.
Here are 3 specific ways New Student Orientation programs impact student retention and success (and what you can do to maximize this potential).
1. Encourages Social Involvement
A great part of orientation is the fact that it is the first time a big batch of incoming students are all coming together ahead of the start of the semester. There may have been disparate open houses and other chances before, but all of these students are committed to your institution and are all together. This changes how they interact with you and how they interact with each other. It's important to get the students to connect with their fellow peers rather than having you being the main conduit for their interactions and questions. The bonds that students make at orientation can be their saving graces 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. More possibilities for social involvement at orientation are chances for incoming students to interactwith current students. This could be through icebreakers with their Orientation Leaders, student panels, or engaging with student clubs at a fair type portion of the day where all the organizations table and speak to their offerings.
2. Builds Student Pride
An important component of New Student Orientation is welcoming the incoming students into your community. This includes getting students excited about being a part of it and partaking in the traditions of your campus and institution. Incorporating your mascot, branded swag (shirts, hats, prizes, etc.) and having 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!). Even 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. They could have chosen any number of other places to go, and they should feel like they can't wait to get the school year started!
3. Provides Support
Something more practical and functional to accomplish during New Student Orientation is to make students (and families) feel like they are supported and guided 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 while also letting everyone know how to reach out if they need some more help. Orientation can be an overload of information for everyone involved, so the most basic thing we can do is make sure that students and families feel like they are cared for and supported by our staff. That goes a long way since we can't anticipate every single need that could ever arise, and we shouldn't just dump information on everyone to try to solve all the questions ahead of time.
I believe New Student Orientation is one of the most important functional areas in student affairs since it brings together every other area to help shepherd in students and make them feel valued, excited, and supported. The tone that is set and the investments made at orientation can pay dividends later in huge ways. I encourage you to continue to tinker and improve your New Student Orientation programs and make sure as many students attend as possible. Your students and your institution will thank you for it.