We may be only halfway into the fall semester, but it’s never too early to begin planning for next year’s incoming freshman class. For most new students, their first genuine campus experience happens during new student orientation in the summer before school starts in the fall.
Recent research from Michigan State University showed the connection between effective freshman orientation programs and student retention: Through well-designed and well-executed orientation programs, students can develop “a sense of fitting in before they even walk into class, and that feeling is important down the line,” says Joshua Prasad, lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, and a master’s student in psychology at Michigan State. “It leads to the students feeling like their skills meet academic demands and also leads to them wanting to stick around.”
Effective orientation programs can help get new students off on the right foot physically, socially, academically and financially.
Was this year’s orientation program a smash hit? Take time to congratulate your team for their hard work, and share the program’s success with departments across campus who helped make it happen.
At Texas Tech, for instance, the 2018 edition of Red Raider Orientation (RRO) was “very successful,” says Zach Manning, associate director of transition and engagement at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. “We had approximately 8,500 students attend and had very minimal melt from RRO to enrollment. RRO is a campus wide endeavor that requires everyone contributing and assisting in welcoming new students and their families.”
Reconsider This Year’s Program
If your team hasn’t yet debriefed about your 2018 new student orientation, it’s time to sit down and talk about what worked well, what didn’t, and what changes should be made for next year. If you wait to talk about it until next year’s program is on the horizon, your 2018 experience will no longer be fresh on your minds and you may forget about items that shined or bombed.
At Texas Tech, the orientation team doesn’t even wait until the event is over to critique it. “We actively critique our programs as we move through the summer,” Manning says. “With 28 sessions, we are constantly working to improve our program. It’s our belief that if something is broken, we should change it immediately. If something needs to be changed, we will implement that change at our next session.”
Most changes made between sessions involve the event schedule and logistics, such as moving a presentation that draws a large crowd to a larger facility, or making sure visitors have water before leaving on afternoon tours, Manning says.
Once classes begin in the fall, Manning and his team begin meeting with their campus partners to get their input about changes to make for the next year.
The most effective orientation programs include a collaboration among many departments on campus, including the business and financial department, to ensure that students understand upfront their financial obligations and how to make sure they fulfill their end of the deal. To get all necessary partners on board, start now building relationships, asking for assistance and planning how each department can be involved most effectively in orientation.
Working with partners across campus provides opportunities for creativity. For instance, at Texas Tech, Manning’s orientation team partnered with the athletics department last year to allow visitors onto the Jones AT&T Stadium football field to take pictures at the end of their orientation experience. The team also partnered with some off-campus businesses to sponsor various orientation events, allowing guests to learn more about the local community and helping fund the orientation experience.
Even if orientation is many months away, it’s never too early to start planning, organizing, and registering new students for their sessions. At Texas Tech, for instance, the planning never really stops. “We begin planning next year while we’re still in the middle of this year,” Manning says. “But we will also leave room for any current issues to be integrated into our program up until the day of the program.”
Learn more about what it takes to design and orchestrate a highly successful new student orientation program by downloading our new e-book, “Freshman 101: Start With a Successful Orientation.”