Student Orientation Programs
STUDENT ORIENTATION PROGRAMS
Starting college can cause much anxiety in the heart of a new college student because of all the unknowns–"What should my major be? Will I make any friends? How will I find all of my classes? Whom do I ask if I have a question?" New student orientation programs are designed to guide students in answering all of these questions. Prior to the beginning of classes, students are given an overview of the complete realm of university life, from academics to social activities, through a period of days referred to as orientation. Typically, a staff member or team coordinates the orientation programs within the university and provides the leadership to bring the entire university together. Depending on the size and mission of the institution, the format of orientation will vary from a one-day program to a week-long event. However, regardless of the nature of the program, three objectives should be present in all orientation programs: 1) introducing students to college life; 2) acclimating students to their new surroundings; and3) providing an opportunity for the university to meet the newest members of the community. It is the duty of the coordinator of orientation to design a program that will bring these three goals together.
Introduction to College Life
Introducing students to college life requires presenting as full a view as possible of all the university has to offer. Therefore, academics as well as extracurricular activities should be presented. During orientation, students should be made aware of opportunities to be socially integrated into the college culture. If students do not become socially integrated within the first few weeks of their arrival, they are less likely to stay at that institution. Social activities can include parties, games, concerts, icebreakers, and "hang-out" time. Students also can learn about the various student organizations in which they can be involved. However, orientation programs should not be purely fun and games, for college is more than just fun and games. While the social aspect does play a significant role in one's collegiate experience, the importance of academics should not be over-looked. While a student may focus on one more than the other, both work together in forming the college experience.
Orientation programs begin before classes start; therefore students usually will need to register for classes during orientation. Because new students need some direction and guidance in enrolling for classes, faculty members should have an opportunity to provide academic advising at orientation. An academic component to orientation will give the new students the advantage they will need in making the transition from high school to college. By giving a strong overview of academic expectations, students will be better prepared to meet the challenges of collegiate academics. Therefore, in order to give the most accurate view of an institution, there must be both an academic and social component to the orientation program.
Becoming Familiar with the New Environment
The second aspect of the role of orientation is acclimating students to their new environment. After moving into a new neighborhood, one would ideally like a few days to learn one's way around the new neighborhood. Likewise, orientation should allow students to get their bearings in their new home. For some students, going to college is their first time away from home, so orientation should give them time to become familiar with their new surroundings. New students should meet their roommates and find their classrooms. Through guided tours, campus maps, or even time to just wander, orientation provides a safe avenue for new students to find their way around campus. By moving on campus before classes starts, the new students are able to learn the ropes and not seem so green by the time the academic year begins. Students should become familiar with both physical locations and the workings of the environment during orientation.
Welcome to the Community!
The university community should not only be involved in the preparation and implementation of orientation programs but also have an opportunity to meet the new students. Unlike some of the other programs within campus life, orientation requires the cooperation and the resources of the entire campus community including faculty, dining services, housing, facilities management, and student activities groups. Depending on the size of the institution, the level of community involvement may vary. The administration of a small, liberal arts college may have more opportunities to meet and greet students than that of a large, public school. Whether through receptions, meetings, and even help on move-in day, the university community should be involved in welcoming the new students. For example, faculty may meet new students prior to the beginning of classes. By making a connection, this interaction with the community may in turn even strengthen the student's persistence in college.
Students, as well as faculty and staff, have an important role in orientation. Selecting a specific number of current students to be orientation leaders allows the new students to meet upperclassmen. The orientation leaders can give the new students the inside scoop on college life since they too have been in the new students' shoes. Many institutions use orientation leaders to lead the new students through a series of workshops, campus tours, and social activities. New students may be more open to receive information from the orientation leaders than from a lecturer in a main auditorium. Orientation leaders can also explain some of the details of university life that some administrators would never think of telling them. For instance, orientation leaders can share things such as where to hang out between classes, where to find the best food in town, how to use the laundry room, and how to get involved in campus activities. Often new students have the most contact during orientation with the orientation leaders, so it is imperative that these leaders be properly trained. Therefore, planning orientation leader training should be just as important as planning the actual program. Leaders need to understand the vision of orientation so that it becomes their own and they can communicate that to the new trainees. When selecting orientation leaders, one should look for a good representation of the student body as well as for those who are willing to go the extra mile in helping new students. The readiness of the orientation leaders is the key to the implementation of a successful orientation program.
When designing an orientation program, one must first understand the culture of the institution and the students. A good program for one university may not be conducive to the size or mission of another. In addition, some programs may work better than others depending on the type of student who attends the institution. Even though most orientation programs are designed with the eighteen-year-old, first-time college student in mind, some institutions may have more transfer students or even nontraditional (older) students. Therefore, programs should be implemented to orient them into the academic community as well. Another factor to consider is the orientation of parents. Because parents can aid in the student's transition into college life, the university needs to inform parents as well as students about the structure of the university and where to find additional information.
Orientation programs serve as a foundation for college success. In many instances, orientation programs create a lasting impression for new students and their families. While it is not possible to tell new students everything they will need to know for their entire collegiate experience, orientation programs should create a framework in which students will know where to go, whether it be the tutoring center or health services, if they have additional questions. Orientation is the designated time for the entire university to say, "We welcome you, and we are glad that you are here!" Likewise, orientation is a time to show the new students why they made a good decision in their college choice.
Orientation is a much-needed program that when planned correctly can aid all participants–new students, parents, faculty, staff, administration, and current students. Orientation is designed to answer questions before they are asked and to provide solutions before problems occur. By planning appropriately and using all campus resources, orientation should relieve anxieties and prepare the new students for success.
See also: Academic Advising in Higher Education; Adjustment to College; College Student Retention.
Astin, Alexander W. 1993. What Matters in College? Four Critical Years Revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mullendore, Richard H., and Biller, Gary M. 1994. "Orientation Standards, Evaluation, and Assessment." In Designing Successful Transitions: A Guide for Orienting Students to College, ed. Lee M. Upcraft. Columbia: National Resource Center for the Freshmen Year Experience, University of South Carolina.
Robinson, Debra A.; Burns, Carl F.; and Gaw, Kevin F. 1996. "Orientation Programs: The Foundation for Student Learning and Success." New Directions for Student Services 75:55–68.
Smith, Becky F., and Brackin, Richard. 1994. "Components of a Comprehensive Orientation Program." In Designing Successful Transitions: A Guide for Orienting Students to College, ed. Lee M. Upcraft. Columbia: National Resource Center for the Freshmen Year Experience, University of South Carolina.
Stephanie D. Lee
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