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Driving Maximum Engagement for Virtual New Student Orientations

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

Students at student orientation
Photo taken by Stanley Morales on Canva

When it comes to any new experience in life — like going to college — it’s important to begin as you aim to continue. Getting started off on the right foot during initial interactions results in better retention and increased student success. For many institutions and programs, this make-or-break opportunity occurs during new student orientation.

For me, Freshman Orientation at Drexel was my first real exposure to life as a college student. It’s the first thing I remember at the outset of a journey that had a profound impact on shaping the person I am today. Most students look back on their orientation as a time of many firsts. It’s the first time they’re on campus, it’s the first time they’re living on their own, and it’s the first time they meet their new peers — who often become friends and support systems when the school year officially begins. From a university perspective, the quality of an orientation has a direct impact on yield rates¹— making it a critical introduction.

First impressions are lasting impressions. With the rise of COVID-19 and uncertainties surrounding summer programming and fall instruction, many students won’t have a normal orientation experience. More and more incoming freshmen are getting acquainted with their schools remotely. This has presented a unique challenge for administrators: How can a school create an incredible experience for new students when those students can’t be physically present?

How can a school create an incredible experience for new students when those students can’t be physically present? By leveraging existing online classroom technology - Yellowdig.

Over the last month, my team and I have had many conversations with academic leaders about contingency planning for the summer admissions cycle and upcoming fall semester. Because summer orientations have significant impact on yield and first-year retention, I wanted to share some of the best tactics I’ve encountered schools across the country using to facilitate meaningful remote orientations.

  1. Think of “Virtual Orientation” as a week-long event, not a one/two day synchronous Zoom marathon that mirrors what your in-person event would have looked like.

  2. Don’t make synchronous online sessions too long. Attendee fatigue sets in much quicker when students are not there in person.

  3. Consider how you can lead virtual tours of campus. A big part of any orientation is giving students the chance to get familiar with the environment in a low-pressure setting.

  4. Be realistic about what students will and won’t share, and try to double down on the most shareable items — forget the rest. The most common way users interact in any online experience is “lurking,” or reading without actually interacting. This kind of involvement is crucial.

  5. Build an asynchronous community that compliments any of the live video sessions. [Hint, hint — use Yellowdig!]

  6. Use your asynchronous community to build affinity groups. When students interact with one another based on common interest, retention is more likely.

  7. Re-imagine your in-person orientation “surprise and delight” opportunities through asynchronous contests for prizes like swag, gift cards, exclusive opportunities to meet leadership — essentially gamifying your orientation experience to encourage more participation and organic connections among participants.

  8. Enlist community managers as designated points of contact for different student groups and asynchronous activities. Make sure they are engaging students. These could be your Student Orientation Ambassadors, members of the Enrollment or Student Services team, Residence Hall leaders, etc.