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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.

  9. Create an updated Strategic Enrollment Plan to maximize the success rate of enrollment counselors and improve yield. Use the data collected from new asynchronous orientation communities and past in-person orientation activities to inform how you plan to nurture these pre-enrolled students through your admissions cycle online. This will help you combat Summer Melt!²

  10. In all forms of communication and all channels, try to use the same voice that your students use. Be as conversational as possible so as to encourage dialogue. Get creative and use emojis, GIFs, MEMEs, anything to help your messaging stand out and be remembered!

  11. Leverage clear CTAs in all of your asynchronous and synchronous messaging. Action captures attention.

Our clients have been determined to not let the limitations of remote interaction result in a lackluster experience for incoming students. They’re utilizing the tactics listed above to create meaningful connections and foster a sense of togetherness even though everyone is apart. When it comes to all asynchronous communication and engagement, they’re using Yellowdig’s social platform to accomplish an unprecedented amount of interaction between pre-enrolled community members that boosts yield.

There is no reason why any student should have to miss out on an amazing orientation that will lay the foundation for an amazing education. Technology allows students around the world to foster connection and get oriented to their college, regardless of circumstances, and no one should have to miss out on this critical experience.

P.S. Over the coming weeks, we will be writing pieces that highlight specific universities and the actions they are taking to support their admissions cycle through this “new normal.” If you have a story worth sharing, or are interested in learning more about Yellowdig’s platform and how it can help you to improve orientation experiences and prevent summer melt, please reach out to me —

Stay resilient, innovative, and safe!

- Tyler


¹”Why Does the College Admissions Yield Rate Matter?”

² O’Connor, Patrick. “Summer Melt: Why One Third of College-Bound Students Don’t Make It to Campus in the Fall”


Tyler Rohrbaugh is the Head of Client Partnerships at Yellowdig, a digital platform for active, perpetual learning allowing collaborative and immersive learning to happen. Write to:

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