New Student Orientation Approaches and Ideas

New Student Orientation is a year-round activity at most campuses, there is nothing like summer orientation. Typically, some of the largest orientation sessions you will see are a great opportunity to showcase all that your institution has to offer to students and their families. Not only will students and their families experience the various programs, resources, and services at your campus, but it is an exciting time to try new, innovative ways to entice families to engage with your office.

As you’re preparing for the upcoming season, it is important to think through what has and has not been effective in your approach to family involvement and engagement during orientation. Whether you’ve been in the field one year or less, or if you’re a seasoned veteran with 15+ years under your belt, it is important to reflect, adjust, and execute change. Think through the following questions, what fun ways can you showcase and market directly to the parents and families you serve? When was the last time you freshened up your marketing strategy to families, have you incorporated an online and in-person strategy that compliments one another? What can be done with limited touchpoints with families? As colleagues, we borrow from one another to ensure consistency across the country, but we learn from one another to bring forward the best practices across the country. Below are a few New Student Orientation approaches and ideas for the upcoming season:

Fresh, New, Innovative Change
Have you ever incorporated a silent reflection activity into your orientation presentation? What about a funny meme check-in slide to see how families are feeling about this monumental transition in their lives? Thinking about a trendy spin on selling merchandise and memberships? At my institution, the University of Texas Arlington, my office created a fresh, new take on membership registration and the family Q&A section. We’ve incorporated an open-air gazebo with trendy vibes, and we rebranded it to the UTA Parent & Family Services Pop-up Shop & Concierge Center. We’re able to sell Maverick Family Swag, Maverick Parent & Family Association memberships as well as answer our Mav families burning questions and concerns. It served as a game changer when we introduced it in the summer of 2021. Many families visited the pop-up shop and it resulted in our department’s ability to recoup revenue lost due to the pandemic the year before. Another great idea to incorporate is silent reflection activities during a presentation with families. A silent reflection can be incorporated both virtually and in-person. Add music or background photos, but the objective is to help families process their thoughts and feelings during one of the most critical transitions of their student’s educational journey.

Online & In-person Complimentary Marketing
Find opportunities to send specialized messages directly to families in the recruitment, orientation, and enrollment phases of their transition. Each message should be tiered and customized to the cycle of their student’s entrance into college life. Think through what makes each phase unique and special during the unprecedented evolution of the global pandemic. The needs and concerns of today’s families have shifted a bit compared to many of the concerns pre-pandemic. Learning loss, social anxiety and the hybrid course fluctuation during this time has brought about new and evolving questions and concerns of families. Another way to ensure that you're incorporating complementary marketing strategies is to consider various media platforms to communicate with families. Although virtual learning was a lifesaver during 2020, it is still an effective mode of communication to continue outreach to families. Additionally, we’ve known that videos produce the most views on social media posts. So, consider creating a short commercial marketing your department, and see if it can be included during breaks and openings of the main orientation sessions. 

Limited Touchpoints
If you have limited touchpoints with parents and families during your institution’s New Student Orientation, think through where families gather most. Often there are opportunities to connect with families before orientation sessions begin, during lunchtime and certainly post orientation. During these various gathering opportunities, you can incorporate coffee hours, receptions, raffles, and giveaways. At our institution, our team descends on lunchtime like ants to a picnic! The objective is to create memorable conversation starters with as many families during their lunch period. The endgame is for families to be redirected back to our Parent & Family Services Pop-up Shop & Concierge Center. Also, think about where you can negotiate opportunities to join panels or host a panel discussion with family-focused context.  

Of course, none of these suggestions and ideas would be possible without a solid partnership with your on-campus New Student Orientation Department. At the University of Texas Arlington, our New Maverick Orientation team serves as amazing partners and teammates. They understand the influential nature of parents and families and their role during the orientation phase of their transition. That understanding has allowed our department to have ample opportunities for our Parent & Family Services Office to have numerous touchpoints with parents and families during Freshman, and Transfer Student Orientations. We have been afforded the chance to present two family-centered topics, incorporate a family business meeting and this year we will add a student panel led by one of our parent and family professionals. Every campus partnership will be different, what is possible is for you to maximize every opportunity you have to meet families during New Student Orientation. Happy orientation season friends!

Tasha Talton is the Director of Transition Programs and Services at the University of Texast at Arlington and a member of the AHEPPP Board of Directors.

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