Orientation is a team sport.
Yes, the director of orientation might be the coach calling the shots, but students and families would only get a narrow view of your institution without the involvement of other key departments.
Most of us have strategies in place to incorporate campus partners into our on-campus orientations but what about our virtual orientation programs?
To help you consider how to do this, here are nine ideas to make sure your campus partners shine throughout your virtual orientation experience.
(Important starting note: It is key to expand your view of orientation. When we do an in-person orientation, we often just think about the select days that students are on campus and the times that are officially labeled as orientation. But by moving to a virtual orientation, you can easily connect with students throughout the entire summer or several weeks of fall, rather than limit yourself — and them — to just a day or two. The below ideas are based on the notion of expanding your concept of orientation, beyond a limited time frame, and increasing your continued options for connection.)
1. The often-overlooked weekly email
It sounds simple, but it is easy to miss the option of creating an email communication plan. Doing so is an easy way to help campus partners get their messages out to incoming students and families.
Before your first orientation event, break out a calendar. Start by picking one day a week. Let’s say Tuesdays. Circle every Tuesday throughout the summer or whenever you plan on offering orientation events.
Now, start making a list of every campus partner whose work or resources impacts new students. Think about the message each campus partner is hoping to communicate and consider when would be the best time for students to learn these messages. Then, start putting each campus partner down for a specific date to email students.
To help make the messages consistent, create an email format for everyone to follow that still allows each campus partner to be creative in the content they select to share. You can also recommend that each email contains a certain component, such as an action step for the students to take (“interested in ____? fill out this form”). To take things to the next level, you can even include a short video created by your team highlighting the campus partner in each email.
Emails might not be as flashy as other ideas, but if done well, this strategy can be an easy way to ensure that new students and families receive consistent information throughout the summer. Plus, it’ll also provide various departments the opportunity to connect early with incoming students.
2. Financial services
At some point during the onboarding experience, students and their families will likely have financial questions.
Financial questions are incredibly personal and complex. Instead of a simple answer (“yes, do this” or “no way, don’t do that”), most financial questions require a more thorough explanation. For this reason, you might need to think outside the box when bringing your financial services team to the virtual table.
Consider creating a multi-part podcast series. Call it Majoring in Money or Financing Your College 101. Each podcast episode can tackle a different topic, such as:
- Applying for loans and grants
- How much debt is too much debt
- Holding a part-time job during college
- When to pay and how to pay
At the end of each episode, share an easy way for listeners to email in questions. You can either simply email each person back or use these questions to guide the next podcast episode. This strategy provides a human transformational connection to an often transactional part of the process.
3. Live campus tour
My guess is that you probably already have a virtual tour on your website. But consider making it interactive for your virtual orientation.
Start by finding two student leaders or admissions staff who can connect well with students and families. Then, bring in your campus partners. Schedule several key stops along the way during which the tour takes participants straight to the offices they will utilize when on campus. And once you virtually stop by these offices, have your colleagues give an overview of their work, answer some questions, and make the incoming students feel at home.
This creative offering can give incoming students a sense of who they will interact with and where they will spend their time once on campus. A well-planned virtual tour can go a long way in helping students imagine life at your institution.
4. Foodie Friday
I always love how students can fall in love with an institution just because it has a Chipotle or a Starbucks on campus.
One drawback to having a virtual orientation is you can’t show off your great dining hall or its ice cream machine and vegan options. So, instead of simply talking about your amazing food, show it!
I recommend utilizing Instagram and tapping into the foodie culture. Pick the Instagram account that makes the most sense, such as your institution’s flagship account, your orientation account, or another popular account that you have access to. Then, create Foodie Friday.
Invite your campus chef or dietician to take over the Instagram account. Once a week, post a picture of food crafted straight from the dining hall or from a local restaurant. This is a great way to get students excited about great food from your campus and your city, answer questions about what is offered, and help debunk the myth of the Freshman 15.
You can also invite other colleagues or student leaders to show off their dining hall or at-home creations. Pretty soon, #FoodFriday may become a trending hashtag!
5. Online 101 course
Orientation isn’t the only thing going virtual. Most institutions have spent the last several months moving courses online as well.
And although most high school students have now taken online classes, they won’t know the ins-and-outs of your institution’s technology and the expectations that come with college courses.
So, consider partnering with academic departments to create a series of trainings on how to best navigate online classes. I suggest finding a professor (or two or three) who thrives at virtual instruction. If you don’t know who these folx are, ask the provost or some current students to make recommendations.
Once you have a list of these outstanding professors, set a meeting together, get their insights, and let them help you figure out the best way to onboard students in how to succeed in online classes. Since these faculty members are already wizards of the virtual classroom, my guess is they will be one or two steps ahead of you on how to best take their insights and spread them to the incoming class.
This partnership can go a long way in connecting you with key faculty, while also giving you some insights into the technology used for online classes.
6. Virtual student clubs and organizations fair
Student organization and club activities fairs are a staple of campus culture. You know the drill: Everyone lines up with tables, fliers, stickers, and prizes — all hoping to help new students find their co-curricular homes.
But why wait until students return to campus? Why not try a virtual fair? Connect with student leaders and advisors to plan yours. If the number of organizations is too overwhelming to navigate in one virtual meeting, break it down by interest. You could, for example, have athletic clubs tune in virtually on one day, academic organizations on another, and special interest groups on a third.
In any case, your virtual fair will provide students with the chance to hear about various organizations, pop in and connect with current student leaders, and learn how to get plugged in before classes have even begun.
7. 40-Days-of-Transitions Devotional Guide
For many students, transitions are spiritual journeys.
So to help support incoming students and their families navigate this transition, work with the various religious groups and departments on campus to create a 40-day devotional or prayer guide. This guide can live online and be a great resource for families as they navigate this season of transition.
Not everyone will be interested in this resource, but for the students and families who are looking for a spiritual component in their college journey, this simple act will be greatly appreciated and go long ways to reassure families of the institution’s level of care.
8. Meet Your Residence Hall Staff
We all know the drill: After students find out their roommates, they instantly start scouring the internet to track down intel on their new best friend. In order to take away the mystery, consider utilizing technology to host virtual resident hall or floor gatherings before students even move in.
Plan it out on the calendar and then send invites to residents based on their housing assignments. Have resident directors or RAs tune in to lead the conversation. Drop contact information or social media handles in the chat function to encourage ongoing conversations.
Before you know it, this simple event can create early connection and anticipation instead of anxiety for move-in day.
9. Early orientation groups led by student leaders
I might be cheating by sliding an orientation office strategy into this post, but the impact is worth the mention.
When I have a question about my work, I usually ask a colleague before I take it to my supervisor. It’s simply less intimidating to ask a peer than a superior.
It is no different with students. Incoming students will ask 100 questions to current students before they send a single email to a staff or faculty member. Instead of trying to overcome this reality, embrace it by utilizing current students to be a huge part of the virtual onboarding experience.
Instead of waiting to, say, August to create your orientation groups, create them in June. Then, develop an opportunity for your student leaders to connect with their orientation group virtually in July. This is a great way to say hello, answer questions, and give incoming students some welcoming faces before they pull up with a SUV loaded with gear.
Virtual orientations do not need to be scary. Instead, they can be a perfect opportunity to tap into your creativity and expand the ways in which you connect current students to your campus partners. By using the above tips and tricks, you can ensure that not only our campus partners are energized by these new initiatives, but that current students will arrive on campus orientated to multiple aspects of life at your institution.
What other great ideas do you have for virtual orientation? Connect with us on Twitter @themoderncampus.