The Importance of Orientation

Kathy D’Aprix, Associate Vice President of Academic and Support Programs, and member of the Achieving the Dream Core Team at Onondaga Community College

Everyone knows that a first impression is lasting, and what a student experiences at the start of her college career can have a lasting effect on her educational success.  Student orientation programs are often the first look into how a college will operate and students can decide then and there if a college is for them.  ATD colleges across the country are examining how students are introduced to the college, its faculty, and its staff, and have found many ways to present the information they feel is necessary to start students off on the right foot.

Aiken Technical College, in Aiken, SC, has decided to involve the whole family in its orientation programming.  Small groups of students and their families and loved ones learn about the college together in interactive and collaborative sessions with staff and faculty in August.  They are introduced to services on campus, registration and financial aid processes, and are invited to a presentation by a motivational speaker.  This way, everyone in a student’s family knows what needs to be done to succeed and the services available to help along the way, enabling families and loved ones to understand the struggles students experience and offer support along the way.

Doña Ana Community College, in Las Cruces, NM, also involves families, but they have large-group orientations that include many students in August.  They introduce students to services, employees, and the campus itself, but also include social components so students can get to know the faculty and staff better.  In addition to the orientation program before the fall semester begins, they have begun holding similar events during the year.  A fall festival and a ‘mid-way fair’ held in the spring focus on services available, campus resources, registration, and financial aid to keep students up-to-date, encourage student engagement, and emphasize the college’s student-centered approach.

Temple College, in Temple, TX, has taken the small-group approach a step further by offering “continuous orientation” throughout the first year of college.  Faculty who teach course sections across the curriculum in which academically disadvantaged and/or first-time students typically enroll have a shared orientation curriculum that is taught in each class meeting.  These 1 to5-minute “infomercials” promote services on campus, curriculum and registration information, and important campus information throughout the semester, with the content then placed online so students can return to the information after the session.  Eventually, the online components will be compiled to create an orientation for their online-only students.

All of these colleges have looked at the needs of their unique student populations and devised ways to better reach those students to inform them of what they need to know to succeed at that college.  What works for one college may not work for another, but learning from the successes of other institutions can provide us with ideas on how to better serve our own students.  I urge you to check out the Interventions Showcase on the ATD site, selecting the First Year Experience box, to explore the ways other colleges are changing their orientation programs to better serve their students.