How 57 of your peers are rethinking summer orientation during COVID-19

Expert Insight

How 57 of your peers are rethinking summer orientation during COVID-19

For thousands of new students, summer orientation offers a first taste of college life and a much-needed chance to make new friends. Campus leaders, meanwhile, have long relied on in-person orientation to decrease summer melt and to familiarize students with college-going expectations. But with large in-person events cancelled for the next few months due to COVID-19, enrollment and student affairs professionals must now scramble to remake orientation—even as many sessions are scheduled to begin in a matter of weeks.

Last week, my colleagues and I surveyed 57 of our student affairs and enrollment partners to see how they are changing summer orientation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are the common trends we uncovered.

Orientation disrupted at majority of institutions

A substantial majority of surveyed institutions (67%) have traditionally offered in-person orientation sessions across the summer. The COVID-19 pandemic will force these schools to change their plans. The minority of institutions (14%) that offers orientation in the late summer, shortly before classes begin, has more buffer. If the pandemic subsides by then, they can offer in-person orientation as planned. Only two institutions (3% of respondents) already offer fully online orientations.

Reluctance to change orientation dates

Registration for orientation has already gone live at many schools, and campus leaders are hesitant to change dates now. Half of surveyed institutions have no plans to move orientation later in the summer. The other half have already changed dates (21%) or are considering doing so (29%).

93%

of surveyed institutions have moved to online orientation or are considering doing so
of surveyed institutions have moved to online orientation or are considering doing so

70%

of respondents consider declining student engagement with virtual formats to be their chief concern
of respondents consider declining student engagement with virtual formats to be their chief concern

Near-universal embrace of virtual orientation

93% of surveyed institutions have moved to online orientation or are considering doing so. 48% of surveyed institutions have already switched to fully remote orientation, while another 13% are combining online orientation with a more robust welcome week.

Widespread concern about decreased engagement

Across the board, student affairs and enrollment leaders worry about declining student engagement with virtual orientation formats. 70% of respondents listed this as their chief concern. The next highest ranked concern—lack of internet access among students—was the first choice for 11% of respondents.  

Dozens of creative solutions to boost virtual student interactions

While online advising and hangout sessions are new for many of our partners, online orientation doesn’t spell the end of community building. After all, Gen Z spends more time than any previous cohort on their screens, much of it connecting digitally with friends and peers. The abrupt transition to virtual orientation this summer will force institutions to catch up with these “digital natives.”

In response to the survey, we heard about institutions using interactive Instagram stories, spreading out orientation modules across the summer to pace engagement, and empowering orientation leaders to supplement traditional academic advising with virtual consultations. Here at EAB, we expect that many of these ideas, along with the other best practices developed by orientation staff this summer, will remain powerful tools for engaging new students, even after COVID-19 subsides.

Join our related webconference

With campuses likely closed for much of the summer due to COVID-19, institutions must move orientation to an alternative format—and do so fast. In our virtual working sessions, you will discuss revamping orientation with a small group of peers from both enrollment and student affairs.

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