by Ann Halupka, Assistant Director of Admissions, Crofton House School (BC, Canada)
We all have them: orientation programs that ease the transition of new students to our campus. Typically, we host an event in the spring and a series of sessions during the first weeks of school. Often when we think of this transition period, we see it as the final stage in the enrolment process, the time when many of us in admission hand over the proverbial torch to faculty and administration and shift our focus again to future families. The way we transition and orient new students and their families to our campus can play a vital role in retention, and thus have an impact on your overall enrolment.
Through our work in the Leadership in Enrollment Management Certificate program at USC, we learned a great deal about retention and “putting theory into action” from Vincent Tinto’s work (Tinto, Vincent. ‘From Theory to Action.’ Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research. J.C. Smart ed 1987. University of Chicago.). His Student Integration Model on retention speaks to the importance of the first year experience at all levels of entry. Reports from The College Board also highlight the impact orientation programs can have on student success and the need for early warning systems that extend beyond the first term (https://cerpp.usc.edu/research/). Rather than sessions that last two to five days at the beginning of the year, consider a comprehensive plan that includes specific touch points and systems that connect student with student and, in particular, student with faculty. So much thought goes into recruiting, selecting, and admitting new students, it only makes sense that equal effort goes into ensuring their transition is a holistically positive experience - one that is consistent with the school they got to know during the recruiting process.
And what about returning families who are moving through to the next division within your school? They are equally important and ideally should be included together with new incoming students. Let us not create an element of “us and them” from the beginning. Avoiding this will foster a feeling of inclusion and help students create social connections early on.
There are many things to consider when designing an orientation program: timing, pace, balance of one-to-one and group engagement, informative without being overwhelming. We give thought to the age-appropriate social, emotional, and academic needs of students, while recognizing new students will enter your school from a variety of backgrounds. Not everyone will know what it’s like to write tests. Not everyone will be familiar with the language of “signature assessments.” Not everyone will know someone. For some it will be an easy shift, for others it won’t be. What we do know is that this is a student who is capable. This is a student you felt would thrive at your school. It is someone who chose your school over others and is now a valued member of your community. So as you work with your enrolment team developing your orientation and transition plan, think beyond September. Invite other departments into the conversation where appropriate and plan a continuum beyond the first term. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but doing so can have a positive influence on their success.