National Council for Staff, Program and Organizational Development
First Day Impressions on New Students
Durham College, Ontario, Canada
best way to improve student retention is to ensure student
Simply put, if your students are happy with their selection of program, courses and college, they are very likely to persist in their academic pursuits. We are convinced that one of the most important things you can do is to provide students with what they want most - career direction and career opportunities.
Granted, there are many factors that impact on student satisfaction. However, after surveying thousands of students, we have found that there is one thing they all see as essential to their motivation and success at college: a tangible benefit from their post secondary education. They expect their college experience to prepare them for a viable career.
We have designed a first year seminar, The Right Start, that fulfills this expectation. The main component of this seminar is career motivation, and the four supporting elements are college orientation, program information, academic support, and faculty involvement.
To us, orientation
doesn't mean pub nights and key chains. Rather, it means
getting your students off to the right start - making a great
impression, so that from day one they are glad that they chose
your institution for their post-secondary studies.
Many students don't fully research the college or program they've chosen, so these students arrive on campus wondering if they've made the right choice. This is the most critical time in your retention strategy, because if you don't immediately show them that they have selected their college or program wisely, the less committed ones may not stay. If, for example, they're thrown into classes that don't seem relevant and they're not shown the relation between these subjects and a career, they may leave before they've seen the connection. On the other hand, if you can catch them on the first day and show them a vision of why they are there and where they are going, their commitment to their college education becomes stronger.
We recommend dedicating the first day, week or whatever time you have set aside for orientation to first year students only.
There are three reasons for this:
- All faculty are available to help out in your orientation program,
- Second and third year students are available to help as well,
- The campus isn't as busy, so you'll be able to book the facilities you need more easily, and the campus won't seem as overwhelming to the new students.
Begin with icebreakers and warm-up exercises. If you're not sure which icebreakers work well in first year seminars, please give us a call so that we can help you design some effective startup exercises (905) 985-9990.
After the students have become more familiar with each other, they will want to become more familiar with who will be teaching them. We recommend holding a faculty panel, comprised of the key teaching staff your students will encounter. Have the faculty introduce themselves and give a summary of their background and career journey. This not only makes them more human and approachable, but showcases an array of career paths and possibilities.
Next, give your students an overview of their job market, if they are enrolled in a specific program. Outline the skills and competencies they will develop during their time at college, and explain how these skills relate to the job market. If they are in a liberal arts program, emphasize that whichever career they end up with, they'll need a great work ethic and solid work habits. A more detailed exploration of how employability skills and career directions relate to college success skills is found in chapter one of Making Your Mark, our college success book that complements this retention strategy.
Give your students a broad overview of the career opportunities that they can expect upon
graduation. Have past graduates come in to talk about their personal experiences, so that first year students can see the role college played in their success. Again, when students can see the benefits to working hard at their studies, they are much more likely to persist.
At this point you can briefly introduce the subject of academic/college success skills, and explain how
- these skills will make college life a lot easier for them,
- good work habits and a systematic approach to completing tasks are skills that every employer looks for in his/her employees.
Tell them that if they develop professional work habits now, they are preparing for their careers; those who strive to be peak performers in life are those who end up with quality jobs. You can return to teaching the specific college success skills later in your orientation program, but if you introduce the relevance of the topic at this point, your students will be ready to receive the information whenever you re-introduce it.
You could include any number of activities in the next portion of your orientation. If you're using a faculty advisor system, which we recommend, you could have each advisor take his/her group of students on a tour of the campus. Even if you've already shown them around during a summer headstart program, they'll appreciate the opportunity to re-acquaint themselves with their new surroundings.
Your student services personnel could give an overview of college services, and distribute the college daytimers or handbooks. It adds a little variety to have someone else present this information, so if your student service staff is not available, a second or third year student can do a good job as well.
For more information on our particular program, please contact us.
Phone: (905) 985-9990, Fax: (905) 985-0713,