Pre-orientation programs benefit all
Orientation, for many students, represents nothing but a massive influx of information, in the form of small group meetings, presentations, modules and class-wide events. The highly regimented, carefully timed sequence of information sessions overloads students with academic and Residential Life policies. For four days, students follow a schedule outlined by administrators. But for the next four years, students follow no schedule but their own.
This past week, the First Year Center introduced changes to the current Bear Beginnings orientation schedule, moving the timeline to an extended nine-day model in a shift from the current four-day schedule. While this new system was introduced to help ease the transition into regular academic life, it also eliminates the possibility that pre-orientation programs—a valuable asset to members of the Washington University community—will continue to function as they currently do. The new program breaks orientation into three three-day sections: one period for “welcoming events,” another for academic policies and time-management advice and a third for a “small group experience” under a designated department.
While pre-orientation programs follow a similar model to Bear Beginnings itself (in the sense that they have a set schedule), they offer more freedom in terms of activities, allow for exploration of self-selected interests and provide inquisitive first-year students a chance to talk to upperclassmen.
All students in a pre-orientation program are there, quite simply, because they want to be. Scholarship programs offered through Washington University and the individual programs themselves have made pre-orientation programs more accessible in recent years, with a 43 percent participation rate for the class of 2021. This has further opened the door for students to engage with and potentially become members of student groups on campus, although academic barriers still exist for students not under the umbrella of scholarship programs.
Through fostering a welcoming, open environment with student leaders on campus (the counselors of pre-orientation groups), first-years assuage some of their fears about the first week of classes and beyond. Offering a look into the daily workings of student organizations offers a projection into the future for many students: what their extracurricular life could look like, what leadership positions they could run for and how other students live their daily lives on campus.
For many counselors, pre-orientation represents an invaluable way to recruit and retain incoming students. Without an introduction to campus organizations through pre-orientation, some students might be too intimidated to join groups on their own, or they may have incorrect preconceived notions of how much work joining could be.
Although the planning has already begun—and the outlined changes appear to have broad support from Wash. U. administrators, we urge the First Year Center and the Office of Student Affairs to take the opinions of students into account. Student Life’s own pre-orientation program, Freshman Press, has acted as a recruiting tool for over a decade. Through our Student Life editorial board discussions alone, the anecdotal evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates the impact participating in a pre-orientation program has had on the lives of students. While it is very possible to join programs later, becoming assimilated into a subset of the larger campus community early on creates a support system right off the bat.
In the coming months, before the changes are officially instituted in the summer of 2019, the First Year Center has pledged to accept input from members of the University community. If you were a pre-orientation leader, make your voice heard. If you participated in a program, make your voice heard. If pre-orientation had a lasting impact on your academic and social experience, please, please make your voice heard.