Freshman experience, connections should be pre-o focus

Around a third of this year’s freshman class flocked to campus four days early last week, preempting move-in day via participation in one of Washington University’s 17 pre-orientation programs.

In general, pre-orientation programs occupy the dual role of introducing new students to each other and campus as well as recruiting them to join a campus group or organization. For freshmen in the Leading Wash. U. Style pre-orientation program, for instance, the four days before orientation are a time for both making new friends and receiving an immersive experience in the world of Student Union.

For some freshmen, that second aspect of the pre-orientation experience—the recruitment part—is incredibly important because they already have designs to join their chosen club or group. But for others, and for the First Year Center, which oversees this slate of programs, the main objective is for freshmen to meet fellow freshmen and start learning their way around campus and the surrounding area.

And this is where numbers become truly important. It sounds tautological, but more students in a pre-orientation program means there are more students for each participant to meet and more potential friends for each participant to make. It’s easier to find someone to connect with when there are 19 other kids in your program than when there are only nine.

This year, at least anecdotally, the numbers were a serious problem for some of the pre-orientation programs. Popular programs like L.A.U.N.C.H. and the Wilderness Project likely didn’t see any effect of the apparent decrease in enrollment; those issues likely trickled down just to the smaller groups.

WUTV’s program only had eight students—that’s barely larger than some of the freshman suites on the South 40, and nobody would suggest that freshmen should have their friends for the first four days of school confined just to those living with them.

The revamped SOAR program over the summer proved a success, and its expansion may have cut into pre-orientation numbers. These programs cost a significant chunk of money, after all, so it makes sense that students participating in a SOAR weekend would be less inclined to incur additional costs for a pre-orientation.

The FYC started a small scholarship program for a select number of pre-orientation participants this year, and we encourage its expansion in coming summers to ensure that these additional programs can attract a variety of students and become financially accommodating.

But another issue with recruitment this year was the FYC’s crackdown on Facebook advertising, which in the past consisted of program counselors peppering the freshman class’s Facebook group with information about the programs and exhortations to join them.

Groups like L.A.U.N.C.H. et al. essentially win native advertising in this Facebook group, with the multitude of students registering for those popular programs sharing that information and teaching others about them. The smaller programs, however, aren’t afforded that luxury, and the dearth of advertising for these groups is likely a factor behind their low numbers this year.

In that vein, it’s understandable why the FYC desires increased centralization for the slate of pre-orientation programs, particularly given that SOAR’s success came after the FYC took on a larger planning role. Centralization is fine, but transferring too much control from students to administrators in the planning process is a surefire way for pre-orientation programs to lose some of the spark and student-infused fun that makes them an attractive destination and a great way for incoming freshmen to kick off their college careers.