As both a former student leader and college administrator, I’ve been privy to see my share of Welcome Weeks, Orientation, FYE, and whatever else they may be called. The one commonality that I’ve noticed at many of these schools is that all first years typically want the same. It’s as universal as Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs theory. In the eyes of student affairs professionals this may not come as a surprise. In my opinion, there are three essential things that first years really want. Of course, I’m no theorist but I can say that I’ve worked with enough students to truly see what’s obvious. So here are the top three things that I believe first year students really want (and deserve).
#1 First years really want to belong
All students no matter how popular, shy, smart, or disruptive they might be want to belong. And not just belong but actually matter. The difference between a student graduating and departing from an institution is how well they feel like they are connected. Sure there are a host of other reasons why a student might leave but one thing is for sure if a student doesn’t feel connected to a campus it will well dictate whether or not they excel in their academics, what type of extracurricular activities they get involved in, and what type of relationships they develop. From a disciplinary standpoint this cannot be understated. The same energy it takes for a student to become a disruptive force on campus can be reversed when the student really understands that they matter. So what can you do to make a student feel like they matter? The answer truly lies in your institutional values. If your institution values money more than students it will be reflected in your budget and policies. All of us, including institutions assign money, time, and energy to the things we value. I’ll say more about this in a future blog post.
#2 First years really want security
If you were to ask most incoming students their reasons for going to college 9 out of 10 will say to get an education so that they can have a career. While this may be true, and depending upon the institutional culture these same students will also probably speak to the social experience of college. A student’s choice of institution may very well be because of the social events (parties). Having a good time should never be at the expense of security. I can’t tell you how many times my heart has been broken due to the amount of rumored and actual sexual assaults that have take place.
I’m not saying that the institution is completely to blame for a student’s behavior. I’m not saying that the institution should be held responsible for every bad thing that happens on campus. However, I’m saying that the last thing that a young woman or man wants for the rest of their life is a horrible experience with sexual assault. When I speak of security, I’m not suggesting that the institution utilize special police officers and attack dogs to shut down social gatherings with underage alcohol consuming parties. What I’m suggesting is that all campuses (especially residential) revisit the activities of the first two weeks of school. In other words, the times when students mostly need to a structured agenda of activities are after hours, that is, after midnight. All first year deserve that much.
#3 First years really want a good college experience
Make no mistake, all first years really want a good college experience. Sure some may be at the school just to transfer but during their time there they expect a good experience. Otherwise they would not attend your institution. What’s the best way to give them a good experience? Get back to the basics. This starts by taking care of those who work directly with students. When your employees love and enjoy working at the institution it shows. It becomes infectious. First years are very smart and they are also very easily influenced. What made my college experience great was not just being involved but seeing how much faculty and staff members loved working for the institution. They were the reason why I got involved and ultimately chose a career in higher education. Did they agree with every decision that the school made? Of course not, but it was my belief that overall they were very happy. So if you really want to give first years a good experience, provide your faculty and especially your staff (I’m biased) a great work environment.
Get connected. Stay connected. Graduate.