The First-Year Experience During a Pandemic: The Impact of COVID-19 on Orientation

The First-Year Experience During a Pandemic: The Impact of COVID-19 on Orientation

Summer is here! Many people outside the academic world may think this time of year is more relaxing for college and university staff. However, if you talk to staff members at colleges around the country, they will tell you that summer is not all about fun and games. College staff are busy making preparations to welcome new incoming students for campus orientation programs. Institutions may structure their orientations differently, but they all serve the common goal of helping new students transition to college life by meeting new friends, becoming acquainted with campus services, and registering for fall classes.

The impact of COVID-19 has caused First-Year Programs around the country to change how they hold traditional orientation sessions. The EAB conducted a survey on how COVID-19 will impact summer orientation. According to the survey, 67% of institutions traditionally offer in-person orientation sessions throughout the summer. What are some things first-year students and their families should expect as they prepare for orientation during a pandemic?

Virtual Campus Tours

Due to college closures and travel restrictions, online tours may be how first-time students are able to set foot on the college campus. The tours should give students a feel of the campus environment. This can be accomplished by providing detailed information while walking students through places such as classrooms, libraries, and residential halls.  

Asynchronous Modules on Topics Relating to University Policies and Services

Asynchronous orientation modules can be assigned by the colleges. This form of online orientation provides students the freedom to learn about campus policies and services before a set deadline. Unfortunately, these modules do not allow students to socialize with staff and other students. Therefore, in order to capture and keep the attention of first-year students, the modules should include fun and exciting content.    

Virtual Activities with Orientation Leaders and Small Groups of Students

This probably will be the most crucial part of online orientation. Virtual activities will allow staff to connect and engage with first-year students. Various online platforms allow users to create breakout rooms so students can work together in smaller groups. In order for new incoming students to be successful during a pandemic, the engagement must continue beyond orientation.

The first-year students and families that colleges will be welcoming to orientation may be experiencing health, mental, financial, and many other challenges. As staff adjust to hosting orientation in a different format, it is important to remember that students and their families are looking to them for compassion and support. Remember, what happens during orientation impacts the overall success of the students’ college careers.    

Related Webinar:

The First Year Transition: Supporting Incoming College Students with Infobase in Uncertain Times: Webinar


EAB. (2020). The Impact of COVID-19 on Summer Orientation. EAB Survey conducted April 6–7, 2020.

Pierce, M. (2020). “How 57 of your peers are rethinking summer orientation during COVID-19.” Retrieved from