Move-in day represents a new chapter of life for your incoming first-year class every year. And its success or failure in supporting new students matters more than you may think. In fact, move-in day, and the days that follow, will have a massive impact on whether your new students will be successful in college through graduation or look for other opportunities after dropping out.
In other words, supporting new students matters from the moment they step foot on campus. As a 2021 study found, active participation in activities around move-in will help students engage more with the campus community all the way through their senior year.
To get there, you need intentional move-in day strategies intended specifically for supporting new students. That, in turn, is a process that has to involve the entire campus community along with the right digital tools. These seven move-in day strategies can help you start that process just in time to plan for your incoming first-year students this coming fall.
1. Showcase Your Welcoming, Inclusive Campus
First, and perhaps most importantly, everyone involved in a move-in day should recognize that supporting new students means accounting for the needs of all students. That’s why the most important move-in day strategies revolve around showcasing how welcoming your campus is for students from all walks of life.
Depending on your campus, that could mean any number of things:
- Showcase accessibility, including any accessible building entrances, walking paths, ramps, and more.
- Highlight gender-neutral and family bathrooms that transgender and non-binary students, as well as young parents, can use easily.
- Promote religious spaces that students can use while living on or around campus, including worship centers for students of all religions.
- Highlight well-illuminated walking paths and other safety mechanisms (like blue line emergency phones) designed to protect your students.
The idea behind these strategies is the same. You communicate your emphasis on creating and maintaining the most welcoming campus atmosphere possible by highlighting all the different ways in which you are supporting new students from every type of diverse background.
2. Host Welcome Events for New Students
During and around the day they move in, programming also becomes crucial to engage new students from their first day on campus. In fact, the right events might just be the difference that makes them feel welcome enough to spend and enjoy multiple years at your school and on your campus.
It’s a long-held truism that the best friends are made in college, where you’re old enough to gravitate to personalities but still young enough to make easy impressions. You can encourage your incoming class to build friendships during move-in day events.
The events themselves can take a wide range of shapes and sizes. For example, some schools hold a graffiti dance where participating students get a permanent marker and a single-colored t-shirt and are encouraged to sign each other’s apparel. Other examples include residence hall movie nights, free late-night dinners at the dining hall, and more.
3. Introduce Your Student-Facing Offices
Supporting new students to build that sense of belonging means encouraging them to have some fun together. But it’s also helpful to educate them about the wide range of support services your school offers. Consider short, informal informational sessions for students and parents during the move-in day that can highlight services like your:
- College counseling center
- Health services office
- Student leadership center
- Financial aid office
- Academic tutoring services
- And more
We’ve especially seen colleges have success with this step by taking a conference-style approach. In a single building, reserve two hours for all your student services. Hold four blocks of 30-minute sessions in adjacent rooms. Let students and their parents decide which sessions they want to attend. Within that two-hour block, they’ll have four opportunities to visit different sessions depending on their interests and needs. They can also meet the campus staff that will take care of all their needs while in college.
4. Connect First-Year Students With Returning Students
Who said that supporting new students depends entirely on your staff? Your returning students, if organized correctly, can also have a major impact on engaging your incoming class. Also, as with the other initiatives highlighted in this guide, that engagement may start during move-in day but has the potential to last through all their college years.
The key, as you might expect, is strategic mentorship. Some schools, for example, have instituted a “big and little” program in which older students build relationships with a younger, incoming student in their major. The mentorship is designed to mentor new students through their first semester or first year. It starts with a formal meet-up during the move-in day. Then it continues only to the degree to which both the big and the little want it to continue and evolve.
Whatever the exact strategy, relying on engaged returning students can go a long way toward building that sense of belonging from the first day on campus.
5. Host an Early Student Activity Fair
At this point, saying that colleges and universities should host a clubs and activities fair is not news. Most schools host some kind of event early in the semester during which student organizations can showcase what they do and look to attract new members. But it pays to think about how early you can host a version of this with an eye on supporting new students.
For example, consider asking student organization representatives to host booths and tables at your freshman residence hall or any welcome events you’re hosting. Greek life organizations will be happy to get involved. They can begin their role in helping build that sense of belonging and improving freshman retention.
Of course, even formalizing this effort into a full-blown activity fair during the move-in day does not fully replace the event your school is likely hosting in September. Still, it can play a significant role in engaging new students with organizations. This has been proven to nurture a sense of belonging for all college students.
6. Extend Your Move-In Day
We tend to think of move-in day as a single-day affair. But it doesn’t have to be. The priority is supporting new students as they set foot on campus. So a longer move-in schedule can make a significant difference in getting your incoming class involved in campus life.
An increasing number of schools are moving toward making the move-in day a multi-day affair. They hold a welcome weekend or even a welcome week for their incoming class. That added time allows these schools to leave enough room for all the events mentioned above, from informational sessions about support sessions to activities fairs and community events.
An extended move-in day also allows for more flexibility in moving different students in at different times. This can reduce traffic on campus. But it also allows students from similar groups and backgrounds to build tighter bonds. For example, new international students or transfer students that stay on campus by themselves for a bit can create a stronger community and sense of belonging before the general welcome activities begin.
7. Create a Central Hub for Support Information
Finally, supporting new students may be as simple as making all relevant information easy for them to find. In fact, many of the move-in day strategies for creating that sense of belonging depend largely on getting important information across simply and in a streamlined fashion.
A central hub that includes all of that support information can help. It allows you to create a full picture of all the ways in which you support your incoming students, from academic to social and from accessibility to student organizations.
That hub can live in any number of venues. Many colleges and universities use a move-in day website with resources. You might even create a ‘welcome’ microsite for their incoming class. Going digital makes the most sense because it’s easy to access, update, and promote through channels ranging from email to social media.
How to Leverage Digital Tools for Supporting New Students
Speaking of digital: your interactive map and campus calendar can go a long way toward implementing these move-in day strategies.
For example, your interactive campus map can include an inclusivity and accessibility layer. It might also have a move-in day category that includes the locations of all relevant welcome events. Your campus calendar, meanwhile, can hold the details of these events. This will help students (and their parents) easily find their way and know what to attend.
With the right solution, the two tools can even integrate with each other. Showcase calendar events on your interactive map, or link your map to the events to help students find their way. It’s the best way to ensure that new students feel like they belong from the moment they arrive on campus.
To leverage these digital tools, you need the right partner. With Concept3D, you get a strategic partner with extensive experience in helping colleges and universities optimize their move-in day for student engagement through interactive maps and campus calendars. Ready to follow suit? Contact us to start the conversation.