With the spring semester coming to a close, colleges and universities across the country are already preparing for the next incoming class. First on the agenda: planning college Welcome Week to provide the perfect entry into the college journey for new first-year students.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of driving student engagement during Welcome Week. This is the time when first-year students will be most receptive to information and most willing to participate in experiences and activities that can shape their entire college career. It’s why studies continue to show that students who participate in activities around their move-in will remain more engaged and active all the way through graduation.
But the process is not automatic. In fact, planning college Welcome Week has to happen specifically with driving engagement in mind. These eight tips can help you get there, allowing you to put a plan in place with time to spare before the first students begin to arrive on campus this fall.
1. Connect Welcome Week and Move-In Day
For your incoming students, the two are inherently connected. You move into campus and then have some initial activities before classes begin. That’s why planning college Welcome Week should always happen with move-in day in mind.
The exact ways you integrate the two, of course, can differ widely. For example, you can:
- Host Welcome Week events in residence halls.
- Have your RAs act as Welcome Week event hosts.
- Invite parents to the first few events and activities of Welcome Week.
- Connect weeklong activities, like a Welcome Week scavenger hunt, to actions that students moving in have to take regardless.
- And more
It’s not necessarily about the exact events you’ll host. Instead, driving student engagement during Welcome Week is about integrating it as much as possible with the steps and actions your new students must take regardless. That makes the whole process more natural, easing incoming students into the activities you have planned for the entire week.
2. Host Topical Fairs for Incoming Students
One of the core goals for any Welcome Week has to revolve around getting students familiar with the key resources you have to offer. The best way to do that, as you might expect, is not to give a lecture on each functional area on campus or just describe their services. Instead, consider hosting a variety of topical fairs throughout the week at which students can learn more about your university. Examples include:
- A health fair. Students can learn about your physical and mental health services, as well as events to look forward to.
- An athletics fair at which each of your teams is represented. You can also invite the various club and intramural options for all students.
- A student life fair. On-campus clubs can make a case for why incoming first-year students should join their organizations.
- A resource fair. The IT, financial aid, and other functional campus offices can showcase their work and support.
Fairs like this make learning about campus and your university in general more fun. Students leave with plenty of giveaways. (You get bonus points if you can coordinate with other offices to provide useful promotional items that ease the college transition for students moving in. )
3. Organize Fun Events in Key Campus Locations
This is where planning college Welcome Week gets fun. After all, this week should not just be about learning. It’s also about making bonds and connections that last for a lifetime. And what better way to do that than with fun events they’ll remember for the duration of their college careers? Consider hosting events like:
- An outdoor movie night
- A food truck festival
- A talent show
- A campus picnic
- Ping-pong or video game tournaments
- A graffiti dance at which students can sign each other’s apparel
The list of potential ideas to just let your students have some fun is nearly endless. You can even leverage them for some subtle education, as well. Host them in key locations you want your incoming students to know about, like your multicultural center or library. Then, use your interactive campus map to point them to each of those locations and make getting to the events simple.
4. Connect Incoming Students With Returning Students
If a significant part of Welcome Week is about making connections, it should not (and cannot) be limited to your incoming class. Instead, the connections they make with upper-class students who already know their way around campus and classes can go a long way toward making them feel like they belong.
To start, try engaging your student orientation leaders. Extend their (ideally paid) duties into Welcome Week to have them serve as event hosts and campus guides. Position them naturally as experts that your new students will want to turn to for advice and guidance.
But you don’t have to stop there. For example, we’ve seen some colleges and universities have immense success with a ‘big sibling’ type of program. Incoming students are matched with ‘bigs’ in their major or from their hometown. These bigs become mentors that help your new students with any questions and concerns on a peer level. Ultimately, this increases their comfort level and creates natural connections.
5. Don’t Forget About Life Beyond Campus
Don’t limit your student engagement during Welcome Week to on-campus activities. If your school is like most, the area beyond campus borders matters nearly (if not just) as much to your incoming class. Whether it’s a quintessential college town or just some great nature trails, now is your time to introduce what happens outside of your official campus grounds.
The activities, of course, need to be tailored to your campus environment. An urban university will likely need to plan very different off-campus events than a rural college with no large city nearby. Adjust accordingly, but also consider a field trip that can take groups of students to larger nearby attractions and activities.
Your students will love getting the chance to explore the space beyond campus. Also, when planning College Welcome Week, you can always use your interactive map as a tool to determine where to visit and guide your students along the way to their destination.
6. Think About the Academic Transition
Welcome Week is all about fun. But especially as its end nears and the beginning of classes gets closer, your students will also begin to think about their academics. After all, the move from high school to college, the most common route to a degree, is a major academic transition for them.
Fortunately, you can plan the second half of your Welcome Week with that consideration in mind. Give your activities a more academic tilt, like encouraging individual departments to hold welcome events for students in their majors or highlighting the tutoring and academic help resources you have available for students.
It doesn’t have to end there, either. Don’t forget about the digital component of Welcome Week. For example, you can use your interactive map tool to build self-guided tours of your academic buildings, allowing students to familiarize themselves with them (and the most popular walkways across campus) to ensure they don’t get lost when classes begin.
7. Involve High-Level Campus Administrators in Events and Activities
The process of planning college Welcome Week tends to happen at the mid-level management range of higher ed administration. But that doesn’t mean your high-level administrators, like your VP of student affairs or even your university president, cannot or should not get involved in the events themselves. It’s quite the opposite, in fact.
In many cases, incoming students will still be relatively starry-eyed by their university. It’s a feeling that, if nurtured, can stick with them for a long time. Allowing them the chance to interact with university leadership only adds to it, strengthening their bonds to a school they believe cares deeply about them and their success.
You can take any number of approaches to this strategy. Host meet-and-greet events, or simply ask your leadership group to attend some of the already scheduled events. It’s even better (and more authentic) if it happens organically, with the president, for instance, simply showing up at the ping-pong tournament rather than announcing he or she will participate ahead of time.
8. Leverage Digital Tools When Planning College Welcome Week
The final step for planning college Welcome Week encompasses many, if not all, of the above steps. It’s not about hosting yet another activity but about ensuring you have the tools to make the festivities and activities as successful as possible.
Consider, for example, the benefits of an interactive campus map. With the right setup, it can support and enhance every single one of the tips and tactics described throughout this guide. It’s always there for your students as a trusted guide. It ensures they can easily find their way to the next event they’re looking to participate in.
That’s where Concept3D comes in. Our interactive map solution is optimized for higher education and, in many ways, optimized for big events and happenings like Welcome Week. Thanks to custom layers and self-guided tours, you can create engaging content designed to help your students engage and make the most out of their busy week.
Ready to learn more? Let’s have a conversation. As you begin to plan the nuances of Welcome Week on your campus, Concept3D can be your partner in putting the digital infrastructure in place for each event to succeed.