Investing in First-Year Students is Time Well Spent


Investing in First-Year Students is Time Well Spent

The first few months of college bring an incredible amount of change for both students and the faculty and staff supporting them. It can be an exciting time, but it can also be a challenge that makes or breaks the academic success of individuals and entire classes. The increased freedom and responsibility impact everything from study habits to social interactions. It might seem like these new elements of life are personal problems — and they are — but new students aren’t always equipped to handle them effectively.

That’s not because new students are running short on advice. There are tons of ideas and tips readily available for new freshmen: live on campus, manage your time effectively, get involved, set a budget, and don’t skip classes…the list is extensive. But what’s the right timeline to expect students to adapt to this new environment? And how can colleges and universities help them navigate these new challenges and become the kind of students and alumni they depend on?

This isn’t a new obstacle, either. Juggling First-Year Student Experience and Institutional Change: An Australian Experience by Dr. Lynn Burnett points out that “Large classes or programs that do not have a core curriculum to create shared purpose and identity, in combination with the financial and personal demands on students which have the potential to fragment their experiences of campus life, may contribute to making this transition difficult.” The goal of Dr. Burnett’s efforts was to “...implement practical, specific, student-centered initiatives to create a learning environment which would improve first-year students’ experiences.” 

That’s exactly what we recommend American colleges and universities strive to do now. The time and effort bring significant dividends that stretch far beyond graduation for individual students and universities that depend on their reputation and alumni network.


The Benefits of Extended Orientation Programs

Orientation programs and first-year experiences are becoming increasingly important to prospective students, so much so that they are now ranked by U.S. News and considered among other offerings like learning communities, study abroad, and research opportunities. The top-ranked school for first-year experience also ranked highly in innovation, undergraduate teaching, learning communities, and value — all things directly influenced by the success of their freshmen. 

Modern Campus highlights four primary types of extended orientations that are becoming more common across higher education: 

  • Spirit and Traditions
  • Welcome Weeks
  • Outdoor Extended Orientation
  • Experiential Extended Orientations

One of the impactful elements of these programs is student leadership and mentors. Studies show that new students also benefit from student mentors, particularly those studying in the same field who can provide specific advice on classes, homework, exams, and tutors. By facilitating these relationships during orientation programs, colleges, and universities offer the means for students to address many of the challenges they will face with personal contacts who are familiar with what new freshmen are experiencing.  

By combining meaningful experiences with long-term student mentors, universities can provide freshmen with a strong community and personal friendships that will support them through their whole higher education experience. Another powerful supplement to traditional orientation is FranklinCovey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective College Students course, which applies the timeless principles to a college setting to develop empowered and skilled students and future graduates. 


Combining Impactful Experiences with Valuable Soft Skills

The relationships and community new students must establish to survive their college careers are just the beginning; they also need to build the soft skills and habits that will help them thrive in academic and professional environments.  

Dr. Drew Appleby spent four years as a college professor and wrote on about how “as my career progressed, I became increasingly aware that other factors also influence student success as I noticed that some of my brightest students failed to thrive academically and that many of my less-intellectually-gifted students often exceeded my expectations. I eventually realized that what are now called “soft skills” in the workplace can play an equally important role in the classroom.”

It’s critical that first-year students have the opportunity to learn skills that may not be part of their traditional academic curriculum — and sooner is better. By adding programs like FranklinCovey’s LeaderU to their extended orientation programs, colleges and universities provide students with skills that will impact them across their studies and into their careers. Topics particularly suited to freshmen include:

  • Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Building Relationships
  • Time Management
  • Effective Listening
  • Change Management
  • Collaboration
  • Execution
  • Teamwork
  • Accountability
  • Presenting
  • Time Management

These topics pair perfectly with the goals and objectives of orientation programs. By providing experiences and skills like these, colleges and universities will build first-year students into successful graduates and professionals who will represent the university as alumni for years to come. 


FranklinCovey’s LeaderU courses facilitate the personal and professional advancement of future leaders by offering a rich library of verifiable certificate programs. LeaderU Knowledge Certificates are industry-recognized as helping develop the career skills of today’s students and tomorrow’s employees. To learn more about the value-add of offering industry-recognized certificate courses to your curriculum, take a tour of FranklinCovey LeaderU.



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