Students graduating high school and attending college this Fall have had one of the most unique transitional periods to date due to COVID-19. With digital and remote learning being a core alternative for students, campus communication platforms are more important than ever to ensure students have a memorable experience.
Maggie Z., a current freshman at the University of Denver, shared her own senior year experiences, “We went fully online for the rest of the semester and all events were canceled or modified to become distant.”
High schools were cancelling prom, transforming final classes into virtual classrooms and turning monumental graduation ceremonies into social distancing experiences. For Maggie and her fellow classmates, graduation was done by car.
As the pandemic continues, these same high school graduates are navigating a modified first year of college. Incoming freshmen had to make the difficult decision between taking a gap year, attending their first semester remotely or moving into dorms with COVID-19 guidelines in place. Along with the usual packing list, they had to fulfill COVID-19 prerequisites, such as quarantining two weeks prior, getting tested and submitting additional paperwork before their move.
All the while, they continuously have to contemplate how to maintain social distancing practices, while trying to make new friends in this new environment and have a successfully memorable year despite the pandemic hurdles.
Whether it’s for virtual classrooms or for students to maintain social interactions online, technology is the essential root that provides and maintains connection among the school community at this time.
Recent high school graduates and incoming freshmen are no stranger to this. When college freshman Maggie was asked what they recommend colleges do to help foster engagement virtually, Maggie replied, “I wish there was more communication between administration and students.”
Communication is key to students. It’s critical to ensure your university has a reliable way to foster university communications as a way to disseminate information to students, continuously keep them informed and feel a sense of inclusion of the conversations around what’s happening in their new campus community.
“I think it’s always important for universities to use a campus communication platform, global pandemic notwithstanding. Obviously, it is much more important this year than in previous ones, but a campus-wide communication platform is imperative for the spread of information in any year,” says Hana T., Undergraduate Orientation Coordinator for Communications and Social Media, at Tufts University. Hana worked closely with the incoming first-year students this summer and saw just how essential technology played a role in outreach and messaging to students.
“There’s no feasible way to spread information successfully to that many students that’s not online. Whether it’s large-scale events, student organization advertisements, or important campus changes, students need a universal platform from which they can gather information about their college,”
With the help of a campus communication platform, colleges not only provide an essential communication hub for students and administration, they build community and camaraderie virtually throughout the school year for first year students.
The Class of 2024 has already endured several obstacles making the move into their freshmen year. In addition to dealing with the typical first-year nerves of starting at a new school, they have to do it in the challenging times of COVID-19.
Campus communications platforms equip universities with a myriad of tools to ensure each new student has the ability to sustain campus ties and feel interconnected to the school community.
Here are 6 strategies universities can implement a campus communication platform to drive student success.
1. Build an Online Resource Guide
We’ve all been the new kid on the block, looking for the resource hub to answer all of our essential questions. Welcome your new students with a resource directory online dedicated to supporting the incoming Class of 2024. From Res Life announcements, a list of student campus resources, COVID-19 FAQs and links to open channels for connecting with other new students, provide all the ins and outs that students are on the hunt for, making it easier to navigate their first-year.
2. Bring In-Person Orientation Programs Online
Orientation is the first event where students can really interact with fellow classmates, tour the school, get acquainted with campus leaders and administrators through presentations, and get acclimated with the essential university offerings. In lieu of an in-person orientation, move all your orientation materials online.
- Create and publish videos with tour guides, sharing facts and highlighting essential spots on campus.
- Host virtual presentations in the form of live zoom sessions (or pre-record them), and share the videos and decks from university leaders.
- Link all the critical information that would have been shared in-person — but now live online — in a space that students can easily continue to refer back to and can always access when they need a friendly reminder.
3. Host Student Activities Fair Virtually
Where’s the best place to make new friends that share similar interests in college? Even though the pandemic has propelled students to remain socially distant, universities can still provide an online environment for students to learn about the array of clubs and afterschool activities to join.
“Because students can’t get their information from any in-person sources, like the academic and student organization fairs that typically take place in-person during the year, online platforms are vital,” Hannah S., Tufts Student Life Communications Intern and Tufts-Raftr Correspondent, shared. “I know that important events like both of these fairs have been moved to an online format, because it is essential that students get the same information and comparable experiences this year despite the pandemic.”
With an online Student Activities Fair, promote student organizations virtually. Do so by aggregating a series of pages, each one dedicated to a campus organization, including introductory videos by club leaders, descriptions about the organization’s mission statement and values, and DM capabilities/open channels to facilitate discussion between club leaders and interested prospective students.
4. Introduce Students to New Friends with Shared Interest Groups
Along with school sanctioned clubs, set up online groups for similar student types, such as transfer/international students, Res Life students on campus — as well as related interests like music, sports LGBTQ+, spirituality, movies and television to help students find their place and similar people where they can feel most comfortable and confident.
“Physical connection is such an important part of the college experience, so as soon as we knew what was happening with Fall quarter, and what the stipulations were going to be for virtual programming, our first thought was how are we going to utilize are platforms to make this the best experience we can for our students, while recognizing that it wasn’t going to be the same as before,”
By building shared interest groups based off of commonalities, universities provide virtual student engagements spaces that are much less anxiety-provoking for students and help them participate at their own pace.
5. Plan Online Interactive Games and Giveaways
Another way for incoming students to learn about their university is through fun, interactive activities. In lieu of on campus icebreakers, set up virtual scavenger hunts through your go-to campus communication platform. Share fun fact posts, recommendation lists provided by returning students and host weekly photo or video contests with a chance at prizes like a giftcard to the online bookstore or a university hoodie. Activate your online campus community and build an interactive environment, while remaining distant, but social.
6. Create an Ongoing Source for Q&As: University AMAs
Whether it’s questions around how the school is handling COVID-19 or FAQs related to the new school year, create an open forum online for students to send inquiries throughout the school year. By hosting an online channel where students can drop in questions, the university administrators and staff can team up to jump in and reply when it’s geared toward their field of expertise, creating an engaging space for university community dialogue.