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Pre-orientation programs — Starting early to support diverse communities
By Jo Calhoun
Research shows that students persist to graduation at a higher rate when they make an early, meaningful connection to faculty members, staff and their peers.
This is why many colleges and universities offer specialized pre-orientation programs — they are dedicated not just to recruiting students but also to assuring that students meet their goal of graduation.
Here are two common pre-orientation models for which your student may be eligible:
Summer Bridge programs
Summer Bridge programs run from one to six weeks and typically target first-generation college students, students from high schools that don’t offer advanced coursework, and/or students from groups traditionally under-represented in disciplines like science, math, or engineering. Programs focus on developing academic and study skills. They are not remedial but rather expose students to rigorous and fast-paced academic work, often in small group settings.
In addition, students are given assignments that send them to the far reaches of the campus. They engage with faculty members and student life staff and stay in the residence halls and eat in the dining halls. By the time classes start in the fall, students are in many ways a full term ahead of other entering freshmen.
Pre-orientation programs for special populations
In recent years colleges and universities have done a better job of attending to the needs of international students and students with disabilities. These pre-orientation programs last from one day to one week and often immediately precede the fall term.
International student orientations may include language and/or math placement testing, a review of SEVIS (the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) requirements and other visa regulations, and presentations by key faculty and staff members. Students will take in-depth campus tours and be introduced to the cultural expectations inherent (but often hidden) in U.S. higher education. They may be matched in a mentoring relationship with a U.S. student or returning international student.
Students with disabilities will have a chance to meet the disability services staff and get on track with policies and procedures related to lining up classroom and residential accommodations. They, too, can expect an extensive orientation to the physical environment of the campus and to the people and programs available to support them in their transition to college.
A note on costs
Summer Bridge participation costs are usually covered by the institution. Students just need to bring a small amount of spending money and casual clothing. Costs for other pre-orientation programs are reasonable and often subsidized by the college. Your student should inquire in advance about scholarships.
Whether or not your student chooses to participate in pre-orientation, be assured that schools are organized to support student success. The specialized offices and initiatives that sponsor summer programs will be important resources for your student throughout all four undergraduate years.
Encourage your student to visit the Office of Multicultural Affairs, International Student Services, Disability Services, the Student Activities Office, the Academic Advising Office and Career Services. Staff are available and poised to help. This support can make all the difference in your student’s self-confidence, sense of belonging and determination to graduate.
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