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First impressions

Complete orientation review ensures first impressions are right, says David Dickinson, Director of Student Experience at Roehampton

First impressions count, but do we ever step back and look at the bigger picture for our new first years? That’s what we’ve done at Roehampton by reviewing completely how students meet and get to grips with the University.

We’re coming from a high standpoint – our satisfaction ratings for orientation at the start of term in consistently showed freshers were happy, but we did find inconsistencies.

The University’s strategic position was to review from the ground up, basing change on student feedback, to make online central to the process and to bring ownership into the Student Experience department. The latter brought responsibility and placed first impressions at the heart our planning..

With that done, a cross-University steering group reviewed processes to ensure activities helped new people quickly feel they belonged, and engaged effectively in their studies and student life.

Specific priorities included:

  • Involving many more staff in welcoming new students.
  • Creating a single, clear information portal.
  • Broadening the range of fun and social options in the programme.
  • Improving navigation around our 54 acre campus, and our online environments.
  • Streamlining university processes including enrolment.
  • Ensuring appropriate provision is made for students with specific needs, including mature, international and disabled students.
  • Reviewing individual communications to address information overload.

We ensured a consistency of quality and explanation around the necessary compulsory elements across departments, while student life issues were presented in a lively, informative and inclusive way. To create a single narrative, virtually every planned written communication, was audited for relevance and tone, and mapped to ensure it fitted in terms of timing and activities.

Departmental events had varied in duration and the range of information provided but are now consistent. We produced a short, engaging signposting film which was shown to all first years, accompanied by one speaker, rather than a stage of ‘talking heads’. Other events carry messages about how to be a student, and the university’s friendly and open approach.

In a tangible form, one example is the focus on our microsite for new students, with practical information about enrolment, university life, paying fees and addresses for halls. Every department has individual pages for first years carrying a personal welcome, background reading, assessment and timetable information. Content has been re-written to be consistent, interlinking and to press home the inclusive feeling of the University. This sits on our public webpage so parents can read and support their children through the first days. A single, detailed and accessible Welcome Week Timetable replaces its cumbersome predecessor and includes college, departmental and union activities, providing a one-stop information shop.

Social media has played a key role: we encourage students to follow us, so they can communicate with the University informally and have questions answered quickly. We post pictures of the campus and have filmed short walking tours, which were viewed by 1,200 people in one week. These serve to physically orientate students and build pride and excitement.

Knowing our students’ profile has been instructive in how we speak to them. We know they like the fact Roehampton is small university in south west London. They like the campus feel and the ease with which they can speak to their lecturers and make new friends, plus the vivacity of university life, this is reflected in the tone with which we speak with them.

Students rightly expect ever more of their universities, the onus is on us as professionals to show they have made the right choice as soon as they arrive.

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