New Student Services must renovate virtual orientation experience

Cole Krautkramer

From staying in the dorms and eating at the dining halls to walking around campus and exploring Austin, orientation marks the first time freshmen get to feel immersed in the culture and lifestyle of UT. 

Following in last year’s footsteps, the incoming class of 2025 will be experiencing orientation virtually, which can easily take away from the sense of community and spirit if not structured properly.

In order to ensure students are given the most immersive experience, New Student Services  should focus on improving virtual orientation by making it more engaging and promoting more social interaction than last summer.

After completing the three days of virtual orientation, which contained few required events beyond advising sessions, registration, college meetings and daily small group sessions, many students in the class of 2024 were left feeling disconnected.

“I was most disappointed about not being able to make friends before starting the semester and also just not being on campus before school started,” undeclared freshman Elizabeth Torres said. “I felt like I just had to show up to the (events) and then I could leave after because it wasn’t mandatory (to stay).” 

While this disconnect is understandable, as New Student Services was forced to uproot its plan for in-person orientation right before it was scheduled to begin, many strides need to be made to address the fears of incoming students.

“A lot of us haven’t gotten the chance to tour campus, and orientation is (usually) a time when you are staying in the dorms and get to explore campus,” incoming freshman Shruthi Ananth said. “I’m a little worried about registration for classes because I’ve heard a lot about there being technical errors even when orientation was on campus, but now with everything else also being virtual, I’m just not sure how it is all going to work.”

Luckily, New Student Services has taken the time to reflect on the way the first year of virtual orientation went and is working now to correct initial pitfalls for this upcoming summer.

“This year, we added more fun social programs and events to give students the best chance to make those personal connections,” Katie Sullivan, communications manager for New Student Services, said in an email.One of the biggest additions is Zoommates (like a virtual roommate), where participating students will be paired with a fellow new Longhorn to serve as their buddy throughout orientation.”

Although the new Zoommates idea may work to try and foster a connection between students, unless the buy-in for this initiative is strong and students are willing to partake in this mandatory friendship, this change may fall short of expectations.

Rather than trying to force one-on-one connections between new students, New Student Services should work to increase the number of mandatory, group-based social events. In doing so, students who want to socialize will get the chance to without having to worry that others won’t show up.

Additionally, the changes being made to virtual orientation must push beyond just social events, as the experience should be more interactive for students to feel engaged. For example, rather than having students watch someone trace over a map of campus streets, students could instead watch a video filmed at eye level and actually “walk” these streets as the tour guide is talking.

To give all incoming students the best opportunity to connect with UT, New Student Services should implement new initiatives for their virtual orientation that not only foster social connection but engage students simultaneously.

Krautkramer is a Plan II honors and undeclared business freshman from Grapevine, Texas.