All around the country, new students are realizing that college can be an exciting prospect, but one also tinged with apprehension. Freshmen can often find themselves confronted by a dizzying array of questions ranging from the simple need to find their lecture rooms to making new friends to choosing their class schedules. Easing the transition into their new college life and providing incoming students with all the resources that college life can offer is the goal of orientation programs colleges offer throughout the summer.
This year’s on-boarding of 9,000 new students admitted to Penn State’s University Park campus represented a massive logistical and human undertaking. Beginning in May, orientation involved 150 to 200 students per day, for two solid months. A key element of orientation is the Penn State Reads program, a new collaborative initiative for first-year students who are presented with a complimentary book designed to provide a shared experience and a deeper connection to the University’s core values. “We became a focal point for orientation as the location for students to pick up this book,” explains Penn State Director of Stores, Steve Falke, “and over the course of orientation, we received a 96 percent pick-up rate – giving us the opportunity to meet with nearly all new students and their families.”
For new students, purchasing their required course materials can sometimes be confusing and intimidating. “There are now as many as six different options for one book – from digital to new and used and rental – so we can use orientation as an opportunity to talk about the bookstore, the services we provide and help them choose the format that works best for them and for their budget,” he adds. To help further cultivate that atmosphere of trust, the Penn State Bookstore created an orientation counter; a kiosk manned by students that provided a peer-to-peer introduction to not just bookstore services, but also to help answer questions about the college and its facilities. “It provides us with a few moments to meet our students, help communicate good buying decisions and talk to them in our own environment,” Falke says, adding, “It’s also a great way to demonstrate to them that they have a reliable, knowledgeable textbook resource in the bookstore.”
That level of communication is also appreciated by Kellie Wright, store manager at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga UTC Bookstore. “We work with our campus orientation leaders before orientations begin, and we hold breakout sessions in the store to talk about our different programs. It’s a tremendous help in spreading the word, and students and parents really appreciate the information we provide,” she maintains.
With 2,300 students arriving on campus, and with seven separate freshman orientations over the summer, spreading the word is something they do well at Chattanooga, and three years into its textbook rental program, the results are impressive. “Last year alone we saved our students a million dollars between rental and used textbooks, so they look to us not just as the bookstore, but as a resource where we can explain the different textbook options that are available and can save them money right here on campus, without concerns about whether they’re ordering the correct book or the cost of shipping,” Wright adds.
As members of the class of 2017 settle in to their new surroundings, campus administration and bookstore managers have already begun the process of educating students about their academic choices, but also to acquaint them with student life and bookstore services. To help with this process, all incoming students across Barnes & Noble College’s 700 campus bookstores have received a Welcome Kit designed by the experts who have been there before – other students. The Welcome Kit features a keepsake 18-month wall calendar with photos sourced from students across the country, alongside important information and reminders about textbook rentals, cash back and special offers. Campus leaders and tour guides also distribute information and coupons to welcome new students and their parents, and to introduce them to the bookstore.
“We have a very large student body at Penn State and orientation allows us to reach new students, right from the start, to let them know the bookstore will be a great support system for their success over the next four years,” explains Falke. UTC’s Wright agrees. “The partnership we have with our university enables us to use orientation as an opportunity to introduce new students and their parents to our textbook offerings, and also let them know we are a one-stop shop for the campus,” she says. “We’re a place where they can find convenience items, emblematic merchandise, technology and even health and beauty products – so we’re going to be a really useful resource for them throughout their college years.”