Why you should say ‘yes’ to orientation activities

10 February 2023

Sarah Walker is no stranger to the ins and outs of Orientation Week at the Australian National University (ANU).

As the Engagement and Success Manager within the University Experience Division at ANU her team is primarily responsible for transition programs to university, including coordinating Orientation Week.

Sarah is also a student - a PhD scholar at the ANU School of Medicine and Psychology - who happens to be researching the importance of orientation activities at university.

Needless to say, her knowledge about orientation and transition to university is vast, and her perspective is through multiple lenses making her an expert in the area.

“There’s no doubt that coming to university is a big transition. Orientation activities are a great way to set yourself up for success,” Sarah smiled.

“Meeting people through orientation activities is part of the bonding experience. Not only is it a lot of fun, it also helps students build their community to support their transition to university.”

“On a practical level, orientation helps with getting to know the campus and understanding the services that are available should a student run into any problems or need to seek help.”

Perhaps surprisingly, only 25% of new students to ANU participate in orientation activities.

“This is likely because students may not fully understand the benefits of participating, and because orientation isn’t compulsory like it is in the USA,” Sarah explained.

“There’s no doubt that orientation is worthwhile and helpful to new students as it has a lasting impact on students’ retention, wellbeing and likelihood of successful completion of their degree.”

“However, everyone’s transitions to university life is unique as it is influenced by their individual situation.”

“For example, a student coming from a rural location will experience not just a transition to university life but also their whole environment. Being away from home they are physically leaving behind their usual support networks and community. In addition to adjusting to academic expectations, the student is learning to navigate a new city, make new friends and figure out how to feel at home on campus.”

“On the flip side, you could have a student who grew up in Canberra, living at home and working while studying. They are attending ANU with a group of friends. Their transition is focussed on figuring out how to balance work and study at the university level, while perhaps feeling a bit disconnected from campus life when they leave each day.”

“That is why orientation is so important. It aims to put everyone on an even footing with regards to navigating the university systems and provides an understanding of the resources, tools and services that are available to support anyone who needs help.”

“We know that students who complete orientation are more likely to seek help when they need it because they understand the services available to them and feel a sense of belonging and connection with those they’ve met during their time. This means students are more likely to continue their studies and be better able to handle challenges they face, drawing on their community and resources.”

As a final word of advice, Sarah explained “A student shouldn’t expect to remember every detail shared with them during orientation – not only is it impossible, it’s not the aim.  If they can come to the end of orientation week having a general understanding of the services that exist and have met at least one new person that they know by name, they will be in a better position to start their ANU journey.”

If you’re starting at ANU in 2023, welcome to the ANU community! 

New undergraduate students can participate in Sarah’s longitudinal study.

Students are encouraged to contact Student Central if they need help during or after orientation week.