Freshman orientation during COVID-19

Illustration by Amanda | The Signal

As Georgia State’s incoming freshmen begin their transition to college, they have been hit with a new curveball.

“My senior year came to a sudden end, and now, I am not sure how my college career will be played out,” Khushi Patel, an incoming freshman at the Alpharetta campus, said.

Freshman orientation, which is typically held in the summer months before the fall semester, prepares new Panthers for life at Georgia State. Students are able to tour the campus, learn more about housing and register for classes.

With face-to-face interactions being put on hold, the graduating class from high school had to prematurely end their classes. As a result, many students regret not having experienced certain rites of passage, such as prom and graduation. 

As the class of 2024 transitions into college, their biggest concern now is how orientation and other freshman activities will be conducted.

“I feel like getting to tour the campus and actually go[ing] to the New Student Orientation in person would have been informative and helpful in getting to know the campus’s atmosphere and general information about [Georgia State],” Laura Le, an incoming freshman at the Atlanta campus, said.

Patel felt similarly as she explained the lack of information she has regarding how the orientation will be held.

The Georgia State New Student Orientation website offers seven tips for what students are expected to complete prior to their virtual call. 

Academic advisement services are offered by calling the campus-specific advisement office. New students who are trying to get an understanding of what classes are offered and how it affects their core and major classes are encouraged to use the services.

Other announcements, such as immunization records, placement exams and Freshman Learning Community classes, are also discussed on the orientation website. However, no information regarding class registration or orientation schedules has been updated.

“Orientation helped me ease into freshman year and allowed me to make friends and explore the city before the semester started,” Angela Zhao, a sophomore at Georgia State, said. 

This year, incoming freshmen will “reimagine New Student Orientation for this summer,” according to Assistant Director of New Student Orientation Benjamin Williams.

An online orientation format has been developed over the past year in which the modules will cover important concepts, such as student life, finances, health, safety and success initiatives.

Alongside the modules, students will participate in a two-hour virtual orientation session. The small groups will be facilitated by an orientation leader and academic advisor. The WebEx call is mandatory.

In addition, the orientation is holding online seminars for Financial Aid, Study Abroad Programs and more opportunities for students to get involved on campus. 

In order to maintain the FERPA rights of all students, guests are not allowed in the online calls. 

“However, we will be launching a brand-new Parent and Family Portal on [June 1] to enhance our efforts to support, engage and partner with parents and family members who support our Panther family,” Williams said. 

In addition to the New Student Orientation updates, additional information will be provided via Facebook and Instagram Live, including online orientation update sessions. Pounce’s chatbot will also send texts to the Panther community in case there are any personal inquiries.

Once students register for orientation, the office plans to call each student to make sure they understand the different steps and opportunities this year’s services include.

“It is a massive program that normally takes a year to plan, but I am so incredibly proud to work alongside Undergraduate Admissions, the University Advisement Center and First-Year Programs in creating a new virtual orientation experience that has already been successful in welcoming over 500 new students who are starting classes this summer term,” Williams said.

In previous years, incoming students typically registered for their first semester classes at orientation with the help of their academic advisors. The question is, how are students expected to follow through PAWS and its registration guidelines at home?

According to Williams, an online learning community and academic advising course registration form will allow new students to share their class preferences. The form will also allow them to log in any additional credits they have received in years past.

The University Advisement Team will review the information given by the students and work with each student individually during the virtual orientation session to finalize their fall registration. 

Williams acknowledged the sudden change in orientation expectations. The online format is ensured to give students the most accurate and up-to-date information despite the current situation.

“The programs have indeed changed significantly, but our commitment to rolling out the blue carpet for our new Panthers hasn’t,” he said.

Each incoming freshman is expected to receive a mailed-in gift after they attend their virtual orientation to preserve the spirit and welcome the newest class at Georgia State.

“It’s difficult to adjust to many of the new changes that come with registering for the fall semester as if it wasn’t confusing enough,” Le said. “But it’s just another side effect of living during a pandemic where even the most established adults who’ve we’ve always thought knew everything are losing their footing just like the rest of us.”

Regardless, Georgia State plans to begin the class of 2024’s adventure on a positive note, beginning with this year’s orientation.

“From our beginnings as an evening school to our current standing as an international leader in student success, we are and will continue to support you, from rolling out the blue carpet virtually at orientation to celebrating you at Georgia State Stadium in May of 2024,” Williams said.