Part 1: Keys to Creating an Online Pre-arrival and Orientation

Crafting an impactful online pre-arrival and orientation experience is key to the success of international students and scholars. Since 2015, the Homebase team has collaborated with many universities to refine and enhance their programs. In this and upcoming posts, we’ll share insights and principles gleaned from our experience—lessons often learned the hard way. Our goal is to provide you with practical, actionable strategies that will enrich your institution’s approach to welcoming and supporting your international community. We hope you find these insights both informative and beneficial.

Require Pre-arrival and Orientation 

To ensure maximum engagement and information retention, it’s crucial to transition from viewing pre-arrival and orientation as optional to mandatory. This shift may require coordination with various campus departments. Successful strategies include placing holds on student accounts or requiring a completion certificate for J-1 scholars at check-in. In cases where making these programs mandatory isn’t feasible, strongly imply their necessity through language like “required” and “mandatory,” and set deadlines for completion.

You may need to reevaluate the student journey and the communication you provide to ensure that a simple mix-up is not in the way of higher completion rates. 

Timely, Relevant Information Delivery

Understanding the journey of students and scholars to your campus helps you provide the right information at the right time and in the right way. Avoid mixing critical details with unnecessary or untimely content to keep engagement high. 

One example: Opening a bank account. Students need to understand how to open a bank account. But when they are sitting in your orientation they are not able to act on that information. By providing information on opening a bank account when they can act on it, you are freeing up time during your orientation for more engaging activities AND giving them information when they are able to act on it.

Clear and Concise Communication

Feedback from students and scholars often highlights the value of straightforward, easily digestible content, especially for those with English as a second language. While creative approaches like gamification or including local jargon have their place, nothing beats clarity and brevity for effective communication.

Diverse Content Formats

Diversifying the presentation of content—using text, videos, infographics, accordions, quizzes, and more—can significantly enhance engagement. However, it’s important to maintain a balance to avoid overwhelming users with unfamiliar interfaces. 

We recommend using text sparingly. We have completed thousands of student surveys and the constant feedback we hear is that students and scholars love our short-form videos and they want more of them. We realize that most universities don’t have the resources to create videos and so we have created 16 videos on crucial topics. Example videos include “Maintaining your visa status”, “Understanding Healthcare in the U.S.”, “Managing your finances in the U.S.”,  “How to Maintain your Mental Health”, and many more. Below is a screenshot from a video about maintaining your visa status. 

Often there will be information that is critical for one group but not necessarily for another. Consider presenting this information in an accordion. The example below comes from a page about maintaining your visa status. If a scholar has dependents, they will want to read about dependents.

Interactive Learning Opportunities

Help students and scholars become active participants in the learning process. One way we do this in Homebase is by having students or scholars participate through chat or video. In the example below, we have students review content about mental health and then respond to questions and reply to others. Having this type of activity during pre-arrival helps students and scholars create intentionality.

Ongoing Access

Surprisingly, many students and scholars revisit the Homebase platform long after completing their orientation. This underscores the importance of maintaining an easily accessible, central repository of information that they can refer to when needed.

Coming in part 2:

  • Increasing advisor visibility
  • How to monitor engagement
  • Ways to integrate social interaction
  • Designing your course to accomplish your primary objective 
  • Automating workflows within existing processes
  • Reducing ongoing workload
  • Foster a Growth Mindset

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