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Incoming freshman say goodbye to senior year and hello to online orientation

The U is moving orientation online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving incoming freshmen to wonder what that will mean for their college experiences.
Illustrated by Abby Adamski
Image by Abby Adamski
Illustrated by Abby Adamski

On the heels of a virtual end to their senior year, incoming freshmen at the University of Minnesota are about to experience another first: an online college orientation. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the University is adapting the orientation experience for incoming freshmen and transfer students to be completely online. Administrators and advisors are preparing for a remote registration cycle, and some new students are worried about what the transition means for the start of their Gopher experience. 

Incoming freshman Russell Brown said he is excited to attend college. However, he said he is worried that he will not have a social introduction to other people, which is typically part of the two-day orientation process where incoming students stay on campus.

Brown is a first-generation college student and said that while his family has been supportive, there are a lot of things about starting college that he is figuring out for himself. With University plans for next year remaining uncertain, he said he is worried about losing out on his fall semester. 

“I just hope there’s something done with the cost of college because I don’t want to pay full price for online education,” Brown said. “I also hope the football season isn’t canceled.”

Director of Orientation Programs Lisa Gruszka said students will complete a Canvas course prior to registration. Then there will be a three to five hour series of Zoom calls depending on the college a student will be attending. Students will have the opportunity to talk in larger groups as well as one-on-one with an advisor.

Gruszka said Orientation Leaders and advisors will also be hosting virtual events throughout the orientation process. There will be drop-in hours and other connection opportunities for students who may have additional questions.

Gruszka said a lot of incoming students may have an easier time adjusting to the online format because they have already been working remotely. 

“The reality for this generation is they’ve been having virtual relationships since day one,” she said. 

Incoming freshman Béla Konkoly said he is feeling excited about starting college and living with his roommate on campus. However, having an in-person education is a big priority for him. 

Konkoly is missing out on his senior season of ultimate frisbee and said online classes have been difficult. He is taking three classes right now, but learning online is not the same as being in person. 

“Finishing high school online and having it be so abrupt has been really tough to get the same quality education,” Konkoly said.

Gruszka said despite the challenges, the benefit of online orientation is that materials will be more accessible to families who may not have previously been able to take the day off to attend the family session of orientation. 

The University is also working on a virtual storyboard of student experiences that will remain up throughout the summer and mailing home registration material, she said. 

Associate Vice Provost for Strategic Enrollment Initiatives Beth Lingren Clark said the University is committed to maintaining the integrity of the orientation process despite the transition. 

“We’re doing everything we can to make it be a very powerful experience,” she said. “It’s still going to be a world-class education.”

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