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College orientation ideas, activities and icebreakers

By: Kaz Weida

College orientation is an opportunity for incoming students to get their first glimpse of campus life. But it can also be overwhelming for a freshman who has never been away from home. The best college orientation programs welcome new students with fun orientation activities that encourage student engagement and connection.

Let’s explore college orientation ideas and icebreakers for college students that create a welcoming environment and ultimately help student retention rates in the first year and beyond.

Tips for college orientation ideas

Here are some tips to keep in mind when brainstorming student orientation ideas.

Keep it interactive

Whether your college orientation program is in person or online, find ways to help students connect. Carve out some time for new students to be social and share more about themselves.

Practice makes perfect

You've designed the best college orientation program, but do a practice run to work out any hiccups. Expect the unexpected such as technological complications and plan ahead.

Think about access

There are many barriers that prevent new students from attending college orientation, including a lack of financial resources. Whether your program is in-person or online, ensure those in need can participate.

Make it social

The gold standard of higher ed marketing is to reach students where they are. Most of the time, that’s on Instagram, TikTok or YouTube. The best college orientation programs create social media campaigns to accompany college orientation activities.

Swag is your friend

Everyone’s favorite word is free, so send swag to new students. Think beyond T-shirts and go for practical prizes like bookstore gift cards. Be sure to broadcast freebies on your higher ed social media accounts to incentivize participation.

5 in-person college orientation ideas

If you’re hosting incoming students face to face, here are college orientation ideas to encourage student engagement.

1. Photo scavenger hunt

This orientation activity doubles as a campus tour. Create clues for a dozen must-visit places on campus, then break out into small groups. Challenge teams to take a selfie at each place and tag themselves on social media.

2. Beach ball icebreakers for college students

If you’ve got a beach ball, you’ve got the makings for a college-style icebreaker. Here are mini-activities to ease awkwardness.

  • Group juggle: Have the freshman with the ball say their name, then pass to someone new who says the names they’ve already heard and adds their own.

  • Warp speed: As the beach ball gets tossed, each person who catches it says their name. Every minute or so, beach balls are added until this becomes a flurry of introductions.

  • Pick a question: Use a sharpie to cover the beach ball with questions, then have the person who catches answer the one closest to their left or right hand.

3. Insider guide to campus life

Give incoming students the inside track to campus life from existing students. In addition to a student panel during orientation, create a pdf with upperclassmen tips and tricks like the best study spots, favorite food trucks and book-buying hacks.

4. School spirit games

Joining a community means becoming part of something larger than yourself. Stoke school spirit by sharing a video of favorite campus moments. Then have incoming students play school-spirit Jeopardy to test their knowledge of campus traditions.

5. Marshmallow challenge

The best college orientation programs take time to break it down. Give your incoming students one-on-one time by passing out marshmallows and toothpicks and challenging small groups to come up with a creative structure. Then step back and watch the magic happen.

5 virtual college orientation ideas and online icebreakers

With a little effort, these college orientation ideas can connect students virtually and foster community both online and on campus.

1. Google Map it

One way to help new students connect is to collaborate on a Google map. Instruct incoming freshmen to drop a pin on their hometown, noting any fun or fascinating facts about where they are from.

2. Unboxing videos

If you’re going to send some swag, you can use welcome packages to encourage engagement on social media. Ask students to upload videos of unboxing their swag or do it live on camera during virtual orientation.

3. Meet your match

Think of this student orientation idea as virtual speed dating for friends. Pair new students up as orientation buddies. You can do this by creating a Slack channel for direct messaging or using the meeting room chat to exchange contact info.

4. Online campus tour

Navigating campus is much easier in person, but you can make up ground with some online creativity. Drone footage, scavenger hunts of the campus website, and student-led video tour reels are ways to get a taste for the campus at a distance.

5. Break the ice online

It seems tricky to get folks talking to webcams, but many in-person icebreakers for college students can be adapted for virtual events. Here are a few to kick off your online college orientation activities.

  • Then vs. now: Ask students to share two pics that represent what they wanted to be when they were little versus what they want to be now. They can use Instagram story filters to make a collage and tag your college to win prizes.

  • Stranded: This is a classic question that always makes for interesting introductions. Ask students to identify the one item they would take if stranded on a deserted island.

  • Two truths, one lie: Most students are familiar with this icebreaker, which involves making three statements (one of which is a lie). The trick is spotting the falsehood and crafting a believable deception.

  • Grab & tell: Have students in the virtual event grab one thing within arm’s reach and explain what it is and why they chose it.

  • Give me some background: Pepper your virtual orientation with personality by inviting students to upload a customized background. If your meeting room has fun filters, show students how to use them.

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Kaz Weida

Kaz Weida is a freelance journalist and photographer who is passionate about crafting content that helps entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes tackle challenges. When not at her keyboard, Kaz can be found in the kitchen indulging in a little craft cocktail inspiration.

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