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What To Do When Your Summer Orientation and Bridge Programs are Disrupted by COVID-19

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by Andrea Brenner and Lara Schwartz

Amid COVID-19 closures and delays, college administrators and student-facing staff are turning their attention toward transitioning to virtual orientations and summer bridge programs. 

What can colleges do to provide a smooth transition for their incoming students? How can they help new students visualize their lives on campus and prepare for a memorable and informed home-to-college transition in these unprecedented times?

To address the challenges of transitioning to college, only exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, we wrote How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You’re There)—the first student-facing practical guide for incoming students to prepare for the college transition through exercises and conversations before they arrive. It is a flexible and comprehensive supplement for your online summer programs. In writing How to College, we drew on our experiences teaching and working with thousands of first-year college students over decades.

The comprehensive guide offers invaluable advice from college administrators, faculty, student-facing staff, and current college students, demystifying the college transition experience and emphasizing the student’s ultimate self-reliance in the transition to college during this challenging time. 

How to College sets the foundation for college success with accessible information and simple online lessons and activities that address the kind of challenges students will be facing this summer and fall, including:

  • interacting online with peers to gain a sense of belonging
  • connecting with campus resources such as tutoring and writing centers, career services, counseling services, and disability support to have the necessary support for college success
  • using campus technology resources such as learning management systems, library databases, and college email to be prepared for virtual learning
  • maintaining physical and mental health, wellness, and safety, especially during this stressful time
  • budgeting and financial literacy to cope with the uncertainty of today’s economy
  • selecting co-curricular and civic-engagement experiences to get involved, even in a distance-learning environment
  • understanding college-level academic standards: study skills, time management, writing, professionalism, reading, and academic integrity
  • examining the importance of finding supportive mentors in this life transition

How to College also includes exercises and tasks that orientation and summer bridge administrators can easily translate into a distance-learning curriculum: 

  • Know before you go- research tasks such as learning about the demographic makeup of the school’s incoming class, and practicing writing a professional email;
  • Do before you go- exercises such as preparing a simple budget, downloading the college’s safety apps, and researching campus clubs and organizations of interest;
  • Discuss before you go: conversation prompts for incoming students and their families on such topics as how to handle emergencies, responsibly using financial resources, and how families will communicate.'

Finally, as part of Macmillan Learning's COVID-19 Student Toolkit, we also put together a set of free web resources with some brief videos and our best tips for students this summer. These resources, combined with How to College, can help colleges prepare students for a memorable and informal transition to college during this unprecedented time. You can view our Orientation & Summer Bridge Resources at: c19tookit.com/orientation.html.

For more information, including how to order How to College for your program or to receive a free examination copy, please visit the Macmillan Academic website or contact academic@macmillan.com. 

About the Author
Andrea Malkin Brenner, PhD taught in the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at American University for over 20 years. She created and directed AU’s award-winning first-year experience program and consults with colleges that wish to create their own first-year transition courses.