Yasmine Halmane, Staff Photographer

This fall, incoming first year students will arrive on campus to a week of orientation different than any class has experienced before. 

In an email to undergraduate students in mid-March, Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd announced a series of changes to the traditional orientation process. Participation in one of Yale’s five pre-orientation programs will now be mandatory and free of charge. Instead of arriving at staggered times based on participation in a pre-orientation program, all first years will now arrive on campus on Sunday, Aug. 21 and participate in a class-wide orientation program before leaving for their individualized pre-orientation programs, returning to campus for a few days before the start of classes. 

“The good news is, the University has now recognized the value of these programs and wants all the students to do some sort of orientation program,” FOOT Program Director Cilla Leavitt said. “So that’s fantastic that the University is recognizing that all of these programs are very important for students entering college life.”

Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun told the News that the goal of making the orientation process more inclusive has been in place for decades, but that the need for reforms became especially apparent last year, when the number of students who opted to participate in a pre-orientation began to exceed those who did not. 

“Last year crossed the threshold where it just made everyone realize that this is not a sustainable model, where you have two large move-ins, and, most importantly, have two large cohorts of students arriving at different times, leading to a kind of uneven experience for their start at Yale,” Chun said. “That was the trigger, and then we spent a lot of time planning over this past year to make it possible.”

The University currently offers five pre-orientation programs, each of which has a different focus — Cultural Connections, First-Year Orientation Trips —FOOT, FOCUS, Harvest and Orientation for International Students, or OIS. 

In the past, the different programs have not only started at different times, but charged students different fees, which Chun said could deter some students from choosing to participate in them. 

“We felt that if we wanted all students to arrive at the same time, as we’re doing this summer, and if everyone is going to have to attend one of these pre-orientation programs — now called mid-orientation programs until we get a better name from the students — we just felt we had to cover the costs,” Chun said. “Of course, that makes them more inclusive for everybody. 

Chun estimated that the cumulative cost of the University footing the bill for student pre-orientation programs was likely “in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.” 

Leavitt and Harvest Program Director Isabel Rooper ’20 both said that they were enthusiastic about the potential of the reforms to improve accessibility for students hoping to participate in pre-orientation programs. 

“I think it’s huge,” Leavitt said. “I think it’s great. Other universities have done this, and it won’t make any financial burden of any kind on any student. In other words, any kind of cost will not determine their decision on whether or not they want to do any of the orientation programs. They can choose what they want to do and not have to consider any financial cost.” 

Leavitt noted, however, that financial aid for the programs has traditionally been given based on demonstrated need. Ozan Say, senior adviser at the Office of International Students and Scholars, added that prior to the recent announcement, students who were already receiving financial aid from Yale did not have to pay for OIS.

With pre-orientation participation now mandatory, program leaders are anticipating an increase in students, necessitating changes to staffing and programming. 

Say explained that OIS, which helps acclimate international students to life at Yale, is expecting approximately 30 to 50 more participants than usual. While he said that OIS has hired enough additional counselors to accommodate up to 240 participants, they have not yet begun planning how programming will change to accommodate the increased number of students. 

Similarly, Leavitt said that FOOT, which leads students on multi-day hiking trips, has hired more FOOT leaders than usual to prepare for an estimated 80 additional first-years in the fall. However, she noted that the expansion of FOOT is limited by the number of trails available close by, and was planning on adding the Delaware Water Gap as an additional hiking trail. 

Rooper said that while Harvest, a program which focuses on sustainable food development, is also aiming to expand capacity, they have similar challenges with finding enough suitable farms. Last year, Rooper said, 90 first year students and 25 leaders participated in Harvest, but 40 leaders have been hired this year and they hope to accommodate 100 to 120 incoming first year students.

Cultural Connections, which is designed to introduce students to Yale’s cultural resources, plans to hire the same number of counselors as last year, when the program experienced an increase of about 40 students, Assistant Dean of Yale College and Director of the Native American Cultural Center Matthew Makomenaw said. Makomenaw added that the program may add more counselors if the number of students who sign up dramatically exceeds expectations. 

Despite adjustments, both Makomenaw and Leavitt told the News that the new changes will help ease logistical challenges and remove some of the burden of planning from the pre-orientation programs. 

“Everyone gets the same move in day, everyone is getting the same information and a chance to settle in and meet some of their residential college and do the orientation part and then have that opportunity to do the program of their interest,” Makomenaw said. “It’s going to be a transition the first year as we figure out things, but I think it’s definitely going to make things easier and smoother for students.” 

Pre-orientation programs are also having to rethink their programming due to the added class-wide orientation, which will allow students to become acclimated to Yale and New Haven before embarking on individual programs. 

Makomenaw told the News that Cultural Connections would have to cross-reference its programming to make sure there was no overlap with the new class-wide orientation, and Say noted that they might change some of the elements of OIS programming which helps students with logistical elements of the transition to life abroad.

“We are still considering having these logistical elements during OIS as there might still be a need, but now that students will have been on campus for a couple days before OIS starts some of them might already take care of those needs by the time our program begins,” Say wrote to the News in an email, “This year will definitely be a learning experience for us as we will find out what aspects of OIS will still be necessary given the timing of the program and what parts need adjustment.” 

Boyd also wrote in her email to students that there is a naming competition for the new class-wide orientation program where students can submit name ideas, graphics and t-shirt logos. 

In April, students will have the chance to vote on the best name, and the winner will be announced at the start of reading period and will win a dinner for five at the New Haven restaurant of their choosing. 

“The First-Year Orientation Committee will be reviewing the submissions over the next couple of weeks,” Boyd wrote in an email to the News. “I will send out the finalists soon after that, with the goal of announcing a winner by the start of the reading period. I am hopeful that the new name will be inviting and fun – the goal is to welcome our new students into our campus community.”

The deadline for submissions to the name competition is March 31. 

Sarah Cook is one of the University editors. She previously covered student policy and affairs, along with President Salovey's cabinet. From Nashville, Tennessee, she is a junior in Grace Hopper majoring in Neuroscience.
Lucy Hodgman is the editor-in-chief and president of the News. She previously covered student life and the Yale College Council. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a junior in Grace Hopper majoring in English.