student success

5 requests for assistance from college freshmen at the beginning of their first year

Mari Normyle

Assistant Vice President for Retention Solutions

March 22, 2018

What do college freshmen want as they begin their careers? It’s a critical question, because before new students have even set foot on a college campus or in a classroom, they have a set of expectations, goals, and concerns that will dramatically influence how strongly they kick off their college experience.

College freshmen
Listen to the full webinar and hear more survey results, “What Freshmen Really Want”

Ruffalo Noel Levitz looks at this question every year in our annual Freshman Motivation to Complete College Report, which pulls data from the RNL College Student Inventory, or CSI. The CSI is a motivational assessment taken by undergraduate students as they enter their institution. It provides tremendous insight into this question.

Our forthcoming 2018 report includes responses from nearly 95,000 college freshmen who took the CSI. About 40 percent of the students are from four-year private institutions, 35 percent from four-year public institutions, and 25 percent from two-year institutions. All in all, it’s a good representation of students across all three sectors.

Top 5 requests for assistance college freshmen as they begin

Let’s start by looking at the very beginning. What are students telling us their priorities are as they enter college?  Here are the five top items college freshmen told us they wanted as they start.

71%—Attend an informal gathering to meet new friends

69%—Help on the most effective ways to take college exams

67%—Talk with someone about career qualifications

67%—Help improving study skills

67%—Find out more about clubs/organizations

This is an interesting mixture of requests. The first and last items cluster around social engagement, making friends, and getting involved. About 7 out of every 10 entering students are saying they want to connect with new friends and learn more about clubs and organizations.

Two of these top five also deal with academic engagement. A large majority of college freshmen are asking for help right away with improving exam preparation and their study skills. They clearly want to make sure they get off to a strong academic start .

Finally, two out of three are already thinking as they enter college about how they will transition to a career when they leave college. Career planning should begin…at the beginning.

How do you use data like this to help incoming college freshmen?

A wise person once pointed out to me that a track relay team is only as successful as how well they manage the handoff of the baton between the runners. Given these requests for assistance and how they cover a number of departments, how can you manage that handoff between admissions, your orientation program, and your first-year student success team?

First, start outreach efforts begin before classes even begin. These five items are on the minds of the majority of incoming students before they even reach campus, so begin that outreach and coordination early.

  • Social connections—Give students information and invites to student gatherings where they can interact with other students. Utilize social media to provide information and introductory meetings for clubs and organizations. The more socially connected freshmen feel, the greater their desire to remain enrolled.
  • Academic engagement—Make sure students know the academic resources available to them so they know where to go for help right away. Writing centers, tutoring, counselors, advisors…provide the information for those connections to students, and their parents.
  • Career services—The escalating costs of college have students questioning the value of a degree more than ever. Connecting a college education with a desired career can help show the worth of a degree, so be sure to provide a handoff to career services for incoming students.

No matter what your position is at your institution, we all share common ground: that the success of students, measured not by just improved retention rates but also by improved completion rate and career outcomes, matters to each of us. And with all of the challenges we are facing in higher education, we should agree that the success of college students is our highest priority. By meeting the requests for assistance that college freshmen are asking for, we are taking a major first step toward helping them succeed, persist, and attain their goals—in college, and later into their futures.

Listen to the entire webinar, What Freshmen Really Want: The Latest Insights on Ensuring First-Year Student Success

I covered this topic along with several others in a webinar, What Freshmen Really Want. I invite you to listen to the recording to hear discussions about:

  • Providing meaningful data to target services for diverse populations
  • Identifying each first-year student’s non-cognitive needs and requests for assistance
  • Identifying where students are in the career development process
  • Improving retention and completion rates through informed decision making

Click here to listen to the webinar, or email me if you have any questions about assessing your incoming college freshmen.


About the Author

Dr. Mari K. Normyle, assistant vice president for retention solutions, works directly with colleges and universities throughout North America supporting student success and retention efforts through student motivation assessment and early alert programs. With more...

Read more about Mari's experience and expertise

Reach Mari by e-mail at Mari.Normyle@RuffaloNL.com.


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