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Webcast Blog 4: Best ways to have a year-long plan

May 19, 2022

Welcome back to another student experience episode! In this week’s episode, we’ll be covering a topic that is often overlooked; creating a year-long plan that covers more than just the academic year.

Want to listen to this topic instead? Click here to check out the webcast.

Why is it important to manage the student experience 12 months a year, when the academic year usually only lasts 6-10 months (depending on the country you study in). The answer should be clear. The moment a student starts a degree at your university, they are your responsibility until they graduate (although even then you should still take care of the general ‘alumni’ experience). The holidays are in fact a vulnerable time for a lot of students. We’ll explain our thoughts by outlining the following three problems.

Firstly, although it may only represent a small portion of students, some are not able to go home during the holidays. This may be due to factors such as personal circumstances, financial limitations, or retakes. For a lot of students, this can be a painful period. Staying behind while watching all your peers go back home to a supportive environment can be mentally draining. Especially for students who have only recently moved away from their home environments to go and study (as homesickness may play an even bigger role then).

No one likes to be alone during the holidays, but the harsh truth is that there will always be students for whom this is a reality. In fact, with recent lockdowns still happening all over the world, this has been a particular issue for international students. When Uni-Life set up a community group for students who were unable to go home, over 500 students joined in just a few days (indicating the magnitude of the problem).

Secondly, during the holidays it’s very easy to lose your sense of rhythm. During the normal academic year, you’ll most likely get into a pretty set rhythm each day. Classes in the morning, sports in the afternoon, a party tonight and exams in 2 weeks. Whenever you’re in a flow it’s much easier to plan your days.

During the holidays, however, a lot of this fixed structure disappears. You have no more classes, no friends to hang out with and a lot of facilities will be closed or have limited opening hours (if your university is not in a thriving city). Studies have shown that completely losing your rhythm can have a negative effect on your health (e.g. going to bed later, eating more irregular times, boredom, etc.).

Lastly, the holidays are actually a peak period for dropouts. Many universities have indicated that once students go home for the winter holidays, they have such a good time being back with their families and old friends that they refuse to go back. That means that even students who do have the privilege of going home may be at risk of dropping out.

As a result, it is detrimental for universities to support the student experience for the full 365 days. To do that, we suggest a few options.

  1. Create a strategy to identify which students are already in a vulnerable position during the regular academic year (e.g., visiting the psychologist frequently). More information about how to do this were explained in blogs 1 and 2 of this series.
  2. Create a strategy to identify which students are likely not able to go home during any particular holiday. Although this data may not directly be found anywhere, there are a lot of indicators that can help target these groups (e.g., which students are on a scholarship and unlikely to have the financial means, which students are so far from home that they are unlikely to visit, which students have a lot of retakes and are likely to spend their entire summer at university, etc.).
  3. Using step 1&2, create a holiday program that students can sign-up for. This program can be as simple as you like but ensure that all students are able to find it and know what it’s for. Simply hosting some fun activities during the holidays where students can meet new friends can already be a huge morale boost for a lot of students.

Following these steps will hopefully help you identify a segment of students who are already vulnerable, and likely to get in an even tougher position over the holidays. As mentioned, this may not always be a huge segment of students, but this group is definitely at a very high risk of dropping out (which may lower that student’s morale even further).

The biggest learning, based on all our talks with students, is that even meeting just 1 or 2 new friends during the holidays can already make a massive difference

 

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