The Importance of First Year Experience (FYE)

For incoming students, the first day on a new campus can be a daunting experience from the get-go. Hoards of wide-eyed freshmen lugging boxes of belongings scour dorm rooms as the first year non-traditional student ventures into unfamiliar halls in hopes of walking into the correct classroom. The first year experience (FYE) has grown to encompass transfers, non- traditional students, or anyone attending their first year at a new campus, not just newly graduated high school students.

In September of 2013, Alicia DeSantis and Chad Batka of The New York Times took pictures of freshmen that were about to embark on their first semester in the Big Apple. In April of 2014, they invited those students back to photograph and interview them about their first year experience at a new school in an unfamiliar city. Read article here. 

One of the students interviewed was nineteen-year-old Sophia Greene, a fashion-merchandising student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. This is what she had to say about her first experience in her new city.


“Everyone in my high school knew me. I dress crazy. I have a forehead piercing. I was the weird girl. I was worried about not standing out when I came here. And then the first day, I flew in with my mom, and we dropped our stuff in the hotel room, and we went to get lunch, and within 15 minutes of us sitting down, this man was like, “Can I take a picture of you?” He was like, “I love your style.” It’s never happened to me in Charleston.”

First year experience (FYE) programs should be designed to integrate knowledge gained in courses, experiences, and student life in order to aid the first year student in connecting with their peers and new community. Building a genuine relationship with these new and unique faces on campus can make all the difference when trying to make a student feel welcomed. Here are five ideas for increasing first year engagement.


  1. Campus Mentors – University professionals or experienced students who help new students get acclimated with what their campus offers.
  2. Cross Discipline Programing – Events that bring different groups of students together on a common ground.
  3. Community and Civic Engagement – Getting students excited about contributing to their surrounding community.
  4. Academic and Career Planning – Making sure students have the tools to succeed in college and after.
  5. College Survival Tactics – Tips & hints on how to keep their heads above water while they are navigating through academia & life.

In the spring of 2014, U.S. News invited college presidents, chief academic officers, deans of students and deans of admissions from more than 1,500 schools to nominate up to 10 institutions with stellar examples of first-year experiences. Colleges and universities that were mentioned most often are listed here, in alphabetical order. Read article here.

  1. Alverno University – Milwaukee, WI
  2. Appalachian State University – Boone, NC
  3. Butler University – Indianapolis, IN
  4. Columbia University – New York, NY
  5. Elon University – Elon, NC
  6. Evergreen State College – Olympia, WA
  7. Indiana University-​Purdue University​ – Indianapolis, IN
  8. Ohio State University – Columbus, OH
  9. Stanford University – Stanford, CA
  10. University of Maryland – College Park, MD
  11. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, MI
  12. University of South Carolina – Columbia, SC
  13. University of Virginia – Charlottesville, VA
  14. Wagner College – Staten Island, NY

Putting an emphasis on the first year experience of incoming students is a sure way to lead to an increase in student satisfaction, stronger integration into campus culture, and a higher retention rate.

Anthony Freese

About the author: Anthony Freese is the former Director of Marketing at Check I’m Here, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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