Stanford’s process for welcoming incoming students begins even before school ends

There’s never a moment’s rest for the staff of Approaching Stanford, the university’s official process for welcoming new students to the campus community. Even before school ends, they are busy helping new students orient to Stanford.

Just when you thought it was safe to stop, breathe deeply and relax now that Commencement is over, along comes Approaching Stanford.

Approaching Stanford staffers: Diane Suedbeck, Sally Mentzer, Alice Petty, Edith Wu, Niles Wilson, Anna Stone

Approaching Stanford staff members include (left to right) Diana Suedbeck, Sally Mentzer, Alice Petty, Edith Wu-Nguyen, Niles Wilson and Anna Stone. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The annual process through which the university welcomes and orients its first-year and transfer students, Approaching Stanford doesn’t wait for the end of the academic year to gear up. In fact, new students have already been asked to begin submitting the academic, housing, immunization and other forms they’ll need for the fall.

Most of them oblige. But some are still making the transition from high school, as Niles Wilson, program coordinator in Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR), recently discovered when he phoned one first-year student to remind her of a deadline. She apologized but noted that she was at her prom and asked if she could return his phone call.

Who’s coming?

At this point, Edith Wu-Nguyen, associate dean for new and continuing student programs in UAR, said she and her Approaching Stanford staff expect to welcome 1,715 first-year students and 20 transfers in the fall. But that number will likely change by September as students continue to weigh their options, leading to what in higher education circles is known as the “summer melt.”

“We communicate a lot with the incoming class over the summer,” Wu-Nguyen said. “But it’s not just them giving us information. We also are trying to help them think about how they will interact with Stanford and how to make their time here meaningful.”

For instance, first-year students and transfers receive weekly e-newsletters with forms to fill out, deadlines to remember and things to know about Stanford. Their parents and guardians receive similar information in monthly newsletters.

New students also receive a comprehensive, 96-page guide to the university called Approaching Stanford that is filled with information about everything from graduation requirements to housing and dining options. The staff and its five student orientation coordinators also will answer phone calls, oversee discussion boards and monitor a Facebook page.

A highlight of the new students’ missives from Stanford will be the books that will be featured during the annual Three Books discussion at New Student Orientation. This year, the works have been chosen by Sarah Billington, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

No typical student

Wu-Nguyen said the team recognizes that there is no typical Stanford first-year student or transfer student. The Class of 2023, for example, includes 50 students who are arriving after a gap year. Eighteen percent are first-generation college students, 12 percent are athletes, and 12 percent are international students from 84 countries.

Transfer students, most of whom are coming from community colleges and many of whom are veterans, range in age from 19 to 39. Several are coming to Stanford with spouses and children.

“More and more of the new students are comfortable letting us know they identify as nonbinary,” Wu-Nguyen said, which is a change from previous years. Many also share that their families might be considered nontraditional.

“We want students from all backgrounds and identities to feel that they belong here,” said Wu-Nguyen, adding, “We act as one big resource.”

Stress reduction will be a key message implicit in everything the Approaching Stanford staff does. Many new students, Wu-Nguyen said, still think they have to convince Stanford to admit them.

“We help them understand that they are in. They don’t need to market themselves anymore,” she said.

The five-day New Student Orientation, which begins Sept. 18, will mark the beginning of the end of what is really a yearlong planning process for Wu-Nguyen and her team. Many students, however, will have arrived at Stanford much earlier, thanks to such pre-orientation programs as First-Generation and/or Low-Income Student Orientation, International Student Orientation, Stanford Native Immersion Program and Stanford Pre-Orientation Trips.

And what happens when the New Student Orientation is over and school has begun? Wu-Nguyen and her staff will start planning how to welcome the Class of 2024.