Creating a Smooth Student Onboarding Process in the Middle of a Pandemic


My first day at my university was a Thursday because I was told it was orientation week that first week. I was taking it slow to look cool, arriving just before it’s over, you know the drill 😎

onboarding process meme
Me being fashionably late three days

Well, it turns out the orientation for my department ended the day before, and I actually had classes that very day.

Starting 5 minutes after I got the news.

I ran up a whole slope up the campus and arrived 20 minutes late. To the wrong class.

That’s the story of how I graduated without ever getting a proper orientation. Things could’ve been a lot different if someone had the brilliant idea of going with a student onboarding program instead.

So this story is also about good student onboarding and, more importantly, good student onboarding planning.

Now, if you don’t want your students being *fashionably late* to the wrong class, let me walk you through:

Let’s get movin’.

What is Student Onboarding?

what is student onboarding

Student onboarding is an enhanced method of familiarizing students with the institution, the processes, and the requirements they might need to meet, and overall offer a better student experience. As student success and student retention of a given college or university depend greatly upon a successful student onboarding experience, many studies are being conducted on the matter while the process slowly but surely replaces the traditional orientations.

“So wait, orientation is not the same thing as onboarding a student?”

Nope. In fact, the difference gets bigger and bigger every day since orientation is now mostly replaced by onboarding processes for students.

But still, let me explain it clearly.

Student onboarding vs. Orientation

  • Orientation mostly takes place in a matter of a day or, at best, a week.
  • Orientation focuses on the opportunities and the services the institution offers 
  • Orientation ends whether or not students reach a goal
  • Student onboarding can take over a hundred days and often takes an entire semester, if not more
  • Student onboarding focuses on the goals and services the student can get from the institution
  • Student onboarding is continuous and ends only when student goals are reached

Why is onboarding students so crucial?

why is student onboarding crucial

A university, a college, any other educational institution; all worthless without the students.

Bold take, I know.

But without a proper goal, all institutions are doomed to collapse.

And it so happens that in the US, 40% of undergraduate college students drop out each year in 2022. That’s four of every ten students, people.

What’s even more curious is 30% of the dropout rate comes from first-year college students dropping out before their sophomore year.

You see, that’s something you can change with better onboarding for students.

Or at least it was. Before the inevitable change came.

How Student Onboarding Changes Post COVID-19

The worldwide pandemic – besides everything else it took away from us – had the most significant influence on education.

Throughout the first two years, and even now, it changed and still changes the ways in which students took classes, teachers gave lectures, and even the education material itself.

Of course, the student onboarding process couldn’t be untouched.

Educational institutions had to find a good way to have students familiarize themselves with the school. This time not with the campus, but with online services, online communities, and online help the school offered and provided.

This change called for two things: an online communication channel, and an online platform to keep everything in check.

Here are some online tools to redefine your approach to student success.

Online communication tools for onboarding students

1- Zoom

Zoom Online communication tools for onboarding students

Zoom is, of course, the first thing that comes to mind when online communication is mentioned.

Not only is Zoom a perfectly powerful tool for the purpose, but it also keeps on getting better with every update.

Though they don’t try to make great changes to the services they provide like introducing CRMs and other functionalities, they do everything in their power to do what they do the best.

If you are looking for powerful online communication features and a free version, Zoom is perfect for you.

2- Google Meet

Google Meet Online communication tools for onboarding students

Though Google Meet is not as popular as Zoom, it sure is a great alternative for institutions that are already using other Google apps and services.

With Google apps like Classroom, Slides, and Calendar, integrating the onboarding to be more comprehensive is easy enough.

What’s more, Google Meet being available online makes onboarding your current students and incoming students easier as they can just be provided with a link; they wouldn’t have to deal with downloading anything.

Online management tools for onboarding students

1- HubSpot CRM

Hubspot CRM Online management tools for onboarding students

Though HubSpot essentially works with SaaS companies, using HubSpot CRM as a student onboarding solution can be really beneficial for educational institutions.

What’s more, just like Google Meet, HubSpot also has a very capable free version for smaller institutions wishing to onboard students, handle class planning and enrollment issues professionally, and do more.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that HubSpot has lots of free tools users can integrate with the CRM to offer the perfect onboarding to incoming students as well as professors and all faculty members.

2- Freshsales CRM

Freshsales Online management tools for onboarding students

Freshworks’ sales solution Freshsales has a whole CRM option dedicated to educational institutions for their CRM needs.

And take it from me, it’s pretty good.

Just like any other CRM solution, Freshsales CRM offers a one-stop solution to tasks, emails, reporting, and more. What makes this tool worth it is, however, the fact that it has an educational use case.

So, How do I Onboard a New Student?

Now you know that orientations are replaced with more effective onboarding processes, that the pandemic changed a lot, and that you can use different tools to keep up with the effects of the pandemic on education.

But how do you put all that into action?

Let’s take a look at how you can physically and virtually onboard your students and reach your goals for student onboarding.

Physical Onboarding

Although we all believed at one point that physical onboarding would go extinct, it is alive and well in some universities and other educational institutions.

So, it is only fair to go over an effective physical onboarding process for a great student onboarding experience. Let’s take a look.

1- Set an established approach to student success

A good onboarding process for students starts with one simple yet complicated step: deciding what describes student success for you.

This can be detecting and terminating potential issues for students, creating a healthy community for students within the institution, or creating an effective learning environment. Whatever your main objective is up to you.

What really matters is to take the upcoming steps in light of this.

2- Plan it out & reach out

Next is planning the timing as well as the logistics of the onboarding process.

This step contains getting in touch with the faculty members, institutional staff, and third-party onboarding services/persons if you’d like to involve any.

After reaching out to the above, it is time to reach out to the students as well.

You might want to give a complete and comprehensive plan to the students that will be subject to the onboarding process to avoid confusion and start meeting student goals from the very start.

Keep in mind that although planning an onboarding has its own goals, reaching student goals is the primary goal at all times.

3- Track student success

Once the onboarding for students officially starts, it is time to keep track of each student and how far along they are in achieving the onboarding goals as well as their own.

Depending on the milestones you have decided during the planning phase, you might want to keep closer contact with certain students that may fall behind in their onboarding. 

Don’t forget that onboarding students is a continuous process, and even though a student might appear to have completed their onboarding, this might not be the case.

Be sure to check up on students for the best student onboarding experience possible.

Virtual Onboarding

Now when we consider the possibility that you might not be in direct contact with students or that you can’t see them face-to-face, there are some more steps that might be necessary to add to the standard student onboarding flow.

These would be:

1- Making sure you can communicate efficiently online

In the case that you cannot plan a physical onboarding process, you have to make sure you can still communicate with the incoming students. 

This can be solved with online tools like Zoom and Google Meet, as we mentioned above. However, if your institution works in a more verbal manner rather than oral, setting up proper email channels and scheduling them effectively is another thing to consider. 

2- Instill the school culture in alternative ways

When students have no way of seeing the campus and discovering what it has to offer by themselves, it is important to support them in doing so virtually.

This includes planning online meetings, bringing them together with student communities of all sorts, and introducing them to services your institution offers.

This again boils down to getting an online communication solution to keep organizing meetings as easy as possible.

Other methods of instilling school culture would be by sending students videos, photos, manuals, and infographics on the school and what it offers.

3- Onboarding students to online tools and ensuring proper student training

Besides replacing physical processes with online ones, there are problems that might arise with a virtual setup.

One of these problems is supporting not-so-tech-savvy students in onboarding to online tools your institution might be using during the online period.

And the solution is simple.

UserGuiding: Enhance your online student onboarding

When the pandemic first started, I was still taking classes back at university.

Although I consider myself quite tech-savvy for your average content writer, I found it kinda hard to get used to the online processes.

Sadly, my university offered no online support for such cases.

In the end, I had to ask for help first from my friends and then from our online university community after finding out my friends were as confused as I was.

The funny thing is, such complications could’ve been prevented if the school staff had taken literally 5 minutes to create a good online onboarding flow for us students.

“5 minutes? How can it take so little?”

Well, it took me 4 minutes and 11 seconds to create this onboarding flow right here using UserGuiding:

UserGuiding for student onboarding

With UserGuiding, you can give your students the comfort of adjusting to online education quicker and easier using features like:

  • Interactive guides and walkthroughs,
  • Hotspots, tooltips, and modals,
  • Customization and templates,
  • Resource center (in-app help directory),
  • Powerful analytics,
  • Segmentation and targeting, and much more.

👉 Give UserGuiding’s free trial a try now! 👈


Though there is no standard or preset for a perfect student onboarding, it is possible to find what’s best for your institution and your students.

What matters at the end of the day is creating a proactive process that will focus essentially on making student goals a reality as the ultimate goal.

And to make them come true, you need a well-planned process.

The time of dry orientations is over now; startplanning your comprehensive student onboarding today!

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Serra Alban

Serra Alban

When I realized I won’t be the next Greta Gerwig I found myself as a creative content writer at UserGuiding. I’ve been obsessed with UX design, customer success, and digital adoption ever since. If you could stare at good UX for hours like me don’t hesitate to hit me up on LinkedIn. I might end up dropping too much movie trivia but hey, old habits die hard.