Date Presented 04/22/2023

Orientations help students to feel welcomed and supported to ensure a positive first impression of the university and of the program of study (Guvendir, 2018; Mears et al., 2015). Graduate students often struggle with academic performance and persistence, yet students’ transition as they enter graduate-level coursework often receives less attention (Mears et al., 2015). In graduate-level OT programs, preparedness is important to ensure retention and academic success.

Primary Author and Speaker: Cheryl Boucakis

PURPOSE: An orientation program is often the point of entry for students at the graduate level. Educators have an opportunity through orientations to assist in the transition to graduate level coursework and to provide a strong academic foundation for their students, thus preparing them for the work ahead. Within a graduate level clinical program such as a Master’s of Occupational Therapy (MOT) preparedness is ever more important to ensure retention and academic success within the program and for success within the clinical board’s examination to ensure students persevere to become practicing and licensed occupational therapists. With the MOT program’s self paced online orientation students are introduced to the learning management system that they will use throughout their coursework. Wozniak, Pizza, and Mahony (2012) stressed the need for learners to be provided with opportunities to work and play with the technology they will use in their education. The online orientation allows students to submit assignments and complete quizzes in a low risk, supported environment. With adequate time to work through the self paced online orientation content it is proposed that anxiety levels will decrease and students will feel prepared to enter the MOT program.

DESIGN: Mixed method design is used, including both qualitative and quantitative data derived from the pre and post survey. Pre-survey numerical data is compared to post survey numerical data using a paired samples t-test. Qualitative data, including open ended questions, is organized by question and then categorized by theme (thematic analysis) with the number of students responding to each theme noted.

METHOD: While participation in the online orientation program is required of all students entering the MOT program, participation in the research study is voluntary. Students complete a pre-survey in which consent to participate is established prior to beginning orientation, and a post survey from which data is collected. The online orientation program consists of the pre-survey, a program meet and greet discussion post, 9 modules, and a post-survey. The nine modules include the following: 1) Introduction to the Bay Path portal, 2) Bay Path University resources, 3) Technology resources, 4) Occupational therapy department academic resources, 5) Occupational therapy department fieldwork resources, 6) Path forward (University’s Covid plan), 7) Information to review before beginning your journey, 8) Occupational Therapy Knowledge Exam, and 9) Orientation review and post survey. Students have approximately 2-4 weeks, depending on matriculation and acceptance of course invitation, to move through the online orientation course content in a sequential order.

PRELIMINARY RESULTS: A total of 69 students consented to being part of the study through two admissions cycles, fall of 2021 and spring of 2022. The statistical average of the pre and post responses for expectations, knowledge, preparedness, and anxiety were taken indicating an increase in understanding of expectations from 3.84 to 4.6, an increase in knowledge of university resources from 2.95 to 4.57, an increase in preparedness from 3.49 to 4.21, and a decrease in anxiety from 3.96 to 3.61.

CONCLUSION: An online orientation is effective in increasing knowledge program expectations and of university resources along with decreasing overall anxiety and increased preparedness at the time of entry into a graduate occupational therapy program. Such research will help guide academic programs in the best practices for preparing future occupational therapy students and may serve to improve the success of diverse student populations.


Mears, D. P., Scaggs, S. J. A., Ladny, R. T., Lindsay, A. M., & Ranson, J.W. A. (2015). Successful transitions to graduate school: Using orientations to improve student experiences in criminology and criminal justice programs. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 26(3), 283–306.

Hullinger, M. & Hogan, R. L. (2014). Student anxiety: Effects of a new graduate student orientation program. Administrative Issues Journal, 4(2), 27–34. https:// doi.10.5929/2014.4.2.3

Wozniak, H., Pizzica, J., & Mahony, M. J. (2012). Design-based research principles for student orientation to online study: Capturing the lessons learnt. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 28(5), 896–911.

Guvendir, M. A. (2018). The relation of an international student center’s orientation training sessions with international students’ achievement and integration to university. Journal of International Students, 8(2), 843–860.