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First-year experience brings national accolades and praise from students

As a freshman, Lessly Rocha quickly found her place in the ACU community, joining in time-honored traditions like Sing Song and Freshman Follies and kicking off new traditions like tailgating and football at Wildcat Stadium. She joined other freshmen in Cornerstone, a first-year seminar class that sets the foundation for their education at ACU.

“I’ve made some great friends, and I love that my advisors and my professors really care about me,” said Rocha, a marketing and Christian ministry double major. “The people I’ve met at ACU make me feel at home, like family.”

Rocha’s experience is not unique. And those in charge of college rankings at U.S. News & World Report recognized that when it came time to select schools for a national ranking focused on student success.

For the fifth year in a row, ACU was among the highest-ranking universities in the nation in the U.S. News “Academic Programs to Look For” benchmarks focused on student success. ACU placed in five of eight categories for 2024 – including first-year experience – more than any other college or university in Texas.


Lessly Rocha
Lessly Rocha

ACU’s innovative approach to student orientation ensures all new Wildcats and their families begin their journey with a comprehensive introduction to college life. They learn about campus through an online series leading up to a two-day on-campus summer orientation.

Just before school starts, Wildcat Week immerses them in the academic, social and spiritual life of ACU, and connects them with student mentors.

All new students are enrolled in Cornerstone with their mentor groups from Wildcat Week. This one-semester class, as the name implies, provides a foundation for the rest of their liberal arts education at ACU.

Group gatherings such as daily Chapel and one-on-one interactions with Christian faculty and fellow students create an environment that inspires spiritual growth.

“ACU is Christian, and not just in name,” Rocha said. “I’m grateful to share spiritual experiences with my classmates and my professors, in and out of class.”


Shannon Kaczmarek
Shannon Kaczmarek

That kind of first-year experience is the goal of employees such as Shannon Kaczmarek, director of residence life. A part of her department’s mission is to create a sense of home for new students.

It starts with the official move-in day at the beginning of the fall semester. New students and their parents are in for the surprise of their lives when they drive up to a residence hall and see hundreds of volunteers eager to help them lug all their boxes and luggage into their new room.

“It’s been a really positive thing,” Kaczmarek said.

Throughout that experience and Wildcat Week, students are immersed in an atmosphere of being served, cared for and welcomed. And it doesn’t end there. Freshmen and sophomores live on campus in residence halls, where they can quickly immerse themselves in the vibrant campus community.

Each residence hall is served by residence advisors who each take 24 to 30 students under their wing. The residence advisor/student relationship is based on being engaged in a meaningful way through conversation.

“Our goal,” Kaczmarek said, “is to be in conversation with every single student living in our buildings.”

Those conversations often lead to mentoring relationships that extend beyond graduation and are just one of the carefully crafted components that make ACU’s first-year experience so impactful.

Elements of ACU’s First-Year Experience:
  • Every first-year and transfer student attends a two-day new student orientation before their first semester begins.
  • Students meet their academic advisors to forge a relationship and begin setting expectations for their entire college career. They also meet faculty, residence life staff and others who can help familiarize them with college life.
  • New students participate in Wildcat Week, a weeklong program that immerses students into the academic, social and spiritual life of ACU.
  • All new students are enrolled in Cornerstone, a seminar class, with their mentor groups from Wildcat Week. Their same peer leaders serve as mentors throughout the course.
  • Early in the semester, ACU hosts Family Weekend for families of first-year students to experience life at the university. Families and students attend Chapel, sporting events and mixers together. The main feature of the weekend is Freshman Follies, a music variety show performed by first-year students with other students from their respective residence halls.

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