Use a welcome letter to foster belonging and success for diverse students before the semester begins

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When diverse students feel accepted, valued, and encouraged, they are more likely to persist and succeed in a course and at the University (Felton & Lambert, 2020). One way to help students develop this feeling, often called a sense of belonging, is to welcome them to your class before the semester begins. A powerful welcome letter demonstrates your care, initiates a connection between you and your students, and reassures them that your course is designed to help them grow and develop. When students see your course as a safe place where you will support their learning, their belief that they can learn is strengthened and they are more likely to feel they belong in your course and in the discipline (Dweck, 2006). To foster these feelings of belongingness and success, you should first design a welcome letter and consider how you will respond to students’ input. Below, you will learn about these two steps.

Step 1: Design and send out your welcome letter

It’s important to send your students a welcome letter before the semester begins. This letter should provide a broad introduction to you and your course. It doesn’t need to be detailed or overwhelming: the primary goal is to convey that you have a plan for supporting students’ learning and helping them succeed. The letter may include a brief description of the course modality or meeting pattern, what students will do during a typical class meeting, and an assurance that you have made plans for engaging class meetings that will help students learn. You may also choose to share information in the letter about any special aspects of the course that students tend to find particularly exciting (e.g., an assignment or project that students always enjoy). In addition to describing your plans for students’ learning, a welcome letter should invite students to share their own concerns or questions. Initiating this conversation about students’ learning— and explicitly inviting students into that conversation—makes them feel like they are a part of the course before the first class meeting. Moreover, asking students to share their concerns helps them see that you care about them and their success. Both these feelings are essential to a sense of belonging and expectations of success!

Below you will find sample language you can adapt to write your own welcome letter as well as sample questions you can use to learn about students’ concerns and questions before the semester begins.

Sample language for email to students

Dear students,

I hope this email finds you well and excited for the start of the semester. Launching into a new year and new semester can be exciting, but it can also bring uncertainty. That’s the reason I’m reaching out to you—to remove some of that uncertainty. I’ve been spending time the past several weeks developing plans to ensure that the course you’re taking with me is a positive and effective learning experience. I’m writing to check in, tell you a little bit about our course, and gather some information from you that I can use to make sure this semester is successful for you and all students!

First, let me tell you a little bit about our course. Our course is a [discussion-based / interactive lecture / etc.] course, which means we will [describe what the students will experience in class with you ]. I am making plans to ensure that the course will provide you with opportunities to engage with me and with your peers in support of your learning. When the semester starts, I’ll give you more detailed information about what will happen during class meetings, how to prepare for them, and how I have planned those meetings so that you will learn and succeed this semester. And, most importantly, I’ll get us focused on how the course will help you meet goals that you have for your learning and for your own life!

Now that you know a little bit more about how we’ll be learning together this coming semester, it’s time for me to ask you some questions so that I have the right information to ensure that our course is successful.

(At this point in your email to students, direct them to answer these questions by emailing their responses to you or responding a survey in Qualtrics, Microsoft Forms, Google Forms, or another platform.)

Thank you for taking the survey. I am sure that other instructors will be asking you similar questions, but it is so important for me to learn about you so that we can make the best plans for the semester. I’m excited to meet you soon and I hope you are enjoying your break! Be in touch!

Sample survey questions

  1. Do you have a device that allows you to use Blackboard and (other technologies)?
    Possible follow-up questions: What device do you have? Have you had any problems using that device to use Blackboard or to do other required course work?
  2. Do you have reliable high-speed internet so that you can access course materials in Blackboard?
    Possible follow-up question: What concerns do you have about your internet connection?
  3. Do you have work, family, or other obligations that you think might interfere with the time you need to study or prepare for class?
    Possible follow-up question: What are your concerns about your schedule and time commitments?
  4. What other concerns do you have? Please share with me any challenges or questions that you have about the coming semester and about our course.

Step 2: Respond to the information you receive from students

Students may provide information in the survey that will require you to make some small changes in how you approach teaching. Below you’ll find guidance about what the survey may indicate and how you can respond to students in helpful ways.

Survey indicates: Some students do not have a reliable device, have limited access to a device, or certain software does not run on their device.
Instructor response: You can begin by normalizing the challenge those students face (they may feel embarrassed by their situation). Then troubleshoot specific needs students have, such as not being able to run required software by contacting ITS or colleagues to find a workaround. Communicate this plan and the resulting recommendations to students.

Survey indicates: Some students do not have access to reliable high-speed internet.
Instructor response: You can begin by normalizing the challenge those students face (they may feel embarrassed by their situation). You can let them know that you will remain flexible with deadlines for submission of assignments and assessments due on Blackboard. You can accept work from all students across a span of time and this ensures that students with unreliable internet will likely be able to access Blackboard at some point in that time span.

Survey indicates: Some students have concerns about other obligations that may interfere with their work in your course.
Instructor response: You can begin by normalizing the challenge those students face (they may feel embarrassed by their situation). Remind students of the ways in which you have designed the course to help them manage the workload and build in practice opportunities for major assessments and assignments. Make sure that the course schedule is clear and show students how they can use that schedule to manage their time and efforts.


  • Dweck, C. S., (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.
  • Felten, P., & Lambert, L. M. (2020). Relationship-rich education: How human connections drive success in college. Johns Hopkins University Press.

CATLOE can help!

As you plan your initial contact with students, you may have questions or need support. Please feel free to reach out to CATLOE and request an individual consultation as you take this important step in initiating communication with your students before the semester begins.