Class on the beach in Fiji? Count us in! But there are a whole other host of reasons that a Verto semester is the best first year of college, not the least of which is the unparalleled support and guidance in the cohort model.
“My favorite part of my Verto semester was the people I spent every day with. My leaders and teachers were amazing and I felt as though they were my best friends. Everyone in my cohort was compassionate and caring, which made the whole experience amazing.”
– Verto alum, Emma Laredo
Over and over again, we hear from students that traveling with a cohort was one of their favorite parts of their Verto semester. Students are excited to share about the profound relationships they’ve formed and often express that their cohorts “became a family for life.”
While living and learning with a cohort involves tons of fun, the benefits don’t stop there. We’ve also seen how much the cohort model positively impacts student learning and development outcomes.
Our student success stories have been echoed by studies that demonstrate the benefits of cohort learning. Researchers have found that cohort learning is associated with increased motivation for learning, persistence in the face of challenges, and success in program completion.
These findings are incredibly significant in the context of low retention rates and student engagement in college. A national survey showed that 39 percent of college students will feel hopeless during the school year, 25 percent will feel so depressed they’ll find it hard to function, and 47 percent will experience overwhelming anxiety. We also know that 30% of students dropout of college.
At Verto, we know that something has to change.
In a typical college semester, students are thrown into a completely foreign environment and expected to thrive without any mentorship or community support, and little-to-no emotional preparation beforehand. Clearly, this model isn’t working.
That’s why we’ve created semesters based on a cohort model, where students are immediately immersed in a community of like-minded friends, teachers and program leaders who are there to support them.
The research has indicated that the close relationships formed through studying in a cohort help students feel a greater sense of belonging, a reduced sense of loneliness, and greater psychological support. So instead of navigating a sea of unfamiliarity on their own, students on Verto semesters enjoy their first semester of college with a built-in support system and individualized mentorship through their cohort.
Verto’s community-building begins even before the semester officially starts through a pre-departure orientation and virtual community events where students and staff can get to know one another. Being part of a Verto cohort means access to additional support services like financial services, one-on-one college counseling, and a designated student success coach. Our staff, who receive diversity and cultural sensitivity training, know how to help students feel supported and welcome no matter what background they come from.
“I met so many individuals that were all so unique in their own ways and so full of knowledge whether they be my teachers, my cohort and even natives. Taking into account what these amazing people taught me, they left me with a new purpose.”
– Verto alum, Nicholas Simundo
In one such pre-departure community event, students attended an English Breakfast Cooking Class, co-hosted with our London partner!
Community support is embedded into all aspects of programming, including our reflection groups where students can open up about their experiences and feel heard by peers facing similar challenges and questions. For additional support, our program leaders regularly coach students through any challenges with one-on-one check-ins.
Having a built-in community of faculty, friends and mentors helps students navigate the tougher transitions that come along with college, like community-finding, self-advocacy, and faculty engagement, making the college transition so much easier and happier.
Program Leaders get to know the students, foster a sense of community, and help them adjust to local culture. There are Program Leaders who travel with the students to each location and there are local Program Leaders, like these two of beloved Fijian team members.
“Having a small group of around 13 students made the experience challenging- yet VERY rewarding. I was glad that I was able to be comfortable with my classmates. Everyone is going on the same trip together, yet we all had different experiences.”
– Verto alum, Bianca Sanchez
We’ve seen that with a built-in support system in place, Verto students feel more confident and eager to explore their personal and academic interests.
Findings indicate that a cohort model promotes increased intellectual engagement and psychological investment in learning, defined as students’ sense of enjoyment, interest, motivation, and relevance of curriculum. This increase in engagement leads students to shift from their previous high school mindset, where they passively relied on teachers to guide them, to a mindset of intrinsic motivation and more active participation in their learning.
Verto’s unique cohort model, where students study, travel, and live with their peers, takes these proven benefits of increased engagement to the next level. Academics are completely integrated into students’ lives as students are always surrounded by friends, leaders, and teachers who are exploring the same topics. If students are still excited about something they learned during the day, they’ll talk about it over dinner with their professor and peers that night! As part of a cohort, students are constantly immersed in thought-provoking conversation and relevant fieldwork, helping them stay motivated and excited about what they are learning.
This excitement for learning is furthered by the positive classroom culture that is created in learning cohorts. In an environment of trust, acceptance, and belonging, students feel more comfortable participating, asking questions they don’t know the answer to, or trying new things. Our students are able to build up their confidence while in a safe environment so that they are more ready to participate when they get on campus.
We know that confidence and self-expression don’t come easily to all students though.
Some members of our programming team traveling with students on the Latin America semester this past spring – from left to right: Kelly (instructor), Galen (Program Leader), Erin (Director of Programming), Tiffany (Program Leader), and Maggie (instructor).
A huge benefit of Verto’s close-knit cohorts is that any student who might be having a harder time speaking up or keeping up will be quickly recognized.
When students fall behind in classes on a college campus, they can easily slip through the cracks. In a Verto cohort though, our staff and students have such strong relationships that students in need of any kind of support will be acknowledged and reached out to immediately. We also find that students learn through this safe space that it is okay, and even encouraged, to admit when they are struggling. This stands in stark contrast to a traditional college semester, where students are expected to cope independently and not given space to ask for the help they need.
Our model also makes it incredibly easy for students to connect with professors for academic help or just to explore their interests further. Our professors are always around and available to meet one-on-one and Verto’s model provides a unique opportunity for students to spend informal time with the experts. Our students get more contact hours with professors on a Verto semester than they ever will on a traditional campus. There is no student : professor divide. No intimidation. One-on-one mentorship is a daily occurrence in a Verto cohort. These rich experiences with professors set the stage for students to seek out meaningful faculty interaction on their future campuses, since they see the great value it provides them as learners.
In addition to the benefits of close relationships with professors and staff, our students experience tons of growth through their connections to diverse peers.
It’s common for students to stay in familiar circles even in college, as they join clubs of people with shared interests, participate in greek life with people from similar backgrounds, or meet friends with the same academic interests in their major.
In contrast, living and learning together full-time with a Verto cohort is an amazing chance for students to broaden their circles and develop the ability to work collaboratively with diverse groups. Many of our alumni have reported that their Verto semester was the first time they learned how to navigate working so closely with people of totally different backgrounds and personalities. Better yet, the data reflects that cohort students experience improved academic performance related to increased exposure to diverse ideas and perspectives.
To encourage these results, our programming incorporates intentional teamwork and peer mentorship exercises, so that students actively work to create strong group dynamics and improve their ability to work in a team. This model helps students expand their perspective, and build tolerance, open-mindedness, cross-cultural sensitivity and communication skills.
“Verto helped with being fully ready to take care of myself and meet people with an open mind.”
– Verto alum, Matthew, now attending Tulane University.
To encourage these results, our programming incorporates intentional teamwork and peer mentorship exercises, so that students actively work to create strong group dynamics and improve their ability to work in a team. This model helps students expand their perspective, and build tolerance, open-mindedness, cross-cultural sensitivity, and communication skills.
Verto Program Leaders are experts in working with students, but also are frequent travelers. They help students make connections with each other and their new environments, but they also make it a lot of fun! Program Leader Eliza snaps a picture on an outing with students to Hobbiton in New Zealand above.
Not to mention, living and working as a team creates endless opportunities for students to inspire one another and hold each other accountable.
Verto’s curriculum is rooted in group projects and opportunities for teamwork so that students “lend [one-another] the support and motivation needed to strive and reach for higher expectations.” For students who have a hard time staying motivated in their studies, being part of a team can give them the extra push they might need.
Because of the small size of Verto’s cohorts, each member is integral to the success of the group, so students have no choice but to be focused and engaged. The sense of urgency and personal responsibility that comes with small-group teamwork motivates our students to thrive.
And to push our student motivation one step further? All assignments are intentionally designed to have powerful real-world implications. Verto group projects are not the type where students can sit back and let the “Type A” student do all of the work. The projects have clear, measurable impact on the communities we travel to and are often carried out in collaboration with community members. There is no such thing as coasting when your public health class’s project is to build an aqueduct alongside community members so that they can have access to clean drinking water. Students must hold each other and themselves accountable as they take on critical team roles, much like they will in future job settings.
The best part? Students will have gained these experiences and benefits plus so many more in one semester at Verto Education, not “hoping” after four years on a college campus.
Most students don’t get a chance to learn closely with a cohort until they reach Master’s level work. Some students might never experience communal learning (and its many benefits) at all. Verto students, on the other hand, get to experience all of the support and growth that comes with cohort learning by only their first semester of college.
With the support of their cohort, our students will have built up their sense of purpose, excitement about learning, confidence, and ability to work with others before they even step foot on a campus.
At Verto Education, we want to help students put their best foot forward when it comes to success in college and beyond.
We’re so excited to apply our Cohort Model to our online Global Impact Semester. Read more about our plans for building community while learning online here!
We’d love to chat if you want to learn more about how we can make a Verto semester possible for you.