The induced polarization of a beam of polar clusters or molecules passing through an electric or magnetic field region differs from the textbook Langevin-Debye susceptibility. This distinction, which is important for the interpretation of deflection and focusing experiments, arises because instead of acquiring thermal equilibrium in the field region, the beam ensemble typically enters the field adiabatically, i.e., with a previously fixed distribution of rotational states. We discuss the orientation of rigid symmetric top systems with a body-fixed electric or magnetic dipole moment. The analytical expression for their "adiabatic-entry" orientation is elucidated and compared with exact numerical results for a range of parameters. The differences between the polarization of thermodynamic and "adiabatic-entry" ensembles of prolate and oblate tops, and of symmetric top and linear rotators, are illustrated and identified. © 2008 American Institute of Physics.