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    College Orientation, What to Expect

    Posted July 17, 2019, 2:00 pm by Suzanne Shaffer
    What to Expect at College Orientation

    Colleges instituted orientation for incoming students to ease the transition into college. Freshman orientation is a way for students to meet other students, become familiar with campus services, and register for fall classes. Every student attending college in the fall should add orientation to their to-do list this summer.

    While orientation has been traditionally for students, in the last 10 years, colleges have recognized the fact that parents need help dealing with the transition. To the traditional student orientation, they have added parent orientation. If you have a teen heading to college in the fall, parents should consider attending if it’s offered by the college.

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    Student Orientation

    High school graduation has passed and it’s time to look toward the future. The summer before college is not only a time to enjoy your family and friends, but a time to move toward your life in college. Student orientation will be your first real college experience. Even if you’ve visited the campus in the past, it will be the first time you go there as an official student. For many schools, like Texas A&M’s Fish Camp, orientation is mandatory. But even if it’s not, you should make plans to attend.

    How should you prepare?

    You can certainly attend orientation expecting to learn what you need to know there, but it’s helpful to do some research beforehand. Read all the information the college sends you, read their online publications and information, especially the details of freshman orientation. You should bring any documentation or paperwork you will need such as vaccination records.

    Many colleges also have you register for classes while at orientation. Look at the course catalog as it pertains to your major and get an idea of which classes you need to take and which you will choose as electives. Advisors will be available to help but if you aren’t going into the process blindly, it will make registration easier.

    What will you do at orientation?

    The most important task you want to complete at orientation is to get acquainted with college life. You will attend “getting to know you” sessions, informational sessions, and advising sessions. You will learn about school policies, general rules, the honor code and more. You will be given a wealth of information in a short period of time. During the evening, most colleges offer fun activities like parties, sports competitions and games.

    The college’s goal is for you to immerse yourself in college life so that when you arrive on campus in the fall you can hit the ground running. Orientation gives you the opportunity to make friends, get acquainted with roommates, purchase textbooks, and become comfortable with navigating the campus.

    What else does orientation offer you?

    Colleges provide incoming freshmen with information about the different clubs and organization available on campus. It’s a great opportunity to investigate and learn about each one and determine what you would like to be involved in. Whether you want to be part of a service organization, play intramural sports, be active politically, write for the campus paper, work at the campus radio station or volunteer, this is the time to get information on each.

    If the college has Greek life, orientation will probably have some informal rush activities and you will be able to speak with representatives from the sorority and/or fraternity. This is a good way to decide if Greek life is right for you and which groups you feel comfortable with.

    Sign up for email of any club/organization you’re remotely interested in, ask for contact information from representatives, ask about the organization’s social media presence as well. Doing this helps you stay in the loop and make a decision once your arrive on campus.

    Is it easy to make friends?

    If it’s an option, stay overnight in the dorms instead of staying overnight with your parents. This is the best way to immerse yourself in campus life and get to know other students. You may not make lifelong friends at orientation, but you should still socialize with as many people as possible. Remember that everyone is in the same boat--they are just as new as you are and probably just as nervous. Try starting a conversation in the dining hall with someone you have never met. Participate in all the social activities provided by the orientation leaders. This will help you get to know one another. Once you are out socializing, talk to lots of people instead of just clinging to one person.

    Parent Orientation

    Parents may experience this education phase as a relief, a cause for worry, or both; and many would like a little guidance. College orientation for parents can provide some of that guidance, as well as equipping parents with a more accurate mental picture of what their child’s new life will be like.

    Why does orientation matter?

    College orientation offers students and parents a glimpse of the school that will play a defining role in the whole family’s life for the next four years, and in that sense, it should be just as important to parents as students. Becoming familiar with the physical campus and the school culture will make it easier for parents to understand their children’s lives and have informed conversations with them in the coming years. Learning about rules, campus safety and the academic calendar will also be of practical value to many parents for obvious reasons. Meeting other parents will also provide a feeling of community, as well as the potential for long-lasting friendships.

    How should you prepare?

    Try to think of yourself as both a parent and a student during your orientation. Bring paper and pencil or an iPad to take notes with, make sure to ask questions and introduce yourself to parents and school officials. Especially at a large institution, it can be helpful to get to know a couple of contacts personally or at least to know who to talk to if you have a question about financial aid or your child’s academic record. In addition to taking care of the practical details, you will also benefit more from the experience if you allow yourself to enjoy it.

    Is orientation helpful?

    In recent years, more and more colleges and universities have offered orientation events specifically geared toward parents during the days, weeks, or months before school starts. The Boston Globe reports that most parents found the events to be more than worthwhile. With events ranging from “Meet the Dean” to model classes and seminars on “Letting Go,” parent orientations offer an in-depth understanding of today’s college experience. Colleges also offer sessions on student health, campus safety and security, financial aid and Q&A sessions.

    One parent offers this critique of the orientation she attended:

    Do I think that this parent orientation was helpful? Most definitely. I have two other children in college but have never been faced with all that preparing my son for NGCSU has entailed so I am very glad I took the time to attend the parent intro. I will leave Saturday feeling more informed and much better about leaving my “baby” here on August 9th. I can’t say enough about the school itself or any of the staff I’ve dealt with. Everyone here has been more than helpful and very understanding about the fact that this is all new for me…and for my son. If you have the chance to attend such an orientation, I would highly recommend doing so.

    Another parent details her experiences here: What we learned at college orientation (and why we’re glad we went).

    What should you do if parent orientation isn’t offered?

    While parent orientations have become the standard at large colleges and universities, some smaller schools still do not offer these events. If this is the case, you should check with both the school and your child about whether it is appropriate for you to attend student orientation events. Spending time on campus, meeting a few other students and parents, and helping your student to settle into his or her dorm are generally very positive experiences — but it is also important to recognize the boundaries around your student’s new life outside your home. Remember: If the school doesn’t offer a seminar on “Letting Go,” you still have to let go.

    It’s clear that orientation is the first college activity that students (and parents) should make a priority to attend. Parents, remember to maintain your boundaries and ask questions to ease your mind. Students, don’t forget to embrace this new experience by taking advantage of every aspect of the event.

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    Suzanne Shaffer

    Suzanne Shaffer

    Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parenting for College blog offers timely college tips for parents and students, as well as providing parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze.