It is an exciting time for the whole family when a daughter or son begins college. This is not only a transition from one phase of education to the next, but the beginning of a student’s first year away from home and, in many cases, the parents’ first year with an “empty nest.” Parents may experience this distance as a relief, a cause for worry or both, and many would like a little guidance. College orientation can provide some of that guidance, as well as equipping parents and students with a more accurate mental picture of what new life will be like at college.
Why Orientation Matters
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 and students. Becoming familiar with the physical campus and the school culture will make it easier to understand what lies ahead and have informed conversations in the coming years. Learning about rules, campus safety and the academic calendar will also be of practical value to both parents and students. Meeting other parents will also provide a feeling of community, as well as the potential for long-lasting friendships.
New students are offered the opportunity to attend an orientation before the beginning of college in the fall. Students who attend will be able to meet other incoming freshmen, meet with their academic advisor, get familiar with the campus, and participate in activities that will help them forge a bond with other incoming freshmen. For students, orientation is a must. It helps students get accustomed to college life with a small dose of what it will be like when they arrive on campus in the fall.
In recent years, more and more colleges and universities have offered orientation events specifically geared toward parents during the days or weeks before school starts. Attending such events may require taking time off from work, traveling and even paying for admission. However, the BostonGlobe reports that most parents found the events to be more than worthwhile:
"What I've heard across the country from parents is that these events are marked on their calendar with a big red heart," said Natalie Caine, who counsels parents through her business, Empty Nest Support Services in Los Angeles. "They'll pay the airfare, they'll go into debt to attend parent orientation if they have to. They're worriers. They say, 'I need to go. I need to see what it's like. I want to hear what they have to offer, what the security system is like, who's the contact person if there's a problem.'"
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 that can’t be had from a distance.
If There is No Parent Orientation
While parent orientations have become the standard at large colleges and universities, some smaller schools still do not offer these events. Parent orientation is less of a necessity at small schools, which are more personal and less bureaucratic. 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.
How to Prepare
Take notes, ask questions and introduce yourself to other students 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. For parents, it’s important to make some contacts to help with future questions about financial aid or if your child is having a problem that requires your attention. In addition to taking care of the practical details, you will also benefit more from the experience if you allow yourself to enjoy it.
The transition from living and studying at home to the first year of college is a major moment for the whole family, and most students and parents find orientation helpful and enjoyable. Schools strongly encourage you to take advantage of them. The decision to attend orientation is much like the decision to go college itself: you should go because you want to learn something and to enjoy it. This attitude will also help you to get the most out of your orientation.