Why college orientation matters

Why college orientation matters

The transition to college can be disorienting. Students move from the familiar routine of high school and home into a new and unfamiliar world. It’s a big change for their families, too.

Fortunately, most colleges and universities recognize this dis-oriented state and support new students and families by offering orientation sessions before the official start of freshman year.

What happens at New Student Orientation?

Orientation is a chance for students to learn how things work at their new school and meet other students as well as faculty and staff members. Orientation is also a chance for the school to start getting to know your student. A good orientation program helps students feel excited about starting college and smooths the transition to campus life and the independence that comes with it.

Like schools themselves, orientations come in all shapes and sizes. They may be half a day or a full week; they may take place in early summer, mid-summer, or just before classes begin in the fall. Some orientation programs are highly structured and informative while others emphasize social bonding and feel more like summer camp.

Many schools welcome parents, guardians and supporters to orientation. Family members might attend the same programming as their student, or experience a separate but parallel program geared to their unique needs.

Whatever the format, all orientation programs aim to provide students and families with a sense of belonging as they become more comfortable on the physical campus, learn about college policies and expectations, and start connecting with key people.

Getting acquainted

For many students, orientation is their first chance to meet members of the college community beyond the admissions office. Administrators and staff welcome students and conduct information sessions, student support staff introduce themselves, and faculty may be available.

During orientation, students become familiar with their new home and its rules and expectations. They learn their way around campus, and find out more about health services, meal plans, computer needs, curriculum requirements, college drinking policies, and course registration (to name a few of many possible topics!). They may meet with an academic advisor to plan their fall schedule, or take formal assessments such as math or writing placement tests.

Most important: they meet other students — both upperclassmen and their fellow first years. They can hear about life at college from those who’ve been there, and begin making the new friends who will share their journey in the fall.

Orientation is a chance for students to get acquainted with their new school; orientation also helps the school get to know your student. Orientation leaders and other staff members use this time to observe and learn about the students, working hard to draw out quieter students and reminding more boisterous students about college behavioral expectations. A lot of getting-to-know-you happens in a short time.

Orientation is for parents, too

At orientation, parents and families have a similar opportunity to get to know the campus and the people who will be working with their student. They may learn about:

  • Policies, standards, and behavioral expectations for students
  • How the college will communicate with parents and families
  • How billing is handled
  • How to access information through a parent portal
  • Who to contact if they have concerns
  • How parents can stay appropriately involved on the college level — perhaps through a parent association or council 
A sense of belonging

It’s a lot! But by the end of orientation, both students and parents should feel like they belong and are part of a new community. Students usually take home some college gear or swag and maybe their new ID card. They’re college students now! And having met college personnel, parents should be more comfortable when they drop their student off on move-in day, and more at home when they return for Family Weekend in the fall.

 

 

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Vicki Nelson

Vicki Nelson has more than thirty-five years of experience in higher education as a professor, academic advisor and administrator. She also has weathered the college parenting experience successfully with three daughters. She began her website, College Parent Central, to help college parents achieve the delicate balance of support, guidance, appropriate involvement, and knowing when to get out of the way.

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Recent Comments

  • Loved this write up. Sounds so much like me but am most of the time questioning them about their health and studies and your article gave me new ideas of staying connected.... Thank you. Will put it to good use soon since my son is going across the country to attend your alma mater 😀

  • Fun but also useful article. I will keep the town crier technique in mind when my second Daughter leaves for college - as well as the Alexa Dot Joke tip! I love that Marlene's son told her her news was Often "inane". Clearly his education is paying off in an evolved vocabulary AT the very least!

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