College orientation is more than a cursory introduction to a university. These one to two day sessions give new freshmen and transfer students – and their families – an overview of what to expect as a new college student.
Why It’s Important to Go
Orientation usually includes tours of the campus and residence halls; panel discussions on academic and student life; small group sessions on topics such as financial aid and study abroad programs; an information fair with representatives from various campus organizations; placement exams for math, English and foreign languages; and a chance to register for classes with help from a peer counselor or staff advisor. There are receptions and social events too.
For many students, it’s a chance to meet new classmates-to-be and even find a roommate. For parents, it’s also a golden opportunity to scout out textbook options, residence life extras and nearby coffeehouses, bakeries and restaurants – information they’ll need down the road. And even if your child is going to a community college and living at home, going to orientation sends an important message to your child that his college education matters to you.
Up until a decade ago, most college orientation sessions were directed at students. Now it’s a rare school that doesn’t offer parent orientation and 10% do sibling programs for families, who don’t want to leave younger children at home. At Boston University and UCLA, for example, younger siblings sport campus T-shirts and do arts and crafts activities. Mt. Holyoke does a “how to apply to college” session for teen siblings too.
Tip: If your child’s college does not have a specific sibling program, leave your younger kids home. They’ll find eight hours of lectures on “Academic Success in the University Environment” tedious, to say the least. And if they’re distracted, you will be too.
Some colleges hold multiple orientation sessions during the summer months. Others use it to launch move-in weekend and Welcome Week. There are pros and cons to the timing. Pick an early date, and your child may have a better shot at getting the classes he needs. An earlier session also gives your child a chance to meet other freshmen, for example, and find a roommate before he’s assigned one.
On the other hand, an end of summer orientation means just one trip to college, not two. Your child will have first dibs on dorm room beds. And, because it makes the dropping-off process more gradual, some parents find the leave-taking easier to bear.
Don’t expect to spend a lot of time with your child at orientation. Beginning and ending sessions tend to be done together, but most of the activities and panel discussions are conducted separately. If you’ve been given a jam-packed schedule and you’re trying to rendezvous with your kid, the “information fair” is a good time. These fairs typically consist of a bunch of tables set up in the quad with representatives from Greek life, study abroad, intramural sports, the campus radio station and various clubs. Run through, grab a few flyers and you’ve bought yourself an hour of free time to explore the bookstore and campus neighborhood, and find answers to all those other questions about college life.