7 Ways Your Teen Can Make Orientation a Great Start for College

I was sitting in traffic the first time I felt it, and then again when I was setting the table for family pizza night. I have come to know this brief fluttering kind of heartache. It is a tangle of love and excitement mixed with some despair. It is knowing that next month my daughter is leaving for college.

students at colelge orientation
Here are the ways that first-year students can use orientation to get more comfortable with college. (Twenty20 @kaylakobela)

Over time so much of the excellent mom advice I received has proven true. There will be amazing growth during your teen’s senior year, and there will be senioritis too. And the college choice your teens make, where they end up, is often not where they begin.

Last week we experienced first-year orientation, and it was great. It was also exciting, productive, and emotional, yes, emotional. Something we weren’t ready for.

7 tips for college orientation

1. Expect The Emotion 

I was standing in the first line of the day when my friend next to me confided, “I think I am going to cry already.” I enjoyed the car ride with my daughter that morning, but I still felt the same way.

I was all goosebumps and misty eyes at every turn.

I saw at least a dozen people openly cry throughout the day. The Dean that cried as she shared her vulnerability and her journey of raising adults was a great lesson about how college looks different for everyone. The parents were so moved by her words that some came up to the podium after, with one father admitting, “Okay, now I can let go and trust you with my daughter,” as tears trickled down his face.

For the students, orientation also required a great deal of emotional flexibility. Lines were long, and there were frustrations with unexpected delays, program changes, and the new unspoken pressure of independence. Students were challenged socially and made important decisions about their programs.

Emotion was everywhere, even at the buffet line, where one student worried out loud about being able to find a roommate from the start when we grabbed our forks to the end, where we snagged our cookies. (I dragged my daughter over to meet her later and reassured her how excellent the online process was). I expected orientation to be informational when it was a day-long total immersion of heart, mind, and body.

2. Direct Anxiety into Positive Action 

Sometimes staying busy can reduce anticipatory anxiety about an event. Your student should have a pre-orientation checklist and often check their college email account. In our case, orientation was a full day that included course registration. Registration required updated transcripts, immunization records, placement tests, picture IDs, social security info, college sign-in ids, and passwords. Encourage your student to be prepared.

Don’t be the parent (in my case, this was almost half the room) with the hand-held high when the Dean asks the audience, “How many of you parents gathered the records needed for today and sent them in on behalf of your child?”

3. Cut the Cord and Increase Confidence

Talk through orientation/ registration decisions ahead of time. Empower your student to make their own decisions given the information they have at the time. Encourage them to consult an advisor if needed. This is all about expectations. You will likely be separated from your teen at orientation. In our case, course registration was happening concurrently with students while parents listened to a presentation about promoting independence and success.

At one part of this presentation, the Dean questioned, “How many of your teens have texted you since the start of this presentation?”

As hands and phones shot up in the air, a parent called out that she was receiving a FaceTime call from her teen (from registration next door) at that very minute. Imagine the student’s shock when the FaceTime call connected to her Mom, and the Dean ran from the podium, answering the call with a big smile, saying, “Mom is busy now, honey; she can’t help you right now.”

4. Repeat Exposure can Reduce Anxiety

Walk the campus in advance. If you can revisit your college before orientation, do it or study maps online. Being familiar with the environment and locations of main buildings and parking will help make orientation day run smoothly.

5. Lead by Example

All of this emotion requires extra energy. So eat breakfast, go to bed early, and stay calm with any unexpected changes to your travel plans and routine.

Mindset matters.

Don’t let little things like traffic throw you off your game. Take the opportunity to make connections; this is true for you and your teen. I found the presenters between sessions personable, open, and engaging. All of them offered me their cards with direct contact information. I got great advice and met some cool people by taking time and reaching out of my comfort zone. 

Be curious, ask questions, and be open to recognizing unexpected resources.

Make a note of any questions you have in advance. My daughter and I were curious about the process of move-in day, and after asking this question to the presenter in between sessions, a spontaneous crowd gathered, and the process was announced to the whole room. We weren’t the only ones wondering.

6. Find The Fun

Be mindful of simple pleasures that lighten the mood and indulge, like great photo opportunities, a student-led lesson on singing the college fight song, or a fun photo with the school mascot. I ran into the school mascot during a quick bathroom break and asked for a selfie. I immediately texted my daughter and some friends, which made for a great laugh.

7 tips for college orientation
Author and school mascot (Perryman)

And finally, teens…

7. Let College Grow On You

Phillip Scharf, Assistant Vice President at Arizona State University, states,

Don’t expect day one of college to look like your last day of high school. It will look much more like your first day of high school when you were lucky to find all of your classrooms on time and hoped to get through the day. You weren’t involved in clubs yet or playing sports. You didn’t know everyone or have a hundred friends.

Let college grow on you just like you did high school. Take on new chances and opportunities and realize that in four years you will be able to accomplish so much, just like you did in high school but you don’t need to do it all by Tuesday.

Phillip Scharf

For parents, let college grow on you because we didn’t know everything from the beginning. And those fluttering heartaches I sometimes used to feel?

They are almost gone now; college is growing on me, too.

You May Also Want to Read:

The Perfect Letter for Your College Student

About Suzanne Perryman

Suzanne Perryman is the mom of two teen girls. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona where she celebrates the everyday on her website, Special Needs Mom. Her work has been featured at NBC Today Parents, Huffington Post Live, Brain,Child, Scary Mommy, The Mighty and various parenting platforms, anthologies and print publications. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter.

Read more posts by Suzanne

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.