What You Need to Know About College Orientation

Soon-to-be freshmen will be invited to a college orientation session either during June/July or for a few days prior to the beginning of classes in the late summer/fall. Some schools have both! As a former college president who oversaw orientation at two schools and participated in orientation when my two daughters left for college themselves, I want to offer some advice to parents on how best to navigate what is the very beginning of your child’s college career.

College orientation tips from a former college president
Here’s how to get the most out of freshman orientation.

 Why Your Teen Needs to Attend

College Orientation

Your teen may be reluctant about attending orientation or might want to skip critical parts. This is a big mistake! Not only will they miss out on key information, but some colleges will not permit students to register for classes if they miss or fail to complete the orientation program.

Here’s what else your student may be able to do during orientation:

  • Scope out extracurricular activities and sign up for ones that are of interest.
  • Hear from division heads about course offerings, course requirements, etc.
  • Meet with their faculty advisor.
  • Take placement tests and make final course selections.
  • Sign up for a college job or try out for an athletic team.
  • Receive tips on how to be a successful student, eg. time management, healthy eating, academic honesty, and campus safety.
  • For the late summer orientation sessions, students will meet their roommates and get settled into their dorms, often earlier than the upper-classmen do.

Do Parents Need to Attend College Orientation?

Orientation for parents is typically not mandatory. But it is an occasion to meet other parents, learn even more about the college, and ask any lingering questions about the place your kid will call home for the next four years.

Typically, schools will invite parents to join their teens for an opening orientation session with members of the administration which might include the President, Dean of the College, and Dean of Students. Your child will then go off to their own orientation sessions while you hang back for a Q & A with members of the administration who will address matters concerning student health, the counseling and career development centers, financial aid, study abroad, athletics, etc.

Do’s and Don’ts For Parents During College Orientation

1. Do not call or text your child every hour to find out what they are doing during orientation. They are busy with info sessions and meeting other students. Too much contact detracts them from doing this.

2. During course selection, don’t dictate what courses your child should take. They will be getting good advice from their advisor. Except for professional schools like engineering or nursing, your child won’t be required to pick their major course of study, which usually doesn’t happen until sophomore year.

In the meantime, encourage your teen to experiment with various academic disciplines so that they can decide for themselves what their real interests are.

3. Remind your teen to not go wild during orientation and afterwards. Binge drinking or inappropriate sexual behavior are not good. Parents would be amazed at the number of kids who are invited to leave college during orientation because of bad behavior.

4. Ask hard questions during the Q & A session: Is the community surrounding the college safe? Does the health center accept my insurance? Are classes taught by full-time faculty or by adjuncts or graduate assistants?

5. Some parents can’t let go. I remember an orientation-related incident on one of my campuses after the parents had (supposedly) left. Walking back to my office, I spotted a mother hiding in the bushes outside her daughter’s residence hall, peeking into her window.

I didn’t tell this mother who I was but I walked over and asked her what she was doing. “I’m just so concerned about Laura,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I just need to know that she is OK.”

My heart went out to this mother. I had the same feelings about my own daughters when my wife and I left them at orientation. But this mother really needed to go home! Only then could her daughter begin the process of growing up and become and independent adult.

Photo credit: Auburn Alumni Association

You May Also Want to Read:

Dorm Room Shopping: 50 Questions to Answer First 

Freshman Orientation: 5 Things Parents Need to Know

Dr. Roger Martin is a retired college president and former Harvard dean.  His book Off to College: A Guide for Parents (Chicago Guides to Academic Life) was published by the University of Chicago Press. He writes extensively about the transition from high school to college on his Facebook page, Off to College 101.

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