Ask These Questions During Your College Orientation

Make the most of college orientation.

College orientation is filled with information for students and parents. The event is a chance for incoming students to ask important questions and learn more about college life and their campus. Though orientation may look a little different at some colleges this year due to the novel coronavirus forcing events and even entire semesters online, students should still ask the questions on their minds. Having a list of prepared questions — including the following suggestions — can help students make sure they get the most out of their first semester, whether that’s on campus or online.

Get details on campus safety.

Students should ask about how campus is secured. For example, are there police officers or security guards? What kind of security methods are in place for entering residence halls and other sensitive areas? Other campus safety questions to ask include: How does the school communicate with students in an emergency? How are allegations of sexual assault or harassment handled? What is the college’s approach to drug and alcohol violations on campus? A starting point, before asking any of these questions, is to look at campus crime statistics, which all colleges are required to report by federal law. This data can be found on individual college websites or through the Department of Education. Due to the coronavirus, students should also be sure to ask about pandemic preparedness plans.

Get the facts on health insurance.

Families should know if their health insurance is accepted by the university or nearby providers, experts say. “Most health benefits plans provide coverage for the customer’s child when they go to college, though parents should check to be sure there are in-network health care providers where the child will be in school,” Douglas Nemecek, chief medical officer at Cigna Behavioral Health, told U.S. News in 2019. He adds that parents need to know how out-of-network providers will be paid. If there is a lack of in-network providers, families may want to consider the college’s health plan.

Know your campus housing options.

With many colleges going remote this fall, living on campus may not be in the cards for some students. But those who will live on campus should find out about available housing options. “On every campus, you’ll find a variety of housing types and styles,” Alvin Sturdivant, vice president for student development at Seattle University, told U.S. News in 2019. That may mean a shared room with a community bathroom down the hall, private bedrooms with shared common areas, or apartment-style facilities. Students should also ask about college plans for combating the pandemic in residence halls. For example, will single rooms be available? How will the college handle a coronavirus outbreak on campus? Is there dedicated housing for students who catch the coronavirus?

Understand the campus roommate policy.

This year may also be a little different on the roommate front with some colleges opting to put students in single rooms due to the coronavirus. If a student does end up with a roommate, he or she should ask the college about social distancing measures in place and what will happen if either tenant catches the coronavirus. Some colleges have announced plans to set aside housing for infected students, noting that campus may be required to close if those dorms exceed capacity due to a high number of COVID-19 cases.

Find out who your instructors will be.

Are classes run by full-time professors, adjunct instructors or teaching assistants? That may vary by class. And how accessible are those instructors? Students should find out how to contact professors and when their office hours are. “One of the most underutilized (resources), I think, is our faculty members and their office hours,” Chris Jensen, assistant vice president for student success at Western Kentucky University, told U.S. News in 2019. “They have those for a reason: to help our students be successful, to help them through the material and prepare for exams and other things.” Students enrolled online this semester should also determine how to best connect with instructors.

Know your dining options.

“I always advise parents to research the cost of living on campus thoroughly, and factor these fees in when budgeting,” Kat Cohen, founder and CEO of IvyWise, told U.S. News in 2018. “Different schools have different dining policies, but frequently students living on campus are required to purchase a meal plan, at least for their first year.” Students who purchase a meal plan will want to understand how it works. For example, are all dining options covered in the campus cafeteria? And what’s the cost? According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in-state students at public four-year colleges paid an average of $4,786 in the 2017-18 school year to the “board” portion of room and board, which typically covers meal plans.

Understand academic advising.

It’s a good idea for students to understand how to easily get in touch with advisers, pick majors and change classes. “We know that everybody comes with different backgrounds, goals and needs,” Kellie Ziemak, director of student support at St. Petersburg College in Florida, told U.S. News in 2019. “We recognize that and we want to embrace it and figure out how we can help you as an individual student to reach your goals.” Students should ask about the student-to-adviser ratio, if there are early alert systems that can flag slumping academic achievement for advisers, how long advising sessions are, how advising differs by year in school, and whether students need to make an appointment or can pop in for a quick advising session.

Know how your school can help prepare you for the workforce.

Considering the cost of a college degree, it seems obvious that students will want to know how that piece of paper will pay off. Incoming students should ask exactly that and find out how the college’s career services office works and how to use it. For example, what kind of resources are available to help students find jobs? Are there placement opportunities for co-ops and internships? How might the career services office help a freshman compared with a senior? Are mentorship opportunities available?

Learn about your financial aid options.

Financial aid is absolutely critical for many students. That makes orientation a good time to answer any lingering questions about it. Students may want to ask about different types of financial aid, deadlines, how colleges award aid, how to appeal financial aid awards and more. Incoming students may also want to ask about how colleges handled housing and tuition refunds from a truncated spring semester due to COVID-19 and how that issue will be approached in the fall should schools be required to close campus again. Students should also inquire about how the coronavirus may affect financial aid.

Know your tuition payment options.

Grants, student loans, institutional aid and work-study are among the various methods that families use to pay for college. A tuition installment plan is another option that allows families to break up the cost of college over multiple payments. “An installment plan just makes it easier because it (spreads) it over a time period,” Melissa Sotudeh, director of advisory services and a wealth adviser at Halpern Financial Inc., told U.S. News in 2016. “It’s great because it helps families to plan payments during the school year.” But students will want to ask about the types of installment plans available, associated enrollment fees and interest rates while considering how the plan fits into the family budget.

Learn how to get involved on campus.

Much of college life happens outside of the classroom. The decisions a student makes such as clubs to join and activities to pursue can greatly shape his or her college experience. That means incoming freshmen will want to ask about opportunities to engage in their areas of interest and the types of first-year experiences available to them. But students shouldn’t feel left out if they are studying online, as many will be this fall due to COVID-19. Remote students can connect with peers through discussion boards, social media and online clubs, if available, which is also a worthwhile topic to ask about.

Find out how to navigate the transition from high school to college.

College often means a new level of independence for students and greater personal autonomy. It’s also likely to mean more responsibility. Incoming students should ask colleges what programs are available to ensure that first-year students can make the most of their freshman year and avoid common mistakes, such as procrastinating on schoolwork, skipping class, taking on too many courses or not asking for help when they need it.

More tips on preparing for college

Get more information about how to choose a college, and check out the complete rankings of the Best Colleges to find the school that’s best for you. For more advice and information on selecting a college, connect with U.S. News Education on Twitter and Facebook.

12 topics to discuss at college orientation

— Get details on campus safety.

— Get the facts on health insurance.

— Know your campus housing options.

— Understand the campus roommate policy.

— Find out who your instructors will be.

— Know your dining options.

— Understand academic advising.

— Know how your school can help prepare you for the workforce.

— Learn about your financial aid options.

— Know your tuition payment options.

— Learn how to get involved on campus.

— Find out how to navigate the transition from high school to college.

More from U.S. News

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What to Know About the Statute of Limitations on Student Loans

Ask These Questions During Your College Orientation originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 08/05/20: This slideshow has been updated with new information.

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