Stepping onto a college campus for the first time as an incoming freshman or transfer student can be overwhelming, especially with numerous buildings to navigate and new faces to meet.
To ease the adjustment, colleges and universities offer orientation, which helps students learn more about college life and campus traditions.
“We want to give students access to resources, people and information that will help them find success and thrive academically, socially and personally throughout their college career,” says Katie Motycki, director of student orientation and transition programs at Pennsylvania State University.
What Is College Orientation?
Orientation looks different at each school. But in most cases, it’s a way to introduce incoming students to campus.
It can last anywhere from one day to a week, experts say. Some schools offer a two-part orientation session, with one taking place in the early months of summer and the other scheduled days before classes start. Others request that incoming freshmen move in early, before upperclassmen arrive on campus.
Students meet with orientation peer leaders in small groups. Transfer students are typically placed in separate groups or have orientation on a different day than incoming freshmen.
At Elmhurst University in Illinois, for instance, students are divided into groups based on their first-year seminar course. This is so that when they start classes a few days later, there will be some familiar faces in the room, says Samantha Migatz, assistant dean of students.
There are numerous different sessions throughout the day, with orientation leaders answering questions and leading tours of residence halls and classrooms. Students have the chance to meet faculty and staff members as well as their academic adviser to discuss a potential major and register for classes.
Additionally, there might be information sessions around campus safety, technology, academic resources, student support services and available clubs or intramural sports.
Rather than connect with peers solely on social media over the summer, experts suggest taking advantage of the opportunities for in-person interaction at orientation.
“Don’t make judgements based on what you see in terms of somebody’s social media presence,” says Stephanie Quade, dean of students at Marquette University in Wisconsin. “Try and have genuine encounters with people.”
Not only is there new student orientation, but there are also sessions for families to attend to provide more information about the school. This may include a discussion with the school’s administration and a meet-and-greet for parents.
Is College Orientation Mandatory?
Student orientation is mandatory at many colleges. Although that’s not always the case, skipping could inhibit your ability to sign up for classes.
There are exceptions, so experts advise students to contact the school if they have extenuating circumstances. Some schools may offer an online version of orientation as a replacement.
“Over the years, we have seen that students who are not able to come are much less connected to the campus overall, Migatz says.
How to Prepare for College Orientation
Many schools offer several dates throughout the summer. Select a date that works best for you and register online. Note that there is sometimes a cost to cover food and housing, especially for orientations that include an overnight.
Before the start of orientation, schools may require you to submit immunization records, a photo for a student identification card and documentation of transfer or dual credits.
Some orientations coincide with move-in dates, so students should bring everything they need for their dorm room. For overnight orientation dates throughout the summer, bring a a photo ID along with a bag that includes clothes, toiletries and a towel. Many colleges post a list of items to pack on their website.
There’s a lot of walking involved, so experts recommend wearing comfortable shoes. “Remember that you’re making first impressions,” Quade says. “Be casual, but not like ultra casual.”
Make a Checklist
During orientation, a lot of information is thrown at students. But to ensure that all your needs are met — like how to access mental health services and who to talk to about classroom accommodations or dietary restrictions — make a list of potential questions to ask at orientation.
Consider some of the following questions:
— What kind of security methods are in place for entering residence halls and other sensitive areas?
— How does the school communicate with students in an emergency?
— How might the career services office help a freshman as compared with a senior?
— What is the student-to-adviser ratio?
— What first-year experiences are available on campus?
— What health insurance or health discount programs does the school’s health center accept?
— How can I drop or add a class?
— What are my financial aid and tuition payment options?
— Are all dining options covered in the campus cafeteria?
— What are the latest COVID-19 protocols?
“Every student’s journey is a little bit different and it’s very much tailored to them. So orientation does give them a platform to ask any of those questions that they may have,” says Kimberly Cornelsen, senior director of student engagement and leadership at West Texas A&M University.
“All of campus is committed to helping students during that time,” Cornelsen says. “So don’t leave without having a good feeling about coming back and starting in the fall.”
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