It’s that time of year. College-bound students everywhere are headed to their college of choice for freshman orientation. And, even though they did mounds of research before choosing the college where they’ll be spending a huge chunk of their lives over the next four years, orientation is typically the first real taste of campus life they’ll experience.
Freshman orientation is always such an exciting time, but it can also be somewhat overwhelming and intimidating for students. It’s often a time when reality sets in and college-bound kids come to the realization that this is going to be their life for the next four years and that there’s no turning back now.
To help make your child’s orientation low-stress, productive and exciting, pass along these tips from upperclassmen who’ve been there and “totally get” how they’re feeling.
Regardless of whether your college orientation is a one-day or weekend event, orientations are always packed to the gills with back-to-back events, tours, and informational sessions. Oftentimes they kick off early in the morning and sometimes last well into the evening which is why it’s so important to dress comfortably.
Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes, dress in layers or bring a jacket or sweatshirt since you’ll be in and out of air-conditioned buildings and bring an umbrella if the weather calls for rain. Also, don’t forget to bring money for snacks or maybe a new college sweatshirt, your ID and a portable phone charger in case your phone dies.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you’ll most likely have your college photo ID taken during orientation, so you might not want to show up looking like you just rolled out of bed.
Walk In With an “Everyone’s in the Same Boat” Attitude
For the most part, the vast majority of kids kick off their college experience knowing very few people. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, you’re definitely not alone. Relax, cut yourself a little slack and just go with the flow.
Orientation can be a real whirlwind with information being tossed at you at every turn. Just take in as much information as you can, don’t worry about remembering everything and try not to get overwhelmed. It might seem difficult to believe now, but in a few short months, you’ll know every nook and cranny of that campus and you’ll be walking around like you own the place.
You’ll receive a fair amount of material during orientation, from handbooks and welcome guides to a map of the campus and a list of the day’s events. While quite often colleges provide a complimentary drawstring bag when you sign in at orientation (oftentimes complete with a few goodies such as a water bottle), if you prefer, you can come prepared by bringing your own backpack. If you’re spending the night on campus in a dorm, check out the college’s orientation website for tips on what to bring (and what not to bring) and insight regarding what the college will provide.
Also, you’ll be registering for fall classes during orientation (typically a stressful time for many students), so make sure you’re fully prepared by bringing any transcripts with you that the college hasn’t already received. If you’re like most students and you literally have no idea what classes you should take or how to set up your class schedule, don’t worry. Plenty of advisors will be available to walk you through the process step by step.
HINT: Beware of those early morning classes. Unless you’re an early riser who loves to get a jump on the day, most college kids try to avoid those 8 am classes at all costs.
Prioritize Your Day
If you’re not careful, freshman orientation can make your head spin – so much information to absorb, so many different break-out sessions to attend and far too many things to see and do. To make orientation easier and more manageable, start out by doing your homework. Find out specifically what the college has planned during orientation and plan what informational sessions, events or tours you’d like to take part in. Some of the happenings during orientation are required, while others are not which gives you the freedom to pick and choose what’s important to you.
If you have future plans to travel abroad be sure to add that session to your schedule. If you’re interested in joining a club, attend the session that reviews all the clubs and organizations the college has to offer. Understanding upfront that you won’t be able to see and do everything that’s offered will help you to prioritize and plan your schedule as much as possible in advance.
Put Yourself Out There
Coming straight out of high school where chances are, you’ve known everyone since elementary school, it’s likely been awhile since you’ve had to reach out and try to meet new people.
Just remember, everyone is in the same boat which means everyone else is looking to make new friends as well. Now is not the time to be shy. Strike up conversations with people you meet with questions such as:
- “Where are you from?”
- “What dorm will you be living in?”
- “Have you chosen a major?”
Avoid sticking with the same people throughout orientation so you can branch out and meet as many new people as possible. Also, try to get contact information of everyone you meet (this is far easier than it sounds) so you can stay connected over the remainder of the summer and have a few people you can meet up with after you move in.
Participate in the Silly “Icebreaker” Games
Practically every college orientation offers a few “get to know you” games which, frankly, are oftentimes pretty cheesy. Here’s where you need to toss your pride aside and just jump in. Oftentimes, it’s not the silly games that bring kids together, but the mutual dislike of the games that serve as the real icebreaker. Looking back, you’ll find they really weren’t that cheesy after all – it’s all just part of the freshman experience to help you loosen up a bit and get you into the college spirit.
Ask Questions – Lots of Them
The orientation leaders and college personnel you’ll come in contact with during orientation are there to help guide you through the entire orientation process. They know the ins and outs of campus life better than anyone which makes them the perfect people to ask all the questions that have been keeping you up at night.
Should you bring your car as a freshman, what’s it like living in a dorm, which dining hall has the best pizza and how the heck do you work the washing machines? They have all the answers. Take advantage of their wealth of knowledge and don’t forget to get their contact information in the event you have a question once you return home and want to shoot them a text.
Take Notes to Jot Down “Insider” Tips
Throughout orientation, you’ll be collecting information about campus life – available clubs and organizations, Greek life, campus security and transportation, study abroad opportunities, etc. While it may not be necessary to take too many notes, you’ll definitely want to jot down any tips and pointers you’re given in your conversations with your orientation leader or other college staff members.
For example, insider tips such as where is the best restaurant in town, places kids hang out on Friday and Saturday nights, how to catch the bus to the airport or who can help with techy issues in your dorm, like setting up your printer or computer glitches, are all valuable tips you’d want to make a note of in your phone.
Take a Few Sappy Pictures
Just like every other milestone in your life, you’ll definitely want to capture a few memories of your first glimpse of what college life will be like. If your family is joining you for orientation, give them the freedom to take all the sentimental, “gushy” pictures they want.
This time in your life is as much a transition for them as it is for you. So, take the picture with the college mascot, snap that photo in front of the massive college sign or grab a selfie of you and your family in front of your new dorm room. As silly as it might feel, embrace the “sappiness” of this time in your life… it passes all too quickly.
Also, if you’re fortunate enough to get a sneak peek of your dorm room, take lots of pictures which will help you make important decisions down the line when it comes time to outfit your dorm room. The size of the closet, available shelving, the general layout of the room – all those details will become very important once you begin to purchase items for your dorm room.
Check Out the Surrounding Area
Of course, it’s important to soak up as much information as you can about the campus and college life during orientation, but you’ll also want to take a couple of hours to check out the surrounding area.
After spending day after day on campus you’ll find that in a few short months you’ll be itching to venture off-campus. Plus, there will be times you’ll need to step off campus.
Knowing where the closest grocery store is (and how to get there), where the local drug store is so you can buy your toiletries, where the best restaurants are and which bus lines are available and where they can take you (hiking, the beach, ski resorts, etc.), for instance, is all great information that you’ll want to know before move-in day. Remember, the more time you take to educate yourself in advance, the easier and less stressful your college transition will be.
Freshman orientation is the perfect time to immerse yourself in the college experience so when it comes time to wave goodbye to your family you won’t be worried about all the little details and you can hit the pavement running. Sure, there will still be more than a few questions looming in your head long after you’ve returned home from orientation however, you will have experienced a small (and wonderful) slice of what’s to come in the next chapter of your life.
Above all, take a moment to really take in the excitement of this momentous time in your life. After all, move-in day will be here before you know it!