College orientation used to be a pretty standard affair. Incoming freshmen would participate in a few icebreakers, tour the campus, learn about a few campus organizations, register for classes and get their ID card. Easy.
Now, orientation is a much more intense and valuable experience. At the University of Rochester, for example, new student orientation takes up the entire week before classes begin, and includes a full day of community service for all new students.1 At Boston University’s freshman orientation, students participate in a five-hour interactive adventure in the city, solving riddles and exploring Boston’s culture and history.2 At Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., incoming freshmen have to write an orientation essay that serves as the basis for their personal academic statement.3
It’s a quick jump right into the deep end, and it can be a bit overwhelming for students — and for parents, too. Here’s what you should know before you go to college orientation.
Is Attending Parent Orientation Worth It?
Without a doubt. More than 90 percent of colleges offer parent orientation, according to a 2011 National Orientation Directors Association survey, and the vast majority of parents participate.4 Even if you’re familiar with the campus itself, or if you’ve already sent an older child to college, parent orientation offers invaluable guidance on how to help your child succeed while also letting go. Attending parent orientation can also be therapeutic, as you realize it’s OK to be sad and anxious about your child going to college. Brandeis “ends its orientation by bringing parents to a room stocked with wine and tissues for emotional mothers and fathers,” The Boston Globe reports.
What Do Students Need to do Before Freshman Orientation?
Your student can’t just show up for orientation without having done his or her homework. Typically, schools issue a long list of things incoming freshmen have to do beforehand, which may include:
- Paying the enrollment deposit and orientation fee
- Completing surveys or assessments
- Printing and signing required waivers
- Submitting immunization forms
- Uploading a photo for a college ID
- Activating their college email account
Colleges also have very specific lists of items students must bring to orientation, such as a photo ID, social security card and voided check (if a student plans to work on campus). If your child tends not to be very detail-oriented, you may want to print that list and nudge them to gather everything.
What Questions Should Students Ask During Freshman Orientation?
The short answer: Anything. No question is wrong or stupid. Students need to remember that everyone at college orientation is in the same boat because no one has done this before. Urge your student to go ahead and ask: When do you declare a major, and how do you change it? What if you don’t like your roommate? How accessible are professors? If your student feels too awkward raising her hand, she can ask an older student in an informal setting
Students will also have to tackle some challenging material during new student orientation. There will likely be discussions on sexual assault, sexual consent, civil discourse, alcohol and drug abuse. Remind them that these aren’t ordeals to sit through, but opportunities to ask tough questions.
If your child has disabilities or special needs of any kind, orientation is especially important, providing an opportunity for them to ask about accommodations. Davidson College offers a Kitchen Tour during orientation for students who have food allergies or special diets.5
What Questions Should You Ask During Parent Orientation?
Feel free to ask any questions that come to mind, but try to focus on your own peace of mind, not your student’s comfort. One mother was frustrated by parents who asked questions that no one really cared about, such as “How many washing machines are there in the dorm?” These are matters for your student to worry about, not you.
Areas that parents may be especially concerned about include:
- Financial aid and tuition: Who should you contact when there’s a problem?
- Campus safety: What are the crime stats? How is the campus policed?
- Insurance: Is your health insurance accepted by the campus medical center?
- Mental health: What counseling and mental health resources are available on campus?
- Academics: What’s the procedure for seeing your student’s grades? What resources are available if she needs help?
Remember that new student orientation marks the start of your student’s college journey. Their journey — not yours. For parents, it’s the time to (try to) stop worrying about what they can’t control and (definitely) trust their child to make good decisions. Tuition insurance can provide additional peace of mind by reimbursing college costs, should a covered student have to withdraw from school for a covered reason. Find out what tuition insurance covers.