For Over twenty years I have been behind the scenes in the college education process as a teacher, adviser, and guest speaker at college orientation. Many ask me what happens at a college orientation these days. This past week, I sat in the audience as a Dad with my daughter attending her college orientation.
I observed a lot, held back some tears, and wanted to share 5 things all parents should know or anyone who will be heading out to attend orientation this summer.
In full disclosure, my daughter is attending my college Alma mater. This gives me a slight advantage of being familiar. However, that did not move away the feelings I was having during the two days we spent at her summer college orientation program.
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As we got closer to the campus, I asked “are you nervous?”. She is usually pretty rock solid with stuff like this. “Yes.” she responded. “It will be fun and you will have some fun.”.
But I wasn’t fine. I was nervous for her. We all know as parents you have to put that nervousness aside and simply be there for them.
5 College Orientation Tips For Parents
Is college orientation necessary to attend?
First, if you have never set foot on the college campus but only viewed it virtually online then you must attend. I met a young student from another state and it was her first time being on the campus. She was so excited and also very happy she attended.
The campus felt larger online and when she arrived, it started to become smaller to her. Her anxiety became a little lesser.
Even if you already know the campus and live nearby, then YES…go.
Sometimes, even when you think you know something about the campus, you will also get other important information that will make that first week of classes and the semester transition go much smoother.
Remember, this is a big change. Minimize surprises or the stress will certainly build!!!
Should parents go to college orientation with their child?
The short answer is, yes.
I have friends, and some are teachers, who feel different about this. We see all too often what are typically labelled helicopter parents who do everything for their sons and daughters robbing them of ‘adulting’ experiences.
You can attend a college orientation and still allow them to feel independent.
The time is rapidly approaching where they will need to own the college experience. They will have to solve problems in the classroom, dorm room, and campus on their own. Sure, in today’s over connected world, you will be an adviser but “let go”.
Go to the orientation but begin letting them own this experience.
You will also get valuable information.
What is the routine like at a college orientation?
Whether you never attended college or you are third generation alumni of a university, orientation is an experience designed to inform. Most colleges follow a similar format. I have attended 4 orientations and have spoken at over 12 orientations which allows me to say with certainty there is a model they follow.
Arrival/Check In & Welcome – SPLITTING UP
After you arrive and have checked in, you will typically be welcomed to the campus. The message can be a “hello” from the university/college president or from the senior staff. You will get an overview of the day and then you will say what may be a practice “good bye”.
Students Go One Way – Parents Go Another Way
This splitting up is good for all parents and students. Whether you are nervous about the event or excited or both, it allows some separation.
What type of information is given to parents at orientation?
Even though I have been a college instructor for over twenty years, I can easily say, I don’t know everything about the application, admissions, and financial aid process. Since you are at an orientation, the info will not be how to apply…obviously.
What you will receive at orientation are the following
- What is expected of a college student
- What you can expect to see change in your son or daughter
- Safety and health information
- Access to college financial aid experts
The orientations that I attended did not have ice-breakers for parents or socializing with each other. Personally, I think this is good idea. Explore the campus on your own, go out into the town, or simply take a book and read it in a nice location. This is THEIR time now.
Is there specific information about the degree they chose?
If your son or daughter got accepted into a specific degree program, you will get the chance to meet with advisers, staff, or possibly faculty from that program. Here you will learn some more specific information about that program.
Orientation is not designed to sell you the program. It is really just an opportunity to ask any questions you may have had come up after they picked their program.
Depending on the format, your son and daughter may be with you at this session but will most likely be asked to go and do scheduling of classes or other activities for that degree program.
It will also give you a feel about the people (known as advisers) your young person will reach out to when they encounter a problem with their studies, roommates, or other issues.
Advisers will become their ally and a trusted resource. Whenever you hear from your young person that they are having a problem, be sure to remind them to meet their adviser to resolve the question.
Should I tell my child what college classes to schedule during orientation?
Attention all helicopter, umbrella and lawnmower parents….please check out my blog where I provide parents success tips from a professor’s standpoint.
The answer is simply. No.
Do not tell your son or daughter what courses to take.
Nor should you seek advice for them on “what is the easiest course to take”.
Remember why your son or daughter is going to college.
It should not be teaching them how to game the system. The goal is to educate them, expose them to new ideas, think, and become a better version of themselves.
Also…what one student may say is ‘easy’ may be impossible for another. Simply tell them to speak with their advisor or the faculty member helping with their schedule.
This is an important first step in teaching they have to be their own advocate. True, they may not know, but that is part of the process of learning about the courses.
What has changed that makes orientation important for me to attend?
A lot has changed.
If you have never attended college or you have multiple degrees, you may be surprised by a few things when it comes to your young person’s schedule.
Sure everyone wants classes that start after noon and end before 5pm. They will most likely be getting assigned 15 credits (or units) of classes. This will be made primarily of 3 credit (or unit) courses spread across all the days of the week with breaks between them.
It is being recognized as a bad learner model if you jam all classes onto a Tuesday-Thursday schedule day or a Monday-Wednesday schedule day. You will see classes for freshman typically spread across Monday through Friday.
Schedules will have various breaks throughout the day but note that if your young person is scheduling 15 credits (or units), the general rule is for every hour they are in class, you should expect to invest at least two hours outside of the class.
3, 1 hour classes would require 6 hours outside of class.
5 classes x 7 hours = 35 hours
This quickly has become nearly a 40 hour work week. Now you know why they are called FULL TIME students.
Another aspect that has changed is you may see your young person take online courses in addition to what are the regular (or resident) courses. Taking an online course is challenging for anyone but in particular freshman who are still trying to learn how to manage their new college day.
If this happens, go with the flow. They will be fine as long as they look at the online course like they are going to a regular class. It is not something you do the last week of the term!
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Relax. Breathe. You will be alright.
As I went into my last session, I was waiting for my daughter to meet me but didn’t realize she had already walked in and sat down…..with her new friends. The room was crowded with over 100 students and parents.
I started to get a little anxious because the session was starting and I didn’t see here.
It was at that moment I looked around and there were a number of parents waiting in the hallway staring at their phones. All were trying to find the son or daughter.
I texted. I called. So did the other parents.
“Are you here??”
Then I heard the ‘bleep’ from my phone. “Yes. I am with my friends.”
At that point, I smiled and from the last row in the audience and turned my attention to the front. It then occurred to me, I just crossed over and “let go”.
So that is what an orientation may have in store for you when you attend one with yoru young person. Go and make it an event. You are changing and so are they. They will leave to attend classes and will come back a different person.
Not in a bad way.
They will have experiences but so will you. Your life goes on. So does theirs.
You will always be their parent. They know that.
We left the sessions but first stopped and had an ice cream together. On the way home, we talked and I could see the nervousness she had was gone.
As we arrived home, we slid into ‘summer vacation’ mode.
I’ll update you on what happens when we depart for the Fall.
I wish you and your son or daughter all the best on this new adventure!
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