top of page


Making the Most of Your College Orientation: Part I

As summer starts, New Student Orientation season at colleges across the country is in full swing. Just about every first-year college student has an opportunity to attend an orientation designed to introduce them to their home for the next four years. Orientation is packed with social activities, information sessions, and advising and registration for the first term. Even if you've visited your campus previously, orientation is when it starts to get real, and it's important to have a good experience. In this two-part series, I will share my own orientation story, common pitfalls, and tips for making the most of your orientation.

My Orientation Story

"Grandma, I cannot go to school here!”

As we wandered around the large campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, everything felt…TOO BIG. The numerous beige buildings all looked the same. It took 20 minutes to walk across a small part of campus, but I had heard there were buses (BUSES??) students could take to get to classes if they were far apart.

No one at my orientation session was from my high school. I looked at the many, MANY strangers and felt my chest tighten as I thought about having to make new friends from scratch. After all, I had gone to school with the same kids for twelve years. The A&M staff hosted MANY activities to help us make friends, and I did meet some very nice people, but mostly, I was disillusioned at how many times I introduced myself by name and major and then continued to the next weary incoming freshman.

I had been assigned a random roommate based on a questionnaire that asked various questions, such as, “Do you consider yourself to be messy or tidy?” Who was this person I would soon be sharing a (very) small space with? What if she was mean? What if she wanted the toilet paper roll to be the WRONG WAY (#teamOVER)?

I met with an academic advisor but only felt worse. I knew I was just one of the MANY students she met with that day. And I was attending one of the MANY orientations held that summer. I wasn’t special. I could easily get lost here. She told me my classes would be large, up to 300 students!

On the drive home after orientation, I told my grandmother, who had gone with me, that I could not go to school there. I decided then and there to stay in my hometown and attend the university two miles from my parents' house.

How to NOT Orientate to College Successfully

Every bit of that story is true. But it didn’t have to be that way. Your college’s orientation, done right, can be one of the most exciting events of your life to this point. Getting to know the college you’ve spent months (or years) dreaming about and stepping foot on the campus as an incoming freshman should be a positive experience.

Let’s think about the main ways my orientation experience went south:

1. Unrealistic expectations

2. Getting ahead of myself

3. Making decisions too early

Unrealistic expectations: Upon admittance to A&M, I was excited for Orientation and looked forward to all the things. I expected to love it. I expected to feel right at home. I expected to make new friends who I would be able to bond with and start school knowing we were all in this college thing together. I expected to be excited about my class schedule. I expected to feel like I belonged there. When those things didn’t materialize, I felt like the only thing to do was walk away.

Getting ahead of myself: In short, I got WAY ahead of myself. In therapy terms, I catastrophized my way through those two days. In my mind, everything that could go wrong did. Worse, I thought everything that could go wrong WOULD. I would never be able to get the hang of this place. How would I ever find my way around? Surely, living with a stranger could only go sideways. I am an introverted only child, and I HATE conflict. It would be the most awkward, terrible experience, I just knew it. No one knew me, and I knew no one. I imagined myself wandering around campus alone, sitting in the dorm cafeteria alone, and studying at the library alone. No, thank you! And those large classes? I wouldn’t be able to ask questions. My professor wouldn’t know me from the other 299 students. I could never do well in COLLEGE classes.

Making decisions too early: So, I peaced out. Literally, before I even got back home, I made the decision to switch to my local college. I didn’t reflect on my experience. I didn’t talk to anyone (except poor Grandma, who was trapped in the car with me) before making the decision, and no one could talk me out of it. I decided I couldn’t do it and didn’t want to find out if I could. It was just too scary.

So, then what?

And so, the story goes that I did stay at my local college for two years. I transferred my junior year to a small liberal arts college that had fewer students than my high school. I loved both colleges I attended, but here’s the thing. I believe I would have loved A&M had I given it the chance it deserved. 

So, how should you approach your college’s orientation experience? Stay tuned for Part 2 of Making the Most of Your College Orientation next week to find out!

Interested in 1-1 support to transition to college this summer or once you arrive on campus in the fall? Check out my coaching services!


bottom of page