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Making the Most of Your College Orientation: Part II

In Part I of this blog series, I told you my orientation story and what NOT to do at your college orientation. Now we turn our focus to 8 tips to have a successful orientation experience.

How to Orientate to College

According to the dictionary, orientate is a verb meaning: to adjust or align oneself or one's ideas according to new surroundings or circumstances. I tried to reverse orientate my own experience, and it didn’t work. It is your objective to be the one adjusting to the college, rather than expecting the college to adjust to you.

When it comes down to it, you’ve been successful at orientation if two things happen: you leave with a registered schedule of classes and you make one friend.

That said, I want to expand on these and offer additional insights about how to have a great orientation experience by adjusting to your new environment.

1.    Registration for first term classes is the bottom line for orientation goals. Do not expect to create a four-year plan. I know you want to know what lies ahead, but trust me, it’s too much information and you really (REALLY) just need to get the first term at orientation.

Hopefully, at orientation you meet with an academic advisor one-on-one. Ask them how many classes you should take, given other commitments (work, extracurriculars, etc.) so that you have a balanced course load. Most full-time students in the first semester take four academic classes if you have a few extracurriculars in mind, plan to rush a fraternity or sorority, or will be working. If you have few outside commitments, you can probably do fine in five academic classes. BUT this is something to discuss with the academic advisor, as you may have unique needs or circumstances that should be considered.

When meeting with the advisor, it’s perfectly fine to express concerns you have (large classes or very early classes) to see if you can get classes that work with your preferences. Be polite and accept “no” if that’s the answer. Freshmen get the slim pickings, but you’ll have more options as you progress through college.

Depending on your major, you may have several required classes and little choice about your schedule. This typically occurs with fine arts, engineering, business, and science majors. More flexible majors tend to be in the liberal arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Many colleges have “orientation advisors” who are current students available to help with all facets of orientation. Peer advisors can be extremely valuable when it comes to selecting classes and sharing tips for scheduling. 

Register with a friend you’ve made at orientation (see #4). No need to go through the stressful process of registering alone.

2.    Read and follow instructions. Orientation is like drinking from a firehose with all the information thrown at you. Hopefully, the college is only sending you what they think you really need in order to have a successful orientation experience but that means it’s essential that you read what they send and do what they say.

Email is probably the way your college will send you critical information. Be sure to read emails carefully and do what they say. You may also sign up for text alerts, and many schools now communicate with orientees via social media or even a phone app. 

Set aside time to focus on emails and action steps required. You’ll receive several emails in a single day from different places on campus and it can be difficult to keep track of it all. Here’s a step-by-step process for handling the enormous amount of info coming to you in the days and weeks leading up to orientation:

  • If your email changes (it’s common to use a high school email when applying but switch to a general email after graduation), make sure you update it with the college, so you don’t miss out on any info.

  • Check your email daily. Check your spam/junk folders in addition to inbox. 

  • Note action items required and associated deadlines. Mark them on a calendar you use daily. Pro-tip: also set a reminder on your phone.

  • Save emails into folders that are organized in a way you understand and can return to as needed.

  • Do the actual thing. By the deadline.

3.    Attend what is required. Be on time (or early). Your college will offer approximately 4,638 activities at orientation. The schedule will start at 7am and end at midnight. If you did it all, you’d be mentally and physically exhausted. Do NOT do it all.

Review the schedule BEFORE you go. Depending on whether you have a paper schedule you can mark up or a phone app or other electronic version, you’ll want to make sure you take special note of REQUIRED activities versus OPTIONAL activities. 

For optional activities, select intentionally. Determine what you need to know NOW and what can wait. You will be tempted to go to every social activity; consider opting out of the later events so you can get good rest for the next day’s required activities. Remember, your #1 priority at orientation is to get registered for classes. The rest can wait.

4.    Make ONE friend. You’ll meet a lot of people at orientation, and it can be overwhelming. Remember my story of meeting countless people by name, hometown, and major? Then remember me feeling connected to no one?

Set a goal to get to know one person well (beyond name, hometown, major) during orientation. Consider asking unique questions during social activities instead of the same old ones. Also, ask questions or talk about your experiences related to the activity itself.

Here are some ideas:

  • Do you know any languages besides English?

  • Have you ever been outside of the US?

  • Have you ever met someone famous?

  • Pretend we’re at a bowling social. I might mention that my dad was in a bowling league my entire childhood and I spent one evening a week inhaling the smoke and eating Sixlets from the vending machine. At one point, I had my own bowling ball and shoes.

This is how you can spark conversations that lead to building a friendship.

5.    Do your OWN thing. I have two thoughts about this, one concerns parents and the other concerns other orientees.

Your parents should not be with you during orientation activities, unless there is an explicitly family event (like a barbecue). This is your practice run for being independent in college. If there is a parents’ orientation, strongly encourage them to go to those events instead. Before orientation, discuss as a family what you and they will be doing. Your schedule is probably set by the college, whereas your parents may have more flexibility. They can research activities to do while they are on or near campus, especially during times when you are occupied and they are not. 

Regarding other orientees and revisiting the schedule, it will be very tempting to go to activities because others are going even if you aren’t really interested in them. This is YOUR orientation, and you need to take charge of how you spend your time. This is a preview of college life in general, when you’ll be pulled in many directions and must choose where and when to invest your time. Go to an optional activity that piques your interest, even if it means going alone. You just might meet that ONE friend that shares your interest.

6. Know who your academic advisor is. This person is knowledgeable about most questions you will have or will know to whom you should go for help. 

As mentioned earlier, you hopefully will have an opportunity to meet with an academic advisor in your major for 15 or even 30 minutes during orientation. It’s crucial that you know who your advisor is and have an email address for them. If things come up later in the summer, they will probably be your best contact to help or direct you to who can.

Long term, your advisor is a good first point of contact for just about anything. Advisors are trained as specialists in particular degree programs but are also well-equipped to answer questions about navigating the campus and available resources.

7.    The ONE resource you need to know about at orientation is the office that works with students who have disabilities. 

You may be thinking this is irrelevant for you, and that may be the case, but more students work with Disability Services on their campus than you may realize! The DS office serves students with visible disabilities that are typically thought of (visually impaired or hard of hearing studets, those in a wheelchair, etc.), AND they work with students who have invisible disabilities.

Invisible disabilities include neurodiversity and learning differences or mental health challenges, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety, and more. Depending on your disability, colleges offer many services to support you in your college journey.

If you think there is the smallest chance that DS may be a helpful resource for you, check them out as soon as you’re admitted and try to visit the office while at orientation. Most DS intake processes can take two or three months, so you’ll need the full summer to have accommodations ready for Fall term.

Now you have a toolbox of advice and are ready to make the most of your college orientation! Oh yes, one more thing…

8.    HAVE FUN!


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