Making the most of freshman orientation

Vanessa Infanzon

A 2016 freshman orientation group explores Queens University of Charlotte. Photo by Queens University

Freshman orientation can be a blur. Students typically register for classes, attend presentations and sign up to participate in student organizations.

Orientation may also be the first time away from home or away from family. Students might do things they haven’t had a chance to do before. They may meet people from various parts of the world or try new foods and activities.

Overall, freshman orientation is an introduction to a new life at college. Here are a few tips to help students make the most out of the experience:

What can students expect at freshman orientation?

Depending on the school, orientation may be two to three days of activities and presentations planned by staff, faculty and current students.

Maria Cruz Martinez, 20, attended her three-day freshman orientation program at Queens University of Charlotte last summer.

“I was really nervous. I didn’t know what to expect,” Martinez said. “It [orientation] helped me feel prepared for the college experience. It also helped me to get a glimpse of what I would like to be involved in, like clubs.”

Orientation leaders, who are specially trained upper-class students, guide a small group of incoming freshmen through the orientation process. Students have the opportunity to get their identification cards, dining plans, housing, financial aid and class schedule set before returning home.

Pro Tips: 

Attend all the events. It may seem cool to skip out on a session or two, but the orientation staff spent a lot of time in planning and training to make sure they provide students with the information they need to begin the academic year. Their goal is for students to succeed at college.

Immerse yourself in the present. Orientation is a time to make new friends, ask questions and take in all the experiences. Martinez said, “I told myself to be open-minded, just talk, even if you are freaking out. They could be your friends for those first few weeks of school.”

Maria Cruz Martinez shows off her Queens University dorm room on the Charlotte campus. Photo by Lacey Williams

What can parents expect at orientation?

Schools recognize that parents and families are an important part of a college student’s success. Most schools plan a separate orientation program for parents that includes information about financial aid, dining plans, safety, healthcare, technology and immunizations.

Paige Kegley, associate director of student transitions and family programs at Clemson University, said colleges want parents to leave orientation with a better understanding on how they can best support their student through their college career.

Kegley said, “There is so much correlation between an appropriate family involvement and support to a student being successful academically.”

Pro Tips:

Attend the parent orientation. Some parents decide not to attend orientation because it’s their second or third child to attend college or they attended that same college. Lacey Williams, one of Martinez’s guardians, attended parent orientation at Queens. Although Williams graduated from Queens University in 2004, her perspective was different as a parent of a college student. She had a chance to see how the campus and its resources had changed over time.

Begin the letting go process now. Allow your student to attend orientation without you. Williams said, “The most important and hardest thing to remember is that her experience will be hers, and letting her go and start those experiences – even during orientation weekend –was crucial to her ability to adjust to college.”

Collect resources. Parent orientation teaches you how to connect your student to the right resources. Williams said, “The biggest benefit to attending orientation with our student is peace of mind. Understanding where she would be living, what classes would be like, how she would get her meals and navigate campus helped us support our kid in being successful her first year.”

Maria Cruz Martinez (left) and guardian Laura Maschal look at a photo of Maschal’s mom in a Queens College yearbook. Photo by Lacey Williams

Vanessa Infanzon is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. In her former life, she worked in Student Life at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte and Queens University of Charlotte. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @morethanVMI 

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