I chaperoned a group of middle schoolers to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, my alma mater. It was a field trip to introduce students to a college campus, and we had two hours to complete a photo scavenger hunt.
We walked all over the campus taking photos of the group inside the library, by the lake, in front of sculptures and standing underneath hanging kayaks.
One student commented that when she started college, she’d have to skip the first few days because she’d never find her classes. Her friends agreed. I assured them they’d have many opportunities to learn their school’s campus before heading off to the first day of class.
Open houses and campus visits are an introduction to a school, but summer orientation is an essential part of becoming acclimated to campus life.
Depending on the school, it can be two days to a week long. Most likely, the incoming freshmen stay on campus and have an upper-class student orientation leader who has been trained to help new students. The orientation leaders are there to guide new students through the schedule, help them meet other students and plan activities to assist with getting to know the campus traditions and culture.
Orientation programs are planned by students, staff and faculty – and their goal is to make new students feel more comfortable with college life. There’s a lot that goes into orientation programs. Everything is intentional, even the ice breakers and team building games.
As an incoming student, you have a role in your orientation experience. Here are recommended dos and don’ts to follow from experts in the field:
Emily Wheeler, director of new student and family services at UNC Charlotte, hosts 13 two-day sessions for first-year students throughout the summer. Her advice is:
- Do your homework. Read about your major, residence hall assignment, campus resources and involvement opportunities ahead of time. Come prepared with questions that you couldn’t find answers for.
- Do bring your parents or family members. It’s easy to think of the transition to college as a time to be alone, but families also go through a transition, and attending orientation can help ease their fears.
- Do get involved. At orientation, join a student organization, sign up for group fitness classes or enlist in a special program. Take advantage of these opportunities and leave campus knowing you have one connection made for the fall.
- Do take advantage of the program. Every session is there for a reason. Take advantage of the many people, resources and informational opportunities that will help you succeed as a student.
- Do make a list. Keep track of the suggestions people offer, to-do items you need to complete and people you meet. Having these organized and in one place makes it easier to find when you need that information.
- Do challenge yourself. College provides an opportunity to challenge yourself personally and professionally. Step outside of your comfort zone by talking with people you don’t know, joining an organization that you’ve never been in before and taking classes that scare you. Use this opportunity to grow.
- Do know that you belong. Every student who goes to orientation has some anxiety about whether they belong. Know that you are there for a reason. Have confidence in yourself, your academic skills and your ability to make connections with others.
Natasha Jeter, director of First Year Experience at Winston-Salem State University, and Stephanie Dance-Barnes, co-chair of the Biological Sciences Department, coordinate on the WSSU orientation program that takes place a week before classes begin. Their advice:
- Don’t forget to de-stress. Orientation is the beginning of a life with new people, activities, information and decisions. It’s easy to become overwhelmed. Bring along your go-to methods to relax, whether its reading poetry, journaling, breathing exercises or a jog around the campus.
- Don’t skip the small group activities to stay in your room. These exercises are a wonderful way to bond with your classmates, who are feeling just as apprehensive as you.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions about majors. Explore your career options. Don’t fall into the trap of getting stuck in a career path that you are not passionate about. There will be plenty of time to find your career niche.
- Don’t feel tied to the past. Guess what? You can totally reinvent yourself in college if you want to. Be true to the real you.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Orientation leaders, residence life staff and faculty are especially trained to help direct you to resources. They want to be there for you.
- Don’t forget you are no longer in high school. Your parents are not there to micromanage your life anymore. You have a new level of independence and responsibility.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make a ton of friends right away. Once school begins, you will meet a variety of students that have the potential to be great friends.
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.