Dates & Events

Orientation is for parents, too

By Diane Schwemm

Participating in new student orientation either online or on campus will enable your first-year student to hit the ground running in the fall. At many colleges, parents can attend orientation, too.

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High School Parent | College Parent

In fact, schools design programming just for families and share lots of critical information during parent orientation.

Whether it’s a big university summer event or a small college program taking place between move-in day and the start of classes, orientation is your chance to learn how things work at your student’s school, meet representatives from different departments, get to know the campus, connect with fellow parents, and get all your questions answered.

Here is what to expect at orientation and how to make the most of it.

Before orientation, your student should:

  • Activate the online student account. This is where everything happens!
  • Read and respond to all emails from the college. A checklist of pre-orientation tasks should be available on the website or through your student’s online account.
  • Register for student orientation and share information about registering for parent orientation with parents!
  • Take required online placement tests (writing, math, languages, etc.). These may be used by the academic advisor to pre-enroll your student in classes.
  • Get familiar with degree requirements, the online course catalog, and the online student enrollment system. Your student should practice searching for classes and make a careful note of the dates when he will be allowed to enroll. At many larger schools, students enroll online before coming to campus for orientation or to move in, and before meeting in person with an advisor.
  • Schedule an appointment with an academic advisor (this may take place in person during orientation or by phone/video conference).
  • Apply for housing.
  • Review financial aid awards and report any outside scholarships to the Financial Aid Office.
  • Sign up for the freshman seminar (if applicable) and do any required summer reading.
  • Take the online alcohol education course (if required).
  • Sign up for the optional multi-day orientation trip.
story-icon-bar-convo-3Students and parents register for orientation separately. If there are multiple dates, attend on the same day as your student if possible. There may be a charge for parent orientation (to cover meals, printed materials, etc.) with a fee waiver available for eligible families. Overnight lodging costs for parents will be extra.

Together you might also:

  • Research potential tech/computer purchases.
  • Make appointments at the appropriate offices (Disability Services, etc.) if your student will require special services or support.
  • Research local banks if your student will open a new account on or near campus.
  • Complete required medical forms and enroll in or waive the Student Health Insurance plan.
  • Find out if there is outstanding paperwork that the school needs from you.

Once on campus:

Prepare to walk a lot and to sit in over-air-conditioned buildings by wearing comfortable shoes and layered clothing. Bring a hat, sun lotion, and an umbrella. A backpack or satchel will come in handy for stowing pamphlets and handouts, and you may want paper and pen for note taking.

For the most part, you will attend separate sessions from your student. This is all part of encouraging your student’s independence and self-advocacy. But there is a lot parents can do to support student success, and the parent orientation panels should address the transitional issues first-year students experience and the best parental support strategies.

You will be invited to presentations with representatives from many offices: Residential Life, Health Services, Bursar (paying tuition), Campus Police, Parent and Family Relations, etc. There will be parent versions of some of the student orientation programming — you’ll see how the college approaches serious topics like drinking and drugs on campus, sexual assault prevention and support for victims, and academic honesty.

If you have free time:

  • Wander on your own to explore the college’s hidden corners as well as main attractions.
  • With move-in day and Family Weekend in mind, scope out nearby hotels, restaurants, stores, banks, and cultural or recreational resources.
  • If your student will take an airport shuttle, train or bus from home to campus, locate the stops.
  • If your student will want to live off-campus in the future, start checking out the local housing stock.

Orientation is a last chance to bond. When you come back together with your student after your separate orientation experiences, listen and learn. What made a big impression on him? What is he excited or worried about? It will take a few days for both of you to process everything, but you’ll have lots to talk about and that’s probably the biggest orientation benefit of all.
“I’m a strong advocate for attending parent orientation. At each of my daughters’ orientations I learned things I didn’t know, made new friends, and most importantly came away with a sense of calm. I wasn’t as anxious as I had been because I saw the school (rather than just touring it), met the key players, and discovered that the faculty, staff, and administration wanted to see my daughters succeed as much as I did.”

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our Community Forum and College Parents’ Facebook group.

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