Tips for Parents

To be or not to be at orientation?

By Priscilla Childress

When you look at freshman orientation options online, you’ll see separate registration forms for students and parents.

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High School Parent | College Parent

Your eyes are not deceiving you! Family members are invited and encouraged to attend orientation. From my vantage point as a mother with daughters in college (who also happens to work in parent programming), I encourage you to go.

Why, you ask? Isn’t this when the “experts” say you should give your student the wings to fly, to do things on their own, get that taste of independence? Yes, it is highly recommended that the student be given room to grow. But that doesn’t mean your involvement has to end. It’s just a different kind of involvement.

Orientation is a great example. Even if your grown-up student thinks there’s no need for you to be there, the truth is they’ll hardly know you’re around. During orientation, you will not be with them the entire time — they go to the student program and you, of course, go to the family program. At various times throughout orientation, such as lunch and dinner, you meet back up with your student to catch up and share what you’ve learned. There are numerous reasons you should attend, but here are two important ones:

1. One last chance to bond.

Even though you’re not together for the whole event, the time you do spend together during orientation will help you find out what’s important to your student, what they’re interested in, what they’re concerned about, what they’re hoping for. It’s an opportunity for you to be there for them, to listen and learn and to help as needed.

2. An opportunity to ease your mind.

At my oldest daughter’s orientation, I wanted to know about health care: Where do students go if they get sick? The family orientation program is designed to answer those kinds of questions and more. You find out about student health services and wellness centers; learn about campus safety and student organizations; and meet the professionals at the university. You and your student can even measure the dorm rooms for curtains and rugs.

There is also an emotional component to attending orientation. When a student leaves for college, the entire family goes through a transition. At orientation, you will meet other parents in the same place you are: not exactly sure what’s in store. You also meet parents who have “been there, done that” and can serve as a wealth of knowledge. You share stories, make connections, learn how to encourage your student while still letting them grow, even find out the dates of important campus events such as Grandparents Day and Fall Family Weekend (a great time to go back to campus, visit your student and let him or her show you the school through their eyes. And yes, take them shopping while you are in town!).

As you can tell, I’m a strong advocate for attending orientation. For me, it was an important part of the process of raising my daughters and allowing them the freedom to follow their dreams. At each orientation, I learned several things I didn’t know about how things worked on campus and what my daughter’s first-year experience would be like. I made new friends. Most importantly, I 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 students succeed as much as I do. That made everything worthwhile.

Practical advice for getting the most out of orientation:

1. Wear comfortable shoes! You will do a lot of walking.

2. Come prepared to get lots and lots (and I do mean lots) of great information and many pamphlets, flyers, etc.

3. Bring a sweater (for some reason conference rooms are all cold, no matter where they are).

4. Accept that you will need time to process everything you hear.

5. Plan on being tired (but the good kind of tired).

6. Most importantly, encourage your student and enjoy yourself!

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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