By Joanne Barnard and Katie Barnard
All university orientations are different depending on the institution type and mission. Large, four-year institutions will usually have a two-day program with an overnight stay in a residence hall, while smaller private institutions may have orientation a few days before the school year starts.

A college orientation is an opportunity to register for classes, and meet people - maybe a fellow classmate. Also included is the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the various departments you will interact with during your stint at the college of your choosing. Yet, being introduced to all the details you’ll need for the next four to five years in a few days, can be a little daunting – like drinking water through a fire hose. Following are some helpful tips to smooth things out, and help you enjoy the event.

View orientation as part of an ongoing process of navigating college. While at the orientation, think in broad strokes. For students, try to remember the people, offices, and opportunities, over the information. Orientations at best last only a few days – with so much going on, the details will most likely be lost. Pay attention to which offices offer what support, and which people work in those places – take pictures to document departments, and the people who work there. Details can be found on the department website, and discovered as you need them.

Take ownership of your college orientation – what do you want to walk away with? Engage by asking questions. This discussion will aid in making connections, and, in turn, further your ability to remember who goes with what - this interaction will stick more than an office address. All the support staff is there for just that – support – use this opportunity to lay the foundation of a relationship with them. Your college experience will be exceptional.

Parents, let your student do their own exploring. More independence on their part will encourage a more rich, and meaningful experience. Your focus is better spent on those areas that you will be involved in directly – most likely paying the bills. There are separate orientations for family members for a reason – this is your introduction to being a parent of a college student. Use this opportunity to associate with other parents away from your child. If, however, you are together, let your student take the lead. Keep in mind, the college system is set up to cater to the American concept of individualism and individual choice.  For those coming from a more communal culture where family decision making is important, orientation might be a challenge as schools expect students to start making their own decisions the second they step on campus. As parents or extended family members, you will face a lot of push back from the school if you try to be involved.  That being said, you and your student should continue to make decisions the way that works best for your family (whether that is giving them space, or still coming together to discuss options).
Recognize that each student and family's transition to college life is going to be different. Most importantly, orientation is just the first step, down the road, in the fall, there will most likely be changes – this is expected. Continue the interaction with each department, each semester. Take it seriously, yet not too serious.

Joanne Barnard
Author: Life 101: Beyond High School series
Katie Barnard
Academic Advisor at the University of Utah

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