As summer progresses, incoming college freshmen (and transfer students!) are getting closer and closer to orientation. At small colleges, orientation often occurs shortly before the start of the semester, maybe a week before everyone else arrives back on campus—you’ll meet your RA, move in to your dorm room, and have to say goodbye to your parents right away. Larger colleges and universities may stagger orientations throughout the summer, and you may not be able to move in to college housing until right before the school year starts. No matter when your orientation is scheduled, and regardless of whether your orientation is optional, you should go.
College orientation offers you the opportunity to see your new campus (if you haven’t already) and to get comfortable with where you’ll be spending much of your time for the next four years. You’ll learn where classes are taught, where dorms are located, and what dining options are on campus or nearby.
You’ll be introduced to your classmates—and roommate—for the first time, shown where you’ll be living if you’re in a dorm, and introduced to your academic advisor. You’ll probably have to sit through talks about campus resources and campus policies, and you’ll certainly have to play the name game more times than you’d like. It’s fun, informational, and will give you a head start when it’s time to actually start going to class and living college life.
Come up with a list of questions that would be helpful to know the answers to before you head to campus. You don’t have to keep a written list, but having a general idea of the topics you want to learn more about will help you get clear answers before school starts.
Here are some important things you’ll want to ask about:
- Campus safety: Who keeps campus safe? Does the school hire security personnel or does it partner with local authorities? Where is the campus safety office located? What are its hours? What sorts of issues do they handle? Do they offer services such as escorting students home from the library at night? What about on weekends?
- Important spots on campus: Where is the library? Where are main classroom buildings? Where is the campus bookstore? Where is the student health center? Where is the gym? Where will you eat?
- Health insurance: For students who can’t or don’t want to stay on their parents’ policy, is there a campus health plan? How do you sign up?
- Student services: Are tutoring services available to help students? What subjects are covered? Does it cost anything? Is there a math center? Writing center?
- Campus housing options: Although it might be too late to switch your dorm assignment this year, you can get ideas for the future. Are there housing options for specific groups or special interests (e.g., Spanish immersion, single-gender halls, LGBT+)?
- Campus roommate policy: Who should you talk to if you have issues with a roommate? Can you switch roommates in the middle of the year? Do you have to have a roommate?
- Dining options: Where are the dining halls? Are there any to-go spots? Coffee shops? Is there a small store for basic grocery items?
- Registration: When is the registration period for classes? Is there a trial period where you can switch classes if you change your mind? Who helps you decide what classes to take?
- Process for declaring or changing your major: Do students have to wait any period of time before declaring a major? When are you required to choose a major? Where can you find the requirements for your intended major? Will you have an advisor within your major? What happens if you realize you want to change majors after initially declaring?
- Workforce preparation: Is there a career center? What services do they provide? What about an alumni network?
- Financial aid options: You’ve probably already applied for scholarships and loans, but what about the work-study program? Does your school participate? Are there campus work opportunities that are not tied to work-study? Can you apply to be a resident assistant for a dorm?
- Tuition payment options: This is something you should be sure to discuss with your parents (or whoever will be helping you pay for college). Scholarships and loans are typically applied to your tuition balance, but make sure you know how to cover the difference, if there is one. Do you need to bring a check to an office on campus? Can it be paid online? If so, who has access? How often do payments need to be made? Is there a deadline?
- Getting involved on campus: What extracurricular activities are offered? Where are notices about upcoming club meetings placed? Is there a listing of campus groups online? How do you sign up for intramural sports, clubs, or other activities?
- Mail: Where does mail get delivered? Is it delivered to one central spot on campus, or to individual dorms? Will you receive a notification when you have a package? How do you send mail?
Of course, you don’t have to get the answers to all of these questions on the first day of orientation, and you won’t necessarily need them that early! You might be able to find the answers to some online; others will be covered during orientation. Ask older students or your RA about anything that’s left unanswered, or make an appointment to talk to your academic advisor or the dean. Enjoy your first days of college!