Getting Oriented—the First Year Transition

While attending orientation might seem insignificant, it can influence the friends you make, the classes you select, and, most importantly, your attitude when the classes begin in the fall.  

A lot of students get apprehensive about attending orientations; they especially fear the awkwardness of meeting future classmates, upper classmen, or faculty. It is better to think of orientation as a stress-free introduction to a new institution and its numerous departments, clubs, and resources.

Most orientations provide for making new friends, learning about various campus activities and clubs, getting registered for classes, attending a class (many schools have summer sessions simultaneous with orientation), gaining familiarity with dormitory life, and even tying up critical elements that might still be lingering including meal plans, financial aid, and student ID cards.

Yet, beyond this checklist of activities, orientation provides a forum between freshmen and upper classmen. At Stanford one student, majoring in physics, explained to her orientation students that in her honors physics course, problem sets can take anywhere from 5 to 20 hours a week; there are usually parties on Friday or Saturday, but during the week, it’s mostly hard work; that time management skills are invaluable, and if you don’t have them Advising can teach you how to make them a habit; and, that the freshman dorms are a tight knit community where the students look out for each other and radiate class spirit. Nothing earth shaking came in these exchanges, yet compile them, and the freshmen came to understand that Stanford is a human institution that cares.

In fact Stanford, with its 98% retention rate, is on an annual mission to acculturate each of its freshmen. This goes beyond the 10 official days of new student orientation. Stanford offers a ‘First Year Experience,’ which includes  integrating a ‘Designing your Stanford’ course to help freshman (and other classes) ‘design a college experience that better aligns with who they are and what they hope to get from Stanford.’ It encourages a freshman to take a professor out to coffee, join a random activity, or explore a club ‘she knows nothing about.’ A number of other colleges, including Appalachian State University, Elon (NC), and Ohio State have entire ‘First Year Experiences’ that extend orientation throughout freshman year and often beyond.     

While Pomona College or Dartmouth have orientations of 7-10 days including adventure trips down the Connecticut River or into the San Gabriel mountains, public universities, such as University of California, Davis, compress the orientation into two days focusing on schedule builder tutorials, meals, meet ups, campus tours, fun at the campus recreation center, and student housing. Upon completion, under the guidance of an Orientation leader, an Aggie freshman will be registered, housed and ready to make his or her mark on the campus.

Few, however, approach the orientation with the esprit de corps of the ‘College Fashionista’ on the College Fashion site. Sarah fully documents her orientation at Northeastern University and her wardrobe for each of the two days.

The college fashionista had some invaluable advice after her orientation. If you’re going to an orientation in a region distant, check the weather. Bring a fan; Boston was over 95, and none of the dorms have air conditioning. Pack light and smile: it makes for many friendly conversations. Everyone is nervous and trying to meet people. Open up and the world will smile back: everyone wants to make friends. Lastly, dress in layers and bring a carryall bag.

Don’t miss the orientation. Connecting early with classmates, trying a range of activities, and learning about your college’s unique resources fosters college success. The art is to make the entire experience enjoyable, while opening yourself to all your selected school has to offer.