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Colleges instituted orientation for incoming students to ease the transition into college. Freshman orientation is a way for students to meet other students, become familiar with campus services, and register for fall classes. Every student attending college in the fall should add orientation to their to-do list this summer.

While orientation has been traditionally for students, in the past years, colleges have recognized the fact that parents need help dealing with the transition. To the traditional student orientation, they have added parent orientation. If you have a teen heading to college in the fall, parents should consider attending if it’s offered by the college.

Student Orientation
High school graduation has passed and it’s time to look toward the future. The summer before college is not only a time to enjoy your family and friends, but a time to move toward your life in college. Student orientation will be your first real college experience. Even if you’ve visited the campus in the past, it will be the first time you go there as an official student. For many schools, like Texas A&M’s Fish Camp, orientation is mandatory. But even if it’s not, you should make plans to attend.

How should you prepare?
You can certainly attend orientation expecting to learn what you need to know there, but it’s helpful to do some research beforehand. Read all the information the college sends you, read their online publications and information, especially the details of freshman orientation. You should bring any documentation or paperwork you will need such as vaccination records.

Many colleges also have you register for classes while at orientation. Look at the course catalog as it pertains to your major and get an idea of which classes you need to take and which you will choose as electives. Advisors will be available to help but if you aren’t going into the process blindly, it will make registration easier.

What will you do at orientation?
The most important task you want to complete at orientation is to get acquainted with college life. You will attend “getting to know you” sessions, informational sessions, and advising sessions. You will learn about school policies, general rules, the honor code and more. You will be given a wealth of information in a short period of time. During the evening, most colleges offer fun activities like parties, sports competitions and games.

The college’s goal is for you to immerse yourself in college life so that when you arrive on campus in the fall you can hit the ground running. Orientation gives you the opportunity to make friends, get acquainted with roommates, purchase textbooks, and become comfortable with navigating the campus.

What else does orientation offer you?
Colleges provide incoming freshmen with information about the different clubs and organization available on campus. It’s a great opportunity to investigate and learn about each one and determine what you would like to be involved in. Whether you want to be part of a service organization, play intramural sports, be active politically, write for the campus paper, work at the campus radio station or volunteer, this is the time to get information on each.

Orientation will probably have some informal rush activities and you will be able to speak with representatives from the sorority and/or fraternity. This is a good way to decide if what is right for you and which groups you feel comfortable with.

Parent Orientation
Parents may experience this education phase as a relief, a cause for worry, or both; and many would like a little guidance. College orientation for parents can provide some of that guidance, as well as equipping parents with a more accurate mental picture of what their child’s new life will be like.

Why does orientation matter?
College orientation offers students and parents a glimpse of the school that will play a defining role in the whole family’s life for the next four years, and in that sense, it should be just as important to parents as students. Becoming familiar with the physical campus and the school culture will make it easier for parents to understand their children’s lives and have informed conversations with them in the coming years. Learning about rules, campus safety and the academic calendar will also be of practical value to many parents for obvious reasons. Meeting other parents will also provide a feeling of community, as well as the potential for long-lasting friendships.

How should you prepare?
Try to think of yourself as both a parent and a student during your orientation. Bring paper and pencil or an iPad to take notes with, make sure to ask questions and introduce yourself to parents and school officials. Especially at a large institution, it can be helpful to get to know a couple of contacts personally or at least to know who to talk to if you have a question about financial aid or your child’s academic record. In addition to taking care of the practical details, you will also benefit more from the experience if you allow yourself to enjoy it.

Is orientation helpful?
In recent years, more and more colleges and universities have offered orientation events specifically geared toward parents during the days, weeks, or months before school starts. The Boston Globe reports that most parents found the events to be more than worthwhile. With events ranging from “Meet the Dean” to model classes and seminars on “Letting Go,” parent orientations offer an in-depth understanding of today’s college experience. Colleges also offer sessions on student health, campus safety and security, financial aid and Q&A sessions.

It’s clear that orientation is the first college activity that students (and parents) should make a priority to attend. Parents, remember to maintain your boundaries and ask questions to ease your mind. Students, don’t forget to embrace this new experience by taking advantage of every aspect of the event.