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Freshman Orientation: Some Observations

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We’ve just finished our last orientation session at my institution – hooray! This is the tenth orientation I’ve participated in as a higher education professional. I really enjoy this time of year on a college campus. There’s a great deal of excitement from students and parents alike. I love meeting the students. With each one, I wonder, will she be in my class someday? Will he work in my office during his time in college? Orientation is a time of possibilities.

During my time talking with parents and students during orientation sessions, I’ve noticed some things:

  • Students are on information overload. They have tons of questions, but sometimes can’t articulate them. The other day, a student waited until my information session was over. He asked me all about his first-year writing class. He spelled out in detail the writing he had completed during his senior year, and asked me if I thought he’d do OK in his writing class in the fall. I reassured him, and let him know about resources available to help. Orientation often gives students the opportunity to speak with faculty, staff and current students individually, which is invaluable because they can ask questions that they may be embarrassed to say in front of other first-years. I’m glad to say that this student’s orientation experience helped allay at least one of his fears.
  • While some students are concerned with academics during orientation, many are not quite at that point yet. I offer one session at orientation for parents and another for students, in which I provide information about the tutoring and academic support available to students. My parent session is typically standing-room-only, but I’m lucky to have a handful attend the student sessions. Parents ask me, “is my student getting this great information during orientation?” I tell parents that many students aren’t thinking about the nitty gritty of how they will perform academically right now. They’re more concerned with understanding what life on campus will be like. I assure parents that we do a great deal of outreach to students in the fall, when they turn their attention to their academics in a more focused way.
  • Parents have worked hard to support their students over the years and get them ready for college. Many parents are anxious about their student’s college transition. I spoke with a father yesterday who was telling me that he proofread each of his daughter’s papers in high school. He was wondering if he should continue this now that she will be in college. I let him know that his job in this department was over, and he can turn the reins over to his daughter and the campus writing center! He was excited to hear this, and further encouraged when I explained that instead of simply “correcting” his daughter’s papers, the writing center staff would help her develop her writing skills. Whether it’s a parent’s first child or seventh, they worry and want the best for them. It’s nice for me to be able to offer reassurance to these parents.

While orientation and the prospect of beginning college in the fall can produce a bit of anxiety in both parents and students, it’s a wonderful opportunity for the entire family to begin the transition from high school to college. I feel fortunate to be part of this new experience for families!

– Stephanie Carter is the Director of the Academic Center for Excellence at Bryant University, where she helps students and their families better understand the transition from high school to college. She and Laurie Hazard are the co-authors of Your Freshman is Off to College: A Month-by-Month Guide to the First Year.

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