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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

June 10, 2014

Tips to Share with Your Graduates about College Orientation

The following is an exerpt from Ready for College: Everything You Need to Know by Michael Pennock. Share the information with your graduating seniors (and juniors too as a preview). You may wish to adapt the presentation to fit with particular colleges in your area and others your students have applied to and been accepted at.

Colleges vary greatly on how they handle freshman orientation. Some colleges hold a grand orientation week or long weekend for all freshmen (and oftentimes their parents, too) before the term begins. Other colleges have groups of freshman come in for two or three days throughout the summer for orientation and registration. Still others handle parts of the orientation through snail mail or over the Internet with campus meetings taking place at a later date.

Typically, freshmen orientation sessions are designed to help you:

  • learn what the college expects of you both in and out of the classroom;
  • become familiar with the college campus and its many offerings;
  • meet other new students;
  • take placement exams;
  • meet with academic advisors to learn about your major if you have chosen one;
  • take care of college business like financial aid, health forms, ID cards, etc.;
  • register for courses for the fall term.

Orientations can be intense days of meetings and tours. They typically involve many icebreakers and socials and immerse you into what your particular college has to offer. Online orientation is also becoming increasingly more common. College allows students to take placement exams, download vaccination forms, buy books, check out dorm rooms, and meet roommates online.

This book is geared for success during your first semester, so a very strong recommendation is for you to pick an early orientation session if you are given that choice. More importantly, register for courses as soon as you are able to. The advantage here is for you to have the pick of the courses you want and need before any of them close. Choosing classes can be challenging for first-time college students who are not aware of the difficulty of certain professors or specific courses. Here are some other important tips that have helped my own children and many of my former students:

  • Ask around among upper class students about the professors of the courses you are considering. What is required of a particular course? How does the professor rate as a lecturer? When in doubt, it is always best to choose recommended profs over courses that “seem” appealing.
  • Register for an extra course with the full intention of dropping the one you like least sometime in the first or second week of the semester. It is always easier to drop a course (even if you are charged a fee) than to add one after the term begins.
  • Don't overload with hours your first semester in college. Fifteen or sixteen credit hours are plenty. Many colleges require one of your courses to be a Freshmen Seminar. This makes choosing a little easier. Also, balancing one reading intensive course with a math or a science course is also a wise choice. Generally you should not take more than one lab course your first semester.
  • Most colleges require a core of courses for all undergrads, regardless of major. Other courses are prerequisites that you may have to take depending upon your high-school program, SAT or ACT scores, or placement exams. Besides your required Freshmen Seminar, it is probably a good idea to register for a couple of your core courses your first semester. Sample a variety of subject areas. Distribute your choices between one tough course, one easy course, and one or two moderately difficult ones based on your interests and skills. Core courses can serve as a foundation on which to build, especially if you have yet to choose a major.
  • If a particular core area is one that you hate, or have had a tough time with in high school, don't take it first semester. You need a successful first year. By waiting, you'll have time to check out an ideal prof to get you through the “dreaded” requirement. Suggestion: Consider taking this difficult requirement at a community college and have the credit transferred to your college’s program. Depending on your work schedule the summer before you go off to college, you might consider taking it then.
  • If you are fortunate enough to enter college with considerable advanced placement credit, don’t overload on upper division courses your first semester. You need to have some experience with courses at your college before you jump into a bunch of advanced courses. Even the brightest students need time to adjust to full-time college life.
  • Decide if you learn best in the morning or afternoon. This is not an automatic decision. Even though you may believe you learn better later in the day, studies have proven that learners retain knowledge best in morning hours. Besides, coming from high school, you are used to being in class in the morning. However, true night owls should probably not sign up for 8:00 a.m. classes. Pick courses accordingly. You might even consider taking an evening course that meets once a week. This will free some study time during the day. My son took this advice and found that his professor was more understanding about course requirements for students who enroll in evening classes since some of them have day jobs.
  • Choose a schedule that eliminates down time. Better to have three courses in the morning than one at 8:00 a.m., another at noon, and a third at 4:00 p.m. The all-too-human tendency with a schedule like that would be to waste time waiting around for class.

Sometime in the pre-orientation period before arrival on campus, you will be asked about roommate preferences. Many colleges use computer programs to match roommates according to personality traits, work habits, preferences for food and music, sleep patterns, noise tolerance, and other qualities like how much closeness potential roommates desire in each other. Be honest in what you report about your likes and dislikes. It might help save trouble later. For example, if second-hand smoke causes you problems, you should make sure to indicate a preference for a non-smoking roommate, even if the college outlaws dorm-room smoking. Remember that you want a successful start to your academic career. Tip: Choose a quiet, substance-free dorm that reserves many hours in a day for study. You can always visit rowdier friends on their turf and preserve your room for the relatively quiet retreat for study and sleep that you want it to be.

Think of your freshmen orientation experience as a golden opportunity to make friends. Research has shown that the most important survival tip for freshmen year is to have a reliable friend. So, during orientation, make a point to meet new classmates. Break out of the temptation of just hanging with high-school friends. Participate in the icebreakers and planned activities, even if some of them seem pointless. Concentrate on learning and remembering names of people you meet. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to new people. Share something about yourself and then take it from there. Also, avoid typical high school behaviors because of aloofness or trying to “act cool.”

Finally, your orientation days are a good time to get to know the campus and where some of your classes might meet. Secure a good campus map and get familiar with it. Check the college website before orientation and locate several buildings you definitely want to visit when on campus for orientation.

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