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Answers to Your College Questions

How to Get the Most Out of Your Freshman Orientation

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college-orientationIncoming freshmen can increase their chances of having a happy landing at college if they attend their first-year orientation program. However, attendance is only half the battle—it is important that students take full advantage of what is offered by these programs. Check out these tips to help you make sure you get the most out of your freshman orientation:

Before You Arrive On Campus

Carefully read everything that is sent to you by your college. Be sure to watch for:

  • Any forms regarding special academic programs or activities to sign up for, roommate preferences, housing, medical, or insurance issues. Complete and return these forms ASAP. The earlier your college gets these materials, the better your chances are of getting what you want—a roommate who is a good match, a special seminar, your choice of dorms, the right meal plan.
  • Orientation Registration materials. Sign up for orientation as soon as the information arrives to make sure that you get what you want. The best events often fill up the first day they are announced.
  • Pre-Orientations. Separate from regular orientation, these are wonderful opportunities to meet other freshmen. Some of the cool experiences offered include river-rafting trips, retreats in the mountains or at the ocean, special seminars with star faculty members, and unique community service projects. Be sure to sign up early; the number of spaces are usually limited.
  • Anything that comes to you about registering for classes. Pay close attention to the directions and enroll as quickly as you can. You don’t want to get stuck with a bunch of courses you don’t like, especially during your first semester.
  • Deadlines for tuition and room/board. Put the dates on your calendar to make sure that everything gets paid on time. Also be sure to alert your parents.

When You Arrive On Campus

1. Get involved and say a great big hello.

When you arrive at your school, go to everything and do everything, even if a planned activity doesn’t really appeal to you. This is your chance to check people and campus “stuff” out. If an activity is less interesting than you expected, move on to other activities. By identifying what interests you, you’ll likely find people who are similar to you.

Join different people at breakfast, lunch, and dinner to see who you like. Introduce yourself during orientation meetings. If someone seems really nice, ask if he or she would like to walk together to the next orientation session, have a cup of coffee, or go for a run/workout later in the day. If their answer is yes, terrific; if it’s no, nothing is lost.


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2. Register for your courses.

Sign up for your classes as soon as possible. Registration for classes is usually done online. As soon as it is available, do it! Identify the courses that you want to take in advance so that you can simply fill in the forms.

Priority for registration is often given to upperclassmen, people with learning issues, athletes, honors students, and so on. Sometimes the classes you want to take are not available. If that happens, you should still sign up for classes so that you have something to take, but also go to professors of filled classes and ask what you can do to get in.

Warning: Don’t take on more than you can handle! Many students are under the mistaken impression that in order to prove themselves as they did in high school, they should take as many credits as they can in the most difficult subjects. The truth is: this is a setup for disaster! College classes are often very different from high school classes, even the AP or college classes given at your school.

My advice is to take the minimum number of credits required of you and in subjects in which you know you will do well. You want to “ace” your first semester because that reputation will follow you, honors courses will open up to you, and if you want to do research or a special project with a professor, you will have the grades to do it.

Find out what the “not to miss” classes are at your college. Every college has special courses and professors that you want to take advantage of before leaving the college. You might hear about “Rocks for Jocks” (geology), “Human Sexuality,” “Sleep and Dreams,” or “Physics for Poets.” Ask your RA, faculty advisor, and/or upperclassmen what these courses are.

3. Decide if you’d like to rush a fraternity (for men) or sorority (for women).

Rush is a set of activities and parties that fraternities and sororities put on to gain new members for their groups. Rush and “Greek life” is different at every college. Know that Greek life is not for everybody; you can have a perfectly fine college experience without it. Use orientation as your opportunity to learn more about Greek life on your campus, the rush schedule, and whether this is something that interests you.


The road to college can be a tricky one.

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Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz is author of adMISSION POSSIBLE: The “Dare to Be Yourself” Guide for Getting into the Best Colleges for You, and founder/director of www.admissionpossible.com, a free college admissions information and resources website. An award-winning author, speaker, and professional counselor, Hansen Shaevitz is a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultant’s Association (IECA) and a Unigo Expert Network columnist. She is a former member of Stanford University’s Parents’ Board and chair of the Advisory Council for Stanford’s Institute for Women & Gender. She spent twelve years as a trustee for La Jolla Country Day School. Hansen Shaevitz has a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from Stanford University, was Orientation Officer at the East West Center, a member of the Dean of Students staff at Stanford, and directed the College Re-Entry Program at the University of California, San Diego.


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