If you have the option to attend your student’s college orientation, try your best to go. In fact, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 70% of students -- including international students -- come to orientation with at least one family member, says Stephanie Benson-Gonzales, the associate director of family programs. Maybe you don’t feel the need to go because you’ve been to campus before, or you have another child who has gone through a similar process, but oftentimes, the experience varies depending on the student and school.
Whether it’s checking out the cafeteria, or stopping in the school bookstore, familiarizing yourself with campus is an important step. But, it’s not the only step. “Parents need to be able to visualize what this experience on campus will be like,” Marjorie Savage, University of Minnesota’s parent program director, says. And that goes beyond just understanding the layout of the physical place.
“College orientation gives parents the opportunity to meet people in real time who will be there for students,” Savage says. Since college is anything but predictable, it’s nice to make connections with people on campus who can help your student, should they ever need it. But who exactly is the best point of contact? “Most schools should have some type of parent and family program,” Benson-Gonzales says. Oftentimes, they’ll give presentations and hand out their contact information during orientation.
And if you can’t attend your student’s orientation? Don’t worry – you have other options available. “Some schools will offer a Saturday orientation for families that can't make it during the week, while others are developing online orientations,” Savage says. But if you still can’t make it, “there will be plenty of opportunities for your student to be involved,” Benson-Gonzales says. “And it may be a great chance for them to connect with their peers.”
You can also coordinate with your student to ensure they pass along the information provided. “There are typically printed resources available that can be really helpful to reference at home,” Benson-Gonzales says. For example, although college orientations will often separate the parents and students, the orientation schedule can offer some insight into what was covered. “As you look through the schedule, see if you have any questions or concerns,” Savage says. And if you do, there’s plenty of backup available. “To get answers to questions, contact the parent or family program at their institution,” Benson-Gonzales says. Many universities have these types of programs readily available to help. But, if they don’t, “University Housing, Financial Aid, and the Dean of Student’s Office are all great resources,” Benson-Gonzales continues.
College Resources 101: What to Look for on Campus
Whether or not you’re able to attend your student’s orientation, “know this is only one experience – in a series of experiences – that will prepare you and your student for what’s to come,” Benson-Gonzales says. “It’s a continuous process, so there will be plenty of other opportunities to ask questions.”