6 tips for parents to make the most of orientation programs

Parents and prospective students talk with Fayetteville State officials. Photo by Ezekiel Best, FSU

Used to be that parents packed up the station wagon, drove their son or daughter to college, unloaded the boxes, made their bed, kissed them goodbye, shed a few tears and headed home. Today, colleges cater to parents with comprehensive, multi-day orientation programs.

Whether this relatively new phenomenon is a response to “helicopter parent” hovering or not, having more open communication, more information and more services seems to be exactly what parents are craving.

According to College Parents of America, “The 21st century orientation is viewed by schools as a retention and development tool. Schools want you to have a favorable impression from day one so that you will pay your bills on time, and maybe, just maybe, decide to give a little bit more when your child eventually graduates.”

Most colleges and universities schedule parent and student orientations simultaneously. Larger campuses stagger the sessions over the summer and allow parents to sleep in dorms as part of the orientation experience. Smaller colleges and those with many out-of-state students tend to arrange their orientations around move-in day.

For much of the orientation, students and parents are separated. Students register for classes, and parents learn about campus safety, meal plans, credit cards, health insurance, etc.

Usually there are dozens of concurrent workshops that students and parents attend dealing with: study abroad, leadership opportunities, clubs, Greek life, career services, outdoor opportunities, diversity and multicultural affairs, performing arts and first year seminars.

Parents and students are joined for videos and presentations on a variety of student services (academic, social, psychological and health) as well as introductions to deans and advisers. During meals and campus tours, parents swap stories and the anxiety of “first-timers” is slowly soothed. The funniest moments are the hilariously accurate skits of parents and children adjusting and not adjusting so well to the “letting go” phase during first semester by the orientation ambassadors.

Here are some tips on how to make the most of parent orientation:

  • Don’t be shy. You have unprecedented access to campus personnel that you’ll likely never have again. Take advantage of this opportunity to meet anyone you think your student might come in contact with such as the staff at the writing center or health center.
  • Listen. A lot of information is shared at these orientations. Much of it is standard fare, but some may be particularly applicable to your son or daughter.
  • Take notes on special opportunities. These may include leadership seminars, internship fairs, extensive career services, a learning disabilities center, free peer tutoring, free transportation, mentoring and research opportunities, etc.
  • Join the parent association committee. At least sign up for their emails and stay informed.
  • Give your student some space. Let them meet their roommates, and let them call the shots.
  • Don’t linger! It’s hard to say goodbye, but just do it.

Remember, colleges are in a “pleasing mode,” which means they are on their best behavior. The campus typically looks spotless, and the food is almost always of a better quality than what is served to students during the academic year.


Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.comwww.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com