Over the summer, students and their parents will be hitting college campuses from coast to coast for new student orientation. The sessions are often meant for parents and their college-bound children to attend together, but what should a parent's role be once they arrive?
New student orientation is often a parent's first experience with letting go. It comes even before that long-anticipated move-in day, when you plan for emotions to run high. But orientation can catch you by surprise.
Here are some things you can do to prepare and help to make orientation a good experience for both you and your child.
1. Stick to the school's plan: There will likely be programming especially for parents that takes place while the students are somewhere else. If the school didn't plan for you to be with your child during that time, then he or she is fine on their own.
[Find out why it's important not to hover over your college student.]
There are things that you as a parent need to be paying attention to and absorbing, so don't miss those by trying to supervise your child's experience instead of having your own.
2. Learn what resources are available for parents: Many parents—especially when the first child is leaving for college—have to get used to letting their child do the communicating with the school. There are often legal reasons for this, but it's good for the growing up process as well.
That doesn't mean parents are without a voice, however. During orientation you should learn when and how you can communicate with the school. If you don't hear that information, ask.
3. Listen to your child: When you reunite with your child at the end of your separate sessions, it's easy to want to do all the talking. Your best bet, however, is to listen to what your student's experiences were first—positive or otherwise—and then respond to those.
After all, this is his or her big moment. And resist the urge to cram them full of all the knowledge you may have gained that day. Chances are they're on overload already. File those nuggets away for future reference when your child calls home with a problem or challenge.
As an orientation assistant at the University of Kansas's new student orientation program, I've seen many approaches to navigating the orientation sessions, both successfully and unsuccessfully. The good news is that there are some key guidelines for making orientation more pain free for parents and students alike.
1. Be vocal: This might be your first experience with a school, or the program might have changed significantly, even if older siblings have attended in the past. The directors of new student orientation do their best to make the program as user-friendly as possible, but the day can still be somewhat confusing at times.
The orientation staff is chock full of knowledge about the program and about the school in general, so save yourself some frustration by asking any and all questions you may have.
[Be sure to ask these freshman orientation questions.]
2. Expect a long day: Orientation sessions can range anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Find out how long your session will take and prepare to be there for the full extent of it. Many of the things on your orientation "to-do list" will take time, but they are almost always easier to take care of during orientation than once you get home or when you arrive on campus in the fall.
3. Trust the process: In my experience, one of the hardest parts of orientation for parents is allowing students—with the help of their advisers, of course—to make the right decisions regarding their education. If a student wants to change majors or take an unexpected course, trust the advice from academic advisers.
Furthermore, new student orientation is one of the best times for students to start learning how to be independent. Allow students to make their own decisions—while you're still there to support them—and they'll have a much easier transition in the fall.