College Orientation: 5 Things You Need to Know

Preparing for your first year of college can be tricky. Learn why attending your college orientation can help lessen some of the stress of campus life.

portrait of Kim-Ling Sun
by Kim-Ling Sun

Published on July 15, 2022 · Updated on July 22, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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College Orientation: 5 Things You Need to Know
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College orientation is designed to help with the transition to higher education for incoming students.

First-year orientation aims to teach new students more about the campus, go over the various services and resources available to learners, and provide meet-and-greet opportunities with peers. Attending orientation can also help get you excited about campus life.

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A 2006 review by the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative found a correlation between those who attend orientation and students' academic success and retention rates.

Other research shows that students are 17% more likely to report a positive student life experience if they participated in orientation.

So what is college orientation exactly? And what do you need to know before you attend?

What Is College Orientation? What's the Purpose?

College orientation is a chance for incoming students to explore the campus, meet faculty, and talk to an academic advisor before registering for classes.

It's also an opportunity to find out more about your school. In addition to introducing the various educational opportunities your institution provides, orientation can help you learn more about your new campus's traditions and culture.

Whether learners are first-year students, nontraditional students, transfer students, or online students, all are welcome to attend orientation. Note, however, that your school may offer a separate orientation for your particular student status. For example, many colleges and universities hold orientations specifically geared toward transfer students.

College orientation usually takes place the summer before the fall semester. Some schools will hold first-year orientation just a few days before the fall term begins. Other schools may have a two-part orientation, with the first part being held in the summer and the second part occurring right before classes begin.

Some colleges may even offer a virtual orientation for students who can't travel to campus or who plan to take courses online.

Is College Orientation Mandatory? What If You Miss It?

Orientation looks different for each college. Some schools make attendance optional, while others strictly require you to attend.

Many colleges make orientation for first-year students mandatory because financial aid and academic counseling are rolled into the day. Until you complete orientation, the school will put a hold on your account, meaning you can't register for classes or access your financial aid.

If you don't attend orientation, it may be difficult, especially at the start of the semester, to schedule an appointment with the financial aid office or your academic advisor. This can impact your ability to register for classes and limit course availability.

College departments often set dates and times during orientation so faculty and advisors can meet with incoming students.

How to Prepare for Orientation

College orientation aims to prepare you for the next four years of your life. Here are some tips to help you dive into higher education without issue.

What to Wear to College Orientation

Orientation usually takes place in the heat of the summer and requires a lot of trekking around campus. So it's a good idea to wear comfortable walking shoes and weather-appropriate clothing, like a T-shirt and shorts.

When choosing an outfit, keep in mind that you'll most likely be taking your student ID picture. If you expect to get chilly, you might want to bring a cardigan, light sweater, or hoodie for the times you'll be indoors.

What to Bring to College Orientation

Orientation tends to be fast-paced, jumping quickly from activity to activity. Bringing a refillable water bottle is therefore a must. You don't want to carry disposable bottles with you or always be on the hunt for a vending machine!

You also should bring a notebook and a pen or pencil to write down important information during the sessions, as well as a folder to collect any handouts you may get.

What to Expect at College Orientation: 5 Things You Need to Know

Orientation looks different depending on the college, but there are some basics all schools will likely cover during this time. Here are five things to expect at your college orientation.

1 Campus Tours

One of the most important parts of college orientation is the campus tour. Even if you took a tour before deciding to attend, it's a good idea to do it again. A campus tour can help orient you to the campus. It can also help you choose classes close to one another.

In addition, tours are often led by current students who can give you unique insight into where to dine, study, and socialize on campus.

2 Information Sessions

Your college orientation will likely offer several information sessions for students and parents. These sessions may include information about financial aid and the billing process, FERPA privacy laws, campus safety and security, academic support, and move-in day.

3 Dorms and Roommates

During orientation, you may get to check out your dorm. By this point, most schools will have also assigned you a roommate or asked you to designate a roommate.

Many colleges and universities have students use online roommate portals or pair you with a roommate based on your answers to a questionnaire. Some schools, like Stanford University, may pair you with a roommate at orientation.

This makes orientation a great time to meet your future roommate in person and start planning your future dorm life together.

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4 Meeting People and Making Friends

Campus orientation provides an excellent opportunity to meet people. In addition to getting to know students and staff through information sessions and through your orientation group, you'll encounter people everywhere you go on campus.

Be open to making friends and forming bonds with others before the semester starts. Many people coming to college have left some, if not all, of their friends behind, so everyone will likely be more open to making connections.

5 Choosing Your Class Schedule

Many schools use orientation for students to meet with their academic advisors and select their class schedules. Think hard about whether you're a morning or afternoon person — this can help you determine the optimal times for your classes.

You should also look to see where on campus these classes are held so you can avoid bouncing from one side of campus to the other.

Finally, look at the course catalog and balance your choices so you're not taking all difficult classes in one semester.

Frequently Asked Questions About College Orientation

When do you sign up for college orientation?

Most colleges require students to sign up for orientation in May or at the beginning of June.

Some schools offer orientation on multiple days to accommodate students' schedules and to offer increased flexibility during the busy summer months. Be sure to register for orientation as soon as possible to ensure you can attend on the date that works best for you.

Is it worth going to college orientation?

Most would agree it's worth attending your college orientation. At orientation, you'll learn the lay of the campus and meet with your academic advisor so you can pick and register for classes. You'll also learn more about the campus culture and traditions and have the opportunity to make friends.

How long is college orientation?

At most colleges, orientation lasts 1-3 days. Some schools may hold a weeklong orientation, with an array of activities and information sessions for incoming students. Others may have just a daylong orientation.

Alternatively, some colleges may have one short orientation in the summer and a second orientation just a few days before the fall term begins.

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