What Are Pre-Orientation Programs?

College pre-orientation is an optional program that helps incoming students adjust to college life. Discover how these programs help undergraduates.
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Published on November 30, 2023
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  • College pre-orientation programs help incoming first-year students adjust to campus life.
  • Pre-orientation programs are voluntary and occur the summer before a student's first fall semester.
  • Types of pre-orientation programs include those that help students with mental health challenges.

College pre-orientation programs are designed to introduce first-year students to their new college or university.

A 2023 study published in Sociological Forum shows that first-generation college students who attend pre-orientation programs develop self-advocacy skills, in part by forming connections with peers, staff, and faculty during pre-orientation.

These programs feature various activities, workshops, and information sessions that help students get to know their classmates and adjust to their new learning environments the summer before their first semester begins.

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What Is the Purpose of Pre-Orientation Programs?

Pre-orientation programs help incoming students transition into a higher education environment. Through various activities, incoming students meet their peers, faculty, and staff and learn to navigate college academics and campus resources.

In many pre-orientation programs, first-year students form bonds by working in small group settings. In addition to creating a smoother transition for incoming students, pre-orientation programs provide insight into campus life and academic and social resources. This helps to create a sense of community for new students.

Pre-orientation activities occur before the academic year begins, minimizing challenges associated with adjusting to college. This helps students feel more prepared and connected when they begin taking courses. Pre-orientation programs benefit students by:

  • Easing the transition to living away from home.
  • Allowing incoming students to meet fellow first-year students in a low-stakes environment.
  • Engaging incoming students in various social-learning activities.
  • Providing mental health support, academic preparedness, and cultural exposure.

Types of Pre-Orientation Programs

There are various types of pre-orientation programs, including those built for students of color, transfer students, international students, and social justice. Additionally, some of these programs are just for fun. For example, Emerson College hosts a BIPOC Student Pre-Orientation Program and Brandeis University invites new undergraduates to join its DEI, Social Justice, and Society Pre-Orientation Program.

In total, Brandeis holds five pre-orientation programs each year. In addition to its social justice program, it also hosts programs for queer students, Jewish students, students with mental health conditions, and students who want to grow into leaders.

Stanford University also hosts multiple pre-orientation programs. These include pre-orientation outdoor trips, a pre-orientation program for neurodivergent students, a community outreach pre-orientation program, and the Stanford Native Immersion Program.

And some schools, such as the University of Chicago, Dartmouth College, Middlebury College, and Stanford University, have pre-orientation programs aimed at international students.

How to Make the Most of Your Pre-Orientation Program

College pre-orientation programs make it easier for incoming students to transition into college life. Holding these programs before classes have started can make it easier to find new friends, learn about campus culture and resources, and ask questions to gain clarity and alleviate anxiety. Here's how to make the most of your pre-orientation program.

Make Friends

Science shows that friendships keep us healthy. Making friends at pre-orientation is an excellent way to begin the semester. You’ll have reliable connections before the school year begins. When you participate in pre-orientation, you'll likely join a smaller community before new student orientation and classes begin. This can give you a stronger sense of place and a feeling of belonging.

Prepare Questions

Before pre-orientation, prepare a list of questions. This will help you get the most out of your program. Consider any questions or concerns about your new learning and living environment or the college orientation that follows pre-orientation. Start early so you can thoroughly consider your concerns.

Ask Questions

Some people are afraid asking questions will make them appear unknowledgeable. But we learn more when we ask questions! We also show that we're engaged and interested. Asking questions can start an exchange of ideas, promoting bonding and building the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in college.

Take Notes

You might want to bring a notebook or use your phone to keep track of important information, such as any tips or insights you gain from pre-orientation. Perhaps someone will give you a piece of advice you’ll need for your first year. You might also want to write down follow-up questions to ask later.

Meet People

Pre-orientation is designed for you to meet fellow students, as well as any participating staff and faculty. With various events like icebreaker activities, campus tours, small group discussions, and informational workshops, you can get to know some of your peers before school begins, easing first-week jitters.

Colleges With Pre-Orientation Programs

While not all colleges and universities offer pre-orientation programs, these activities are increasing in popularity. Pre-orientation programs ease the transition into college by familiarizing students with academic expectations; campus resources; and staff, faculty, and fellow incoming students. Below, you'll find a list of 10 colleges and universities that offer pre-orientation programs.

  1. Bucknell University's Pre-Orientation Programs
  2. Brown University's Pre-Orientation Programs
  3. Emerson College's BIPOC Student Pre-Orientation Program
  4. Georgetown University's Pre-Orientation Programs
  5. Harvard University's Pre-Orientation Programs
  6. Stanford University's Pre-Orientation Programs
  7. The Evergreen State College's Pre-Orientation Programs
  8. Tufts University's Pre-Orientation Programs
  9. University of Pennsylvania's Pre-Orientation Programs
  10. Wake Forest University's Pre-Orientation Programs

Frequently Asked Questions About College Pre-Orientation

Are pre-orientation programs mandatory?

Pre-orientation programs are optional. Students choose to participate to get acquainted with their campus and classmates before the stressors of their first semester begin. These programs provide a lower-stakes opportunity to acclimate to campus.

What questions should I ask during orientation?

Ask any burning questions you may have. You can ask questions of faculty, staff, and current students. You might ask prospective professors whether they require capstone projects or what you can expect from their classes. You can also ask staff about support services, such as financial aid and disability services. Questions for current students may be related to moving-in tips, favorite restaurants, and campus clubs you may want to join.

What's the difference between college orientation and pre-orientation?

As an official introductory program, college orientation is mandatory at many colleges. During orientation, students may need to schedule classes and visit advising, counseling, and other support services. In contrast, pre-orientation is an optional program that helps students adjust to their college campuses. Pre-orientation occurs prior to orientation and features a collection of activities where students get to know each other and their new campus.

How much do pre-orientation programs cost?

Student pre-orientation programs often cost $400-$500. For example, the University of Chicago charges $400, while Tufts University and the University of Pennsylvania charge $450. Both Stanford University and Skidmore College charge $500 for pre-orientation programs. However, some pre-orientation programs are free, such as those at Georgetown University. Check with your school to find out more about its pre-orientation program options.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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