I promise college life isn’t as scary as it seems. Freshman orientation, no matter what college you attend, is like a trial run of college. You have a host of advisors, professors, and orientation leaders to look to for advice. If you show enthusiasm, you’ll likely be awarded free school swag for stepping out of your comfort zone. If you don’t pay attention during your session, you miss out on opportunities to make connections and gain valuable insight about college life. Here are five tips to help you make the most of your “trial run” of college.
1. Be open about talking to others
Chances are meeting a room full of strangers makes your palms sweat, and the idea of finding your potential best friends among this group of unfamiliar faces makes you want to break out the extra-strength deodorant. You can rest assured that everyone in your group feels the exact same way—some people are just better at hiding it. At my orientation, my entire group was drenched in rain as we walked toward our academic building; the icebreakers that followed were spent ringing water from our hair. The key to making light of these unfortunate situations is to be outward about your embarrassing moments and try to laugh at yourself, and let others do the same. Furthermore, if you see someone walking or sitting alone during your orientation, strike up a conversation! At worst, you’ll gain experience talking to strangers. At best, you’ll still be talking five hours later. If you’re truly not clicking with anyone in your orientation group, remember the group is only a fragment of your incoming class, and you’ll eventually find your tribe.
2. Dress appropriately
Now is not the time for plain white shirts, school gear, or sweatpants. Try to wear something that looks appropriate (think: no stiletto heels or tube tops) and still shows people your authentic personality. Whether it’s a monogrammed bracelet, a fun phone case, or a shirt signed by your favorite band, it may help start conversations if you’re too nervous to. Additionally, bring comfortable shoes, an umbrella, extra food, and your school bag to carry all the papers you will get. In general, you want to be prepared for anything. Don’t be like me and forget your wallet and new student ID halfway across campus!
3. Be an active participant in getting to know campus
Even though you’re being led around campus by your orientation leaders, you should try to participate when they ask questions or encourage conversation and make sure familiarize yourself with your school . Once you have your classes scheduled, you should take a picture of each building and pick out a unique/funny landmark during your tour so you remember it in the fall. If possible, try to walk at least part of the campus at night to understand how the terrain changes. Your orientation leader is a good person to ask for shortcuts to get around campus and what the safest areas are. Also take note of particular buildings offering services you may need: health center, athletic center, student services, etc.
4. Read the paperwork and come prepared
This part is arguably the most tedious. Your college may send letters, social media alerts, or magazines outlining academic requirements, campus organizations, or even a checklist to complete before the event starts. It’s tempting to skim these long-winded messages, but that shows immaturity. You should try to read these documents before your parents, because you are the one going to college—and they won’t be with you to read and highlight your syllabus for you. If you’ve pinpointed a specific major or career track, you should browse their academic website and preview a list of courses to take your first semester. My school, for example, offered a checklist that outlined subjects I need to satisfy the general education requirements in my major. There were categories like Political Science, Economics, and Natural Sciences. I formulated a list of potential classes, which lessened the time I spent with my advisor. This ensured I was enrolled in classes I enjoy that are also relevant to my major.
5. Practice time management
Take this opportunity to practice time management skills you’ll need to be successful in your freshman year of college. Arrive to your sessions with time to spare, make sure your materials are organized, and practice getting ready in a dorm (and when the best time to shower is). These skills may seem instinctual, but when you’re nervous, exhausted, or overwhelmed by all the new information, time management may not feel so simple.
Above all, remember to take pictures at your favorite spot on campus! Get that attractive person in your orientation group’s social media handles. Have a sundae in the cafeteria. Go wild buying merchandise to show your school pride. Seize this moment to celebrate deciding on your home for the next four years—you deserve it.
Before you head off to orientation and start your first year of college, use A First-Year's Summer Checklist for Preparing for College to get ready for the big transition!