The end of senior year is an exciting time for the whole family. It’s not only a time of transition from high school to college, but it’ll most likely also be your teen’s first time away from home. This means a transition period for parents as well. For some, it’s their first having kids leaving home for college. For others, it might mean an empty nest. Many parents need some guidance and encouragement on dealing with this life-changing next step. That’s why many colleges offer a parent orientation to provide some of that guidance as well as insight into what college life will be like for your student. For first-generation parents, this opportunity will certainly be eye-opening. For parents who formerly attended college, you’ll learn that much has changed. If you’ve been invited to one of these family-oriented events, here are some answers to questions you may have.
1. What is parent orientation?
Colleges have recognized the need for parent orientation as parents are taking a more active role in their students’ college lives. These orientation sessions are geared toward learning the rules for students on campus, understanding guidelines and measures put into place for student safety, having discussions about the academic calendar, learning what resources are offered on campus, and more. Special events often range from Dean meet-and-greets to classes and seminars on letting go. Parent sessions offer an in-depth understanding of the college experience that can’t be had from a distance or by reading the college website.
2. Why does parent orientation matter?
First and foremost, orientation helps parents visualize where their student will be living for the next four years and how that college will shape their student’s life. Knowing what to expect can help put your mind at ease. You’ll meet other parents, which will give you a sense of community as well as offer the potential for long-lasting friendships. Parents will also get the chance to meet members of the administration and staff of the college, giving you the opportunity to ask questions and voice your concerns.
3. How should parents prepare?
Attending parent orientation means you’ll not only be attending as a parent but also as a student. Be prepared to take notes and ask questions when appropriate. Download any apps you might need to collect contact information from parents of other students like your student’s dorm mate and other staff contacts like housing or campus police. Whatever you do, don’t sit in the corner and be silent. This is your opportunity to get to know other parents, communicate with staff and faculty, and find comfort in your student heading off to college. Just as students need support while in college, you’ll need parental support during the next four years. What better opportunity to make connections, exchange emails and phone numbers, and compare notes than at parent orientation?
4. What questions should parents ask?
During the Q&A sessions, listen to other parents’ questions—a lot of them will be the same questions you have. If you have a question that hasn’t been asked, make sure to speak up. Otherwise, take notes and listen to the questions and responses. Here are some questions I suggest you ask if no one else does:
- What types of services does the health center provide? You need to find out if your health insurance is accepted by them and what the process is for copayments, filing a claim, etc.
- What type of emergency action is taken in the event of a school shooting or other dangerous situation? Most colleges have steps in place to contact students and parents when an emergency arises.
- What is the parental notification policy? Ask how the college notifies you if your student is caught drinking or commits another serious offense, or if there’s a health emergency.
- Do you have a parent association? If so, how many parents participate? Are they active on campus? What specifically does the group do? A parent association can be great but only if there is active participation.
- Who’s the point of contact for parents? Ask if there is a parent relations office and who you’d call if you have questions or concerns.
I’m a strong advocate for attending parent orientation. It’s a college’s way of helping parents make the transition from high school parent to college parent. Their focus is on helping you let go, informing you about available resources, and providing a forum to ask questions. At my son and daughter’s orientation, I learned things about the college I didn’t know and left feeling calm and assured they had chosen the right school. I saw where they would be living, studying, and eating, and it helped me visualize college life at their respective schools. Enjoy these sessions if they’re available to you and make the most of every opportunity to create positive connections.
While you’re preparing for the transition yourself, help your student get ready for college with articles like How to Prepare for College Over the Summer.