Most colleges conduct some kind of orientation for incoming students. The orientation session may happen during the summer, or just prior to the beginning of classes. Orientation is valuable and helpful for incoming students. Your student is excited about beginning her college career. But you are taken by surprise when it comes time for orientation and your student says she doesn’t want to attend – and may even say she’s changed her mind about attending college! What’s going on?
The entire summer before the first year of college is likely to be a pendulum for your student between excitement and terror, longing for independence and clinging to home. He may not even realize what a roller coaster ride he’s on, but the more that you remember the enormity of this transition, the more that you can help – even if it is just through your patience. Although orientation may seem just the natural next step toward college, it may be one of the biggest steps.
What is orientation all about?
We’ve written an earlier post about the importance of orientation for your student. Basically, orientation is your student’s introduction to the life of the college. She will meet some of her fellow incoming students, meet other students who have been at the college for a year or more, meet some faculty and key staff members. She may take placement tests and choose her classes. She will receive an overwhelming amount of information. This is your student’s first opportunity to begin to feel like a member of the campus community.
Why is my student so nervous about attending orientation?
Attending orientation is your student’s first step into the world of her new life. It looms large. Many thoughts and emotions are swirling for your student as she contemplates this event, and she may panic momentarily.
- Your student doesn’t know what to expect. Although she may have received a tentative schedule of events, it is difficult for her to know what orientation will be like. She hasn’t attended a college orientation before. We all fear the unknown to some degree.
- Your student may not know anyone who will be at the orientation. Although there may be another student from high school who might be attending, almost everyone at orientation will be a stranger. Your student wonders whether she will make any friends. She wonders whether anyone will like her.
- Your student recognizes that this is the first step in a whole new life for her. Will she like this new life?
- Many students fear that the orientation session will be a make-or-break situation. If she doesn’t find the right friends, or choose the right classes, or choose the right dorm, everything will be a failure. Your student may be feeling a lot of pressure about the outcome of this event.
- This event marks the culmination of a process which has been building for several years. She began thinking about college sometime in high school, took SAT’s or ACT’s, filled out applications, wrote admission essays, made college visits, answered everyone’s questions about where she is going to school, made decisions – and now it is finally here. There has been a tremendous build-up to this moment.
What can I do to help my student with her feelings about attending orientation?
Once we stop to think about the reasons that our student may be so nervous about orientation, we may understand his feelings more fully. Next, we may wonder if there is anything that we can do to help. Here are a few suggestions.
- First and foremost, don’t diminish his feelings. Ask questions, listen, probe, but don’t tell him not to be nervous. Accept and validate his feelings.
- Remind him that most of the other students are probably feeling the same way. It won’t make the nervousness go away, but it may help to remember that this is a new situation for everyone.
- Remind your student that he has made successful transitions in the past. Talk about transitions to middle school or high school. Perhaps he attended a camp or other program where he knew no one. This transition may seem larger than some others, but he does have the skill and practice to make this transition.
- If there is a parent orientation, talk about your own nervousness about attending. What are you worried about? It may help your student to know that you are a bit nervous as well.
- Finally, insist that he go. If at all possible, don’t let him back out of attending orientation. This is an important step on the journey to a successful college experience. If he attends orientation, his transition to his first-year of college will go much more smoothly. He’ll be happy that he attended.
Orientation is an exciting event for incoming college students, but it can be an intimidating prospect to anticipate. Don’t be taken by surprise if your student expresses panic just before attending. Be patient, and supportive, and insistent. Once she attends, she’ll be glad that she went – and she will have entered her new world.