As excited as you may be to begin your college experience, you should be prepared for the transition to a new daily routine and a new school. Everything from learning how to register for classes and figuring out which books to buy to finding your way around campus can take some time getting used to. When you know what to expect, you can take full advantage of all resources available right from the start, and you can more easily navigate through this adjustment period with minimal stress.
Most colleges and universities host some type or orientation program for freshmen as well as for new transfer students. Through the orientation process, you may learn a considerable amount of valuable information that can make your transition into college life faster and easier. This may include small guided tour groups through the campus, instructions about class registration, information about complying with campus rules and more.
Orientation is commonly held the week before classes start, but some orientation programs are held during the summer months. Because there is considerable variation regarding when these programs are held and how long they last, you should look into the orientation program and its dates for your school as soon as you are admitted. In some cases, orientation information is mailed or emailed directly to you. If not, you should check your school’s website for more information. Many orientations are lengthy affairs with numerous components, such as social events, advising sessions and more. When you review the orientation schedule, you can best determine which aspects of orientation will benefit you most substantially.
Types of Orientation
Many colleges and universities break their orientation program into two primary categories, and these are a university-wide orientation for all first-year students as well as a housing orientation for students who will be living on campus.
- First Year Orientation. The university-wide orientation for first-year students covers campus rules and restrictions, the school’s honor code, academic advising sessions and course registration. Students may receive their student ID card and be able to set up financial or dining accounts at orientation. There are also social aspects of campus life to explore. These include the opportunity to speak with sorority or fraternity representatives about Greek life, theatrical or musical performances, socials to make new friends and more. You can even learn about financial aid and career assistance programs offered by the school.
- Housing Orientation. The housing orientation may include a tour of the dining facilities, residence halls and other campus facilities that you may need or want to use. Many freshmen who plan to live on campus have many questions and concerns about living with a roommate, being away from home for the first time and more. This part of the orientation gives you a chance to get your questions answered personally, and it can help you feel more comfortable and confident as you make this transition.
Keep in mind that your dorm may have its own orientation that you may be required to attend. This type of housing orientation may cover dorm-specific rules, safety rules and requirements that must be followed, how to handle roommate concerns, how to set up your phone service, amenities rules and more.
Regardless of whether you are living on or off campus, you will need access to a full range of campus resources throughout your college career. Resources are available to help you make course selections, to assist you with tutoring or writing research papers, to buy campus merchandise and to seek medical attention. You understandably want to take full advantage of the many campus resources available to you, and you cannot do so if you are not aware of what these resources are or how they may benefit you.
Before you begin classes, you will need access to several different campus resources. These include the college bookstore, the registrar’s office, the financial aid office and the bursar’s office. These are resources that you will definitely need access to throughout your college career, so it makes sense to get as familiar as possible with them early in your freshman year.
Almost as soon as your classes begin, you will likely need access to additional resources on campus.
- You may use the writing center for assistance with research papers.
- Many colleges have multiple libraries as well.
- The computer center may be used when your laptop goes down, when you need to print documents and when other needs arise.
- Tutoring is also available on most campuses, and this includes one-on-one assistance in specific subject areas as well as studying and time management workshops offered to groups.
The campus resources for most colleges and universities do not stop there.
- You can also find a student center that may be a great gathering place for study groups and more.
- The career center offers information about jobs after graduation, internships during your college years and even on-campus work opportunities.
- You may want to visit the fitness center regularly to work out in your free time.
- For social activities, you can learn about campus clubs or visit the residential life office.
- The health and counseling center may provide you with a convenient and affordable healthcare option while you are a student.
- In addition, most schools have multiple dining halls and cafeterias that you can choose to dine at with your pre-paid meal plan.
Remember that these resources are available to you regardless of where you choose to live while you are a college student. They offer substantial benefits to you in different ways, so it makes sense to spend ample time learning more about the services and amenities available very early in your college career.
As a new college student, you may come across many terms that you are not yet familiar with, especially when it comes to college classes. The confusion around these terms can play a major role in how easily or difficult your transition to college life is, so it is smart to educate yourself about these concepts now.
An academic advisor is a professional who is familiar with all course requirements that you may need to meet in order to graduate. This professional can help you to plan your courses during your first semester as well as each additional semester until you graduate.
When you review your degree plan, you will find that courses are described as core requirements, general education classes and electives:
- Core requirements are classes that are required for your specific degree. There are not usually alternatives available, so you must take these classes.
- General education classes may be required for all students across the university or for all students enrolled in your school of study, such as in the business school or engineering school.
- Electives are usually required as well, and you usually have considerable freedom to select electives that interest you. For example, to comply with an arts elective, you may take studio arts, theater arts, art history or another similar type of course.
As you begin reviewing the various course options, you will see that some are listed as discussion groups, lectures, seminars and labs. Some courses have two of these components, such as a lecture component and a lab component. Generally, discussion groups and labs are smaller classes, and they give you easy access to your professor or teaching assistant. Lectures and seminars are usually much larger in size. They may meet in a lecture or seminar format once or twice per week, and there may be a breakout discussion or lab section for smaller groups once per week.
The course catalog at one time was only available in print format, but it is now most commonly available online. This is a listing of all available courses. It includes meeting times and locations, a description of the course, the prerequisites and the name of the professor. Some colleges and universities enable online course planning as well as a larger-scale degree planning session. Explore the capabilities of your school’s course catalog and planning options so that you can make full use of their features.
You may be able to access your course syllabus for each of your classes online before the first day of the semester. If not, most instructors hand out a hard copy of the syllabus on the first day of class.
This syllabus contains vital information that you may need access to throughout the semester. Therefore, make every effort to keep it in your possession. It includes:
- The professor’s name, contact information and office hours
- The course meeting time and location
- A description of the class and objectives
- Class requirements
- Grading information
- A policy about absences and tardies
- A daily schedule of topics that will be covered
- A reading schedule for you to follow along with
- Test dates, paper due dates and more
The syllabus will guide you through the semester on a daily basis and will help you to plan ahead so that you do not fall behind.
Another term that you need to be familiar with is registration day. This is the day when you can physically sign up for classes and register.
Before this day arrives, you can complete some pre-registration efforts:
- Research which courses you need to take for your degree requirements.
- Select classes that meet your needs and that work well with your schedule.
- Pay attention to who the instructors are and what you heard about them.
- Focus on how balanced your classes are in terms of time requirements.
- Don’t sign up for a class just because your friends are taking it.
- Plan your courses for the next few semesters so that you can take any necessary prerequisites ahead of time.
When you focus your pre-registration efforts on these points, you can simply register for the classes that you have selected on registration day.
Adjusting to campus life can seem stressful, and you will have a lot to learn in a very short period of time. Taking advantage of orientation sessions and planning out your courses ahead of time can help tremendously. In the next chapter, we will deal with your personal health and safety on campus.