Whether your child is in the 7th grade or about to graduate from high school, you are probably wondering about many issues related to his or her transition to college.
Many of your questions may be broad and child-centric: is my child academically prepared for the rigors of college? Will he or she have an adequate support system? How hard will it be for him or her to develop friendships?
Yet some of your issues may be much narrower in scope, and appropriately so. The “devil is in the details” has become a cliché, precisely because it is has proven to be true in a diverse mix of contexts and situations.
I suspect that one of your questions is very specific and parent-centric. It is: what should I expect at a college parent orientation?
First, it should be noted that parent orientation at colleges and universities is still a relatively new phenomenon. Just a few short years ago, the role of a parent at the start of a school year was akin to an employee at a moving company. Fill up station wagon, drive to appointed destination, unload station wagon and get the heck out of Dodge.
Now, thanks to a recognition by colleges and universities of the changing roles and expectations of incoming college parents, you are now more of an invited guest to a command performance.
Parent orientation may occur in the summer months, in lieu or in addition to the orientation offered at the start of a school year. This allows for an immersion of the new families in the college experience, without the distraction of the start of classes, the first home football game and other fall festivities.
Not all schools offer summer orientations, but it is certainly a growing trend. And many schools recognize that your time is valuable and may not be flexible, so they offer these summer sessions over multiple timeframes, helping you fit the one- or two-day program into your busy schedule.
So what is it exactly that you should expect?
First of all, think more than a just a reception to occupy you while your student gets settled. That is/was the 1970s version.
The 21st century orientation is viewed by schools as a retention and development tool. Schools want you to have a favorable impression of them from day one so that you will pay your bills on time, support your child’s continued attendance and maybe, just maybe, decide to give a little bit more of your money when your child eventually graduates.
Schools have done their homework about you, just as you have about them. They know that parents serve a critical role of support during a student’s transition to college, and they want to give you the tools you need to succeed in this job. Not only do schools want you to be the first point of contact in a crisis, they believe that parents who have an understanding of an institution are more likely to know how and when to intervene on behalf of a student.
In the most basic terms, schools want to equip you with the information, tools and points of contact to support your student as actively as you desire, within reason. They also realize that a little entertainment value never hurts. So, in addition to the traditional speakers and panels of administrators, schools are increasingly relying on video, role-playing exercises, skits and “testimonials” from returning parents. They know that “peer marketing” can be a big hit, if done well.
And schools also realize that platitudes and generalities just won’t do. They know what you want to know, because they’ve not only been doing the “new orientation” for a few years now, they have used attendee surveys to see what works and what doesn’t. They realize that they must address health and wellness issues, including sensitive topics such as confidentiality and practical topics such as insurance coverage.
They don’t skirt the core concern of academics. Understanding what it will take to succeed at a college or university is no longer a topic for the student to know and for you to pry out of them at Thanksgiving break.
Most good parents also review, in detail, financial issues, housing and food services and campus safety policies.
Taken together, what the “new parent orientations” really do is set a tone for the next four years in terms of defining the parent-school relationship. An effective orientation is welcoming, substantive and dynamic. It gives the campus an opportunity to shine and for you to bask in the glow, not only in your pride at your child’s past achievements, but in your expectations for the wonderful collegiate experience that awaits him or her.
Best wishes for a successful – and fulfilling – parent orientation experience, whenever and wherever it may be.