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Articles / Campus Life / The Orientation Express

The Orientation Express

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Aug. 17, 2017

All aboard! The Orientation Express is leaving the station. For some of you, it may have already left.

Freshman orientation is a college's way of welcoming you (and your tuition dollars) with open arms. It's a carefully planned and executed event designed to acquaint you with a much deeper understanding of the school, its resources, surrounding area, and your fellow classmates. Parents can get involved, too, but not at the intense level of students. A parent orientation is designed primarily to assure parents that their precious progeny will be cared for with the utmost oversight (a contention that sometimes falls short of its mission).

For those of you who are currently packing for campus, I thought I would give you a roundup of points to keep in mind as you head out for your orientation. As with most topics on earth, there's a wealth of information on the Web about orientation and what to expect. So, study up!

How to survive freshman orientation

I recall my freshman orientation. I was a stranger in a strange land. My parents were with me, but they were pulled into their own session not long after we arrived on campus.

Back in those days, orientation, at least at my small liberal arts college, was a much simpler affair than it is today. Plus, orientation was held concurrently with move-in day. Accordingly, adrenaline and emotions ran high.

First, I had to deal with the fact that I had never been away from home, let alone my parents, for more than a day or so at a time. Today, incoming freshmen have commonly been away from home for maybe weeks at a time, perhaps in a foreign country. Things were much more cloistered back in the day.

Consequently, that day, when I became “oriented," proved to be quite a shock to my system. I don't recall all the activities that were on the agenda (not many, by today's standards!), but I do recall that I bonded quickly with my roommate and we leaned on one another for support, as we watched our parents disappear from our little gathering in the dorm room.

The festivities lasted a few hours, which flew by, and then we had to say farewell to our parents, as my roommate and I retired to our new dorm room home to gather our wits and emotions. The pensive, reflective atmosphere that quickly overtook our tired bodies there, after dark as we reflected on our new lots in life, was soon quite rudely interrupted by a posse of raucous upperclassmen from our dorm who were raiding all freshmen rooms, gathering “slimy newbies" for some traditional hazing.

When I say “hazing," I'm not talking about the kind of hazing we read about today, where Greek pledges are forced to drink themselves into a drunken stupor. Our rights of initiation were tame compared to that. Upon bursting into our quiet room, the leader of the posse demanded that we don our bathrobes (yes, this was the era of Victorian modesty!) and our freshman beanies (Do colleges still issue these?) and “Fall in!" outside on the quad.

We were too scared to protest, so we did as we were told, looking like the assemblage of ROTC recruits in Animal House, only less well dressed. The posse leader then berated us because of our “greenness" and warned us that we were lower than pond scum. This, of course, warmed our hearts, coming right after the affectionate atmosphere projected by the college's staff and administration earlier in the day.

Following the verbal dressing down, we were ordered to do some close-order-drill marching and were paraded around the small campus, echoing our drill instructor's little demeaning “cadence poems." (Think of An Officer And A Gentleman's recruit marching scenes.) “We are freshmen, slow and fat! To all you seniors, we tip our cap!" We left significantly profound carbon footprints that night!

But I digress (as usual). Back on track here.

USA Today's Briana Coviello makes some good points about surviving your orientation ordeal:

Friendships always form early on in a school year, so you don't want to miss out on any new friends because you were too scared to open up!

Freshman orientation is good for three things: becoming familiar with campus, building friendships early on with your hallmates and getting enough free cups and T-shirts to last a lifetime.

Your days will start at the crack of dawn with hall breakfasts and plenty of bonding experiences, and by the time your Orientation Aide is finished with your activities at night, you will crash in bed.

And if you're anything like me, dread the next morning where you'll have to do it all over again.

No matter if you go to a large state school or a small college in the middle of nowhere, orientation is a huge ordeal that will consume your life for a few days and will throw you into every lecture on alcohol abuse, diversity, academics and safety that your college could possibly think of. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your orientation.

1. Start socializing early

Be social with your hall! You may be eating every meal and doing every single activity with your new roommate and your hall, so your best bet is to go into orientation as outgoing and social as you can.

Friendships always form early on in a school year, so you don't want to miss out on any new friends because you were too scared to open up! …

2. Ask questions

As an out-of-state student, by the time we moved in and orientation began, it had only been my second time on campus. That being the case, I had no idea where anything was and could barely remember the paths to get to my dorm. Orientation is the only time when the freshmen can pull out their campus maps and ask a million questions about where their classes are and get some sympathy from the upperclassmen. We've all been there and needed a little help learning our new surroundings just like you will. You will be happy you asked five times how to get to your Psychology 101 class when the first day of school comes!

3. Pay attention

As freshmen, you are all coming from different states, different high schools, and from different experiences.

Some of you may be more sheltered than others about all things from 20 page research papers to alcohol. The mandatory seminars that you will attend during orientation about diversity, academics, safety and alcohol and drugs do have important stories and lessons that students just tend to ignore. …

4. Go to the activities and club fair

Colleges usually allow the activities and club fair to be an optional activity because they can't really require you to join clubs or teams. However, take the hour out of your time to go and check out what your school offers.

College is very different than high school, because you definitely will not have time to be apart of 50 different extracurricular activities to make your resume shine. Be sure to give the activities and club fair a chance and try to find one club to get involved with (Pokemon club!). …

5. Embrace the dining hall…while you can

Freshmen are usually so giddy about the all-you-can-eat food at the cafeterias around campus and the seemingly millions of options.

Enjoy that enthusiasm while you can, because by November you're not going to think the unlimited pizza or Taco Friday is the best thing in the world.

The whole on-campus dining experience will get old and very frustrating, and you will probably end up eating cereal or salad for the majority of your meals because everything else will just seem repulsive. Make sure you go into your dining experience with an open mind and keep your enthusiasm high. …

Excellent tips, Briana! I'm not quite sure that the college dining experience will get that old that fast with most freshmen. I do think that many colleges' menus are attractive enough to add lore to the infamous Freshman 10 saga. in fact, these days, with obesity being the significant issue that it is, it may well now be the Freshman 15 … or even 20!

Okay, then, but what does orientation actually look like? I'm glad you asked.

Here, for your reading pleasure (and possible amazement), is the sample schedule for freshman orientation from Ohio State University (that's in Ohio, by the way). It's a two-day affair (!), as opposed to my several-hour orientation at my college. A few highlights:

– FYE Peer Leader (PL) small groups – Activities include interactions with new students and FYE PLs, lunch at Woody's (remember to bring your meal ticket!), and small group photos. This time will help students to become familiar with the resources and locations that will assist in a successful first year.

– Academic overview and scheduling preparationAcademic advisors will share information about your area of study. This is the only opportunity for family members to ask questions of their students' academic advisors since Day Two advising will be for students only. You should attend an overview based on your college/unit of enrollment.

Evening activitiesJoin your fellow new Buckeyes for interactive activities intended to get you connected to each other and to manage expectations about what to expect on campus this fall. Explore the Recreation and Physical Activity Center (RPAC) while playing cornhole, board games or gym recreation games.

Academic advising appointmentsThese appointments are for students only. Following your advising appointment, proceed directly to the computer lab designated on your folder label or as instructed in your Advising Overview to schedule your classes. On average, students spend approximately 45 minutes scheduling in the lab after their advising appointment.

Set your Sights on Studying AbroadEvery student at Ohio State—no matter their major—can study abroad. Drop in and discover why graduating students with a strong sense of global awareness has become a critical goal of higher education, and learn more about how students can choose a program that's right for them (mini presentations beginning at 12:15, 12:30 and 12:45).

– Barnes and Noble – The Ohio State Bookstores – Visit either bookstore to exchange your voucher for The Good Food Revolution by Will Allen. Visit our textbook department for textbook money saving tips. We offer textbooks in every format available–used, rental, new and e-books! Reserve today as used and rental copies are limited. Visit facebook.com/ OhioStateBookstore for everything you will need this fall.

Walter E. Dennis Learning CenterDid you know that 52% of college students su er a reduced quality of life because of procrastination? The Dennis Learning Center o ers courses, workshops and one-on-one appointments to develop strategies that lead to success in college. Discover why students who take advantage of the center's services attain not only high GPAs but also higher retention and graduation rates.

The sidebar of this long .pdf document also includes “family" activities. I'm trying to imagine how many OSU staff and faculty it takes to manage a two-day, wall-to-wall, morning-to-night operation like this. I have to laugh when I think of what my college did for us.


To be forewarned is to be forearmed, they say. Thus, you've been alerted here about a few things to keep in mind regarding your upcoming (or current) orientation. Don't let your Orientation Express go off the tracks!


Be sure to check out all my articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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