What to Expect When You Attend Parent Orientation
With child about to graduate from high school, you are probably wondering about many issues related to their transition to college.
Many of your questions may be broad and child-centric: are my children academically prepared for the rigors of college? Will they have an adequate support system? How hard will it be for them to develop friendships?
Yet some of your issues may be ones of self-interest, and appropriately so. The “fellow (or gal) in the mirror” should always have a place near the front of the line, especially when you are planning some to spend much of your hard-earned money on your child’s higher education. So what about you? What should you expect at parent orientation?
You're Invited! (No, Really!)
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, without the accompanying pay check. The parent was expected to: fill up station wagon, drive to appointed destination, unload station wagon, and get the heck out of town.
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 of 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 you busy schedule.
What to Expect
Think more than a just a reception to occupy you while your students get settled. That 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 children’s continued attendance, and maybe, just maybe, decide to give a little bit more of your money if and when your children eventually graduate.
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 but also 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, 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 children’s past achievements, but in your expectations for the wonderful collegiate experiences that await them.
James A. Boyle is the president of College Parents of America. Learn more at
Reprinted with the permission of College Parents of America. © 2007 CollegeParents.org
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