The Inside Scoop on First-Year Orientation

Your car is full, your bags are packed, and there might be a few tears in your's time to leave home and begin your first year of college! As our rising first-year College Scholars prepare to head off to college, we're offering a two-part interview series on what to expect at Orientation. Come back on Thursday to hear from the student perspective on orientation from Raeven Jones-Kelley, a rising sophomore at Haverford College.

Erin Ciarimboli has eight years of experience working in Student Affairs and Orientation at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. She planned new and transfer student Orientation as well as Pre-Orientation programs for incoming students. She is currently preparing to begin her PhD in Higher Education at the University of Georgia. Thank you, Erin, for sharing your experience with us!

Can you tell us a little about the process of planning orientation? How do you choose different types of activities and why?

In terms of activities that we choose, all relate to our program mission of acclimating students to academic, community, and social life at Kenyon and preparing them for their four years ahead.  We are very purposeful in each of the activities we choose for the program, ensuring that they relate to our goals.  We know that it's a jam-packed schedule already, so we try not to add events to the program unless they're absolutely necessary.

Planning Orientation is a year-round process, as it impacts the entire college community.  At Kenyon, we start planning for next year as soon as Orientation has completed!  We do lots of assessment, collecting feedback from students, parents, and staff.  We have a campus-wide Orientation committee that meets beginning in January to prioritize projects for the upcoming year and plan the Orientation program for the fall.  We start communicating with incoming students in March and then dive into the schedule planning process.  We spend all summer organizing the details of the Orientation schedule, as Kenyon's Orientation is an intense 5-day comprehensive program in the fall (immediately before the start of classes). 

What types of events and activities can students expect?

Every school is different. Many larger schools have a two-part Orientation process where class registration takes place at a one- or two-day Orientation over the summer, then students attend a "Welcome Week"-type program right before the start of classes that speaks more to the college transition and involvement process. 

At Kenyon, most of our students come from out-of-state, so it's difficult to imagine bringing them onto campus in the summer and then having them return again in the fall.  Our first priority for our fall-only process (besides moving in to the residence halls and saying goodbye to parents!) is academic preparation.  We have placement tests for languages, math, and other subjects, as well as an academic fair to introduce students to all of the possibilities for coursework.  Faculty are VERY involved in the course registration process, so students will meet with an Upperclass Counselor (or Orientation Leader) and/or faculty advisor numerous times before registering for classes.

Aside from academics, we also want to equip students with the tools that they need to be a successful community member and to forge successful relationships and friendships with their peers.  We hold a range of events, from community forums to events learning the songs of the college to socials and athletic events, all of which aim to help students in their transition process.

What is the biggest change students and families should anticipate in the Orientation/pre-college process?

As you enroll at a college and begin to receive information about the upcoming year, most communications will come to you--not your parents!  This may be the first time you've had to take responsibility for planning your schedule or responding to a mail or e-mail request without your parents' help.  As a college student, we see you as an adult and will treat you as such.  We won't be emailing your parents if you forget to fill out a form--the responsibility is on you.  Make sure you stay on top of things and meet deadlines and you'll be fine.
Are there any must-have items or documents that most schools require?

Every school is different, but most will (likely) require students to fill out health forms, participate in an alcohol education module or program, and fill out a series of forms specific to the college.  At Kenyon, most of these are online.

In terms of items to bring, always check with your college first!  They'll likely send out a list of items to bring and those NOT to bring if you're living on campus and you'll also want to check with your roommate to make sure you don't end up with two microwaves and three fridges in your room!

What is the most challenging part of first-year orientation? The most fun or rewarding?

For me, the most challenging part was keeping up with all of the details of planning such a comprehensive program.  Orientation affects the transition process of so many students, so I want it to be successful and well-rounded.  The most rewarding aspect is definitely getting to work with awesome student leaders throughout the process, whether Orientation leaders, peer advisors, or Pre-Orientation leaders. It's great to see upperclass students become involved in the Orientation process because they want to give back to their community.

What is the most important thing students should know before attending orientation?

Everyone has their moments of insecurity and fear during the college transition process.  You aren't alone.  You don't have to know exactly what you want to major in and you don't have to have your next four years mapped out.  Explore, take risks, and meet new people.  Even the (seemingly) most confident student has their moments of pause. 

If you could give rising first-year college students one piece of advice before they get started, what would it be?

Dive into everything!  Don't be afraid to try new things and go to as many programs as possible.  You'll likely be tired from all that's happening over your first year and be tempted to skip optional events during Orientation, but resist the urge.  You never know when you'll meet your future best friend or discover an amazing organization that you'll be involved with for years to come.

Parents and Students: Now it's your turn!
What questions do you have as you prepare for Orientation?


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