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What to Expect at College Orientation

January 21, 2021 · 8 minute read

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What to Expect at College Orientation

Finally, a summer full of goodbyes, shopping for dorm room essentials, and anticipation is coming to an end. College orientation is an exciting initiation into freshman year and an opportunity to learn about extracurricular activities, make friends, and get acclimated to your new surroundings.

While it may span just a few days or a week in total, college orientation is packed with information and experiences that can set you up for success over the next four years.

Planning ahead and diving into the details of the orientation schedule is just one of many ways to prepare for college. Although every school operates differently, here are some key college orientation tips and things to expect when you arrive on campus.

When Does Orientation Take Place?

Some college orientations happen in the middle of summer before classes, while others take place right before the beginning of the semester. The earlier variety are typically conducted in smaller groups and may be organized separately for specific programs or majors.

Midsummer orientations often give students the opportunity to stay in the dorms ahead of moving to campus. This can be a useful test run to get acquainted with the dorm life and mingle with fellow incoming students.

What Is an Orientation Schedule Like?

Once the college orientation schedule is available, look out for which parts are mandatory, such as taking a student ID photo and registering for classes, and any social, extracurricular, and informational activities that sound interesting or helpful.

College orientation is a time to make friends and get acquainted with college life, but knowing where the dining hall, laundry room, student transportation, and other services are located also comes in handy.

Having a game plan for the orientation schedule also presents an opportunity to invite new acquaintances to attend an event or activity together. At the same time, allowing yourself to go with the flow a bit might alleviate some of the stress.

Compared to a strictly regulated high school schedule, college students are given much more discretion in making decisions for themselves. While this newfound freedom can be liberating, it can present challenges for balancing academic responsibilities with the fun, social aspects of college.

Orientation is a chance to get acclimated before the pressure of staying on top of schoolwork arises.

Due to COVID-19, the incoming class of 2024 is facing an unprecedented situation that will require some, if not all, college orientation activities to take place online. Be sure to check your college’s website to find out more information.

What Happens at Orientation?

The full scope of college orientation will vary by institution. However, there will likely be a mix of instructional and social activities to round out each day. Some topics that are typically covered include:

•   School rules, policies, and code of conduct.
•   Meetings with an academic or department advisor.
•   Guided tour of campus.
•   Skits and role-play activities.
•   Ice breakers with a residential advisor and dorm floormates.

While some sessions may feel tedious, making a good first impression on a residential advisor, professor, and peers can be invaluable.

Learning About Extracurricular Activities and Campus Life

College orientation usually includes a range of informational and fun activities to introduce students to campus activities. Many student clubs and organizations have tables at orientation or early in the semester to meet and attract incoming students.

Depending on school size and culture, the number of offerings and niches can be vast compared to high school, including intramural sports, Greek life, theater troupes, and culture clubs.

Learning the Lay of the Land

After the guided tour, memorizing how to get to the dining hall, student center, and your classrooms will save lots of time and potential embarrassment from being late on the first day of classes. Classrooms may be organized by department in different buildings across campus.

During college orientation, students may be able to join group outings to explore their college town or sign up for guided shopping trips to pick up groceries, cleaning supplies, and other dorm essentials.

Moving Into the Dorms

At colleges that hold orientation directly before the beginning of the semester, students may be able to sign up in advance for a block of time to park and transport their belongings into their dorm room.

With many students and families arriving on the same day, the scene can be a bit of a frenzy. Keep an eye out for registration emails prior to orientation to snag a good move-in time.

Mid to late morning is a safe bet to get ahead of the crowds and summer heat. Also, packing efficiently can save time and stress on this special occasion.

Beyond studying and sleeping, dorms are a social hive for freshmen students. A helpful college orientation tip: Setting up a welcoming, furnished dorm room is a great way to prepare for movie nights and parties with newfound friends.

Downtime for Socializing

The orientation schedule tends to wind down in the afternoon and early evening, allowing students plenty of time to hang out and get to know each other. Keeping that in mind may help resist the urge to skip important orientation sessions to meet up with new roommates and friends.

What About Parents and Family?

Although it’s full of excitement and new horizons, this moment can feel bittersweet for students, parents, and other family members. To honor the occasion, many colleges incorporate group activities, lunches, and festivities for students and families to partake in together during the first day or two of orientation.

Before saying goodbyes, parents and family members may be able to join a separate orientation to prepare them for the transition. Usually, these sessions are intended to provide guidance to support students and offer insight into their child’s life at college.

Also, they are an opportunity to meet other families and learn about resources and noteworthy events, such as family weekend and homecoming.

Paying for College

College orientations may also offer sessions about navigating the financial aid system. Tuition, books, and other educational costs aren’t cheap, and everyone’s financial situation is different.

Financial aid sessions may cover aid distribution dates, when tuition is due, how to pay tuition, and how to add money to student accounts for incidentals. Parents and students may want to attend this session together to ask questions that come up during the discussion.

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to pay for higher education. In addition to saving for college ahead of time, there are several options to consider when creating a plan.


Scholarships are awarded to students by community organizations, private foundations, nonprofits, colleges, and other groups. The criteria for earning a scholarship are also diverse, though many focus on academic achievement, financial need, or program of study.

According to Sallie Mae’s “How Americans Pay for College” 2019 report, approximately 82% of college students received scholarship money during the 2018-2019 academic year.

Many scholarship applications open before college starts, though there may be additional opportunities once college begins. Researching scholarships in your hometown and college is a great place to start.

Online resources, such as collegeboard.org and chegg.com keep an updated list of scholarships as well. Applying early for scholarships may be an advantage, as some large awards may have early deadlines. For instance, some scholarships stop accepting applications during the fall for distribution the next school year.


Like scholarships, grants are financial awards given to students to pay for their education—they do not have to be repaid. The main difference is that grants are usually based on need instead of academic merit. Undergraduate students may be eligible to apply for the federal Pell Grant Program or state-wide grant opportunities .


Many college students pick up a part-time job to help pay tuition and living expenses. One way to secure work is through Federal Work-Study , a program that employs qualified college and graduate students in on- or off-campus jobs. Pay varies, but participants will earn at least minimum wage.

Work-study eligibility is based on several factors, including family income and enrollment status, and is offered as part of a student’s financial aid package.

A job is not guaranteed even if work-study is awarded. Early application is key because a school’s program funds may be limited and jobs are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

Student Loans

Whether or not you receive a scholarship, grant, or work-study, there are several student loan options you might want to consider applying for.

Federal student loans , which are either subsidized or unsubsidized, are offered as part of a student’s financial aid package. The key difference is that subsidized student loans are allocated according to financial need and include grace periods, and interest deferment in specific situations.

Unsubsidized student loans are not based on financial need, and borrowers are responsible for paying the interest beginning once the loan funds are distributed. While the interest on unsubsidized student loans can be deferred, it will accrue and be added to the balance of the loan.

Private student loans from banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions may help fill any remaining gaps in paying for college. These loans are not subsidized or need-based, and their interest rates and terms can vary.

Exhausting all federal student loan options before exploring private loans is recommended, as federal loans have repayment and consolidation options that are not available to private student loans.

SoFi’s private student loans have an online application, and students find out if they are pre-qualified in a matter of minutes. Repayment plans for no-fee loans are flexible, so borrowers can choose what works best for their budgets.

Learn more about private student loans today with SoFi.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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