Freshmen orientation is for parents, too.

You’ll likely be visiting your student’s college for orientation this spring or summer. Most schools charge a fee for this one- or two-day event. Here’s what you need to know.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAParent orientation Colleges design the program for students and parents, meaning you’ll also find yourself sitting in a classroom or auditorium, sometimes with your teen, but often without. Anticipate hearing about how to help your freshman transition to college, campus safety, navigating the various parts of the college’s website including the tuition payment page, what to expect on move-in day and even advice on parenting a college student.

Use this as an opportunity to ask any lingering questions, especially the ones your child might find embarrassing, because they won’t be sitting next to you this time.

Student orientation Soon after you arrive and check-in, your teen will meet up with a student orientation leader and be whisked off to start numerous activities, including placement tests, discussions on campus life, ice breaker social activities, another tour of campus and most important, creating a class schedule (probably without you).

Pre-orientation checklist Before you arrive, make sure your student:

  • Arranges for AP and IB scores to be sent to the college. When the College Board sends results of tests from this past May, they will include all previous scores.
  • Orders transcripts for any transfer college credits as soon as they’re available.
  • Takes required online placement tests.
  • Reviews any other orientation requirements for their particular major.

By doing all this beforehand, your teen will experience fewer problems creating their class schedule.

Orientation signTake notice while on campus Now that you know this is the college your student will attend in the fall, you should look around more closely.

  • Scout out the ATMs on- and off-campus to find a bank with a location in your hometown area, too—this will save on withdrawal fees.
  • Check around for which discount department and big box stores are nearby—great places to stock up on missing items on move-in day as well as restock during Parents Weekend and other visits.
  • If you plan to purchase a new computer for your teen, seriously consider buying it through the college which likely offers a discount on the machine and software, plus free or low-cost on-campus repairs. (Research the computer in advance to make sure you’re getting the best deal.)
  • If you stay in a hotel at orientation, decide how much you like it and consider making a reservation for Parents Weekend now to avoid being shut out later.
  • Explore restaurants because your freshman will want to eat anywhere but on-campus when you visit.

kayakingOrientation alternatives What I’ve outlined above is the typical orientation program offered by most colleges. Another option, usually given by smaller, liberal arts schools, involves a weeklong Outward Bound-type event just before classes start. Students choose from a list of activities, then spend several days with other incoming freshmen sharing the experience, Mom and Dad not invited.

Post-orientation Lots of kids leave orientation declaring their love for their new school and anxious to begin college. Others don’t. My daughter, so excited before orientation,  questioned her choice at the end. It turned out to be a normal case of nerves and she was happy with her college decision, ultimately.

Use this experience as a chance to start a conversation or two about college life, to address your teen’s concerns and answer whatever questions they have. You can also ask a few of your own. Keep those lines of communication open now so they stay that way later.

Share your advice and questions about college orientation in the comments section below.