What Do You Do at College Orientation

5 Ways to be the Cool Parent at College Orientation

Once a year, moms and dads invade college campuses across America. That's because it's become quite common for parents of future freshmen to be invited to join in on some pre-semester festivities to get a feel for the campus that their teens will soon call home. Welcome to college orientation!

While you might have thought orientation was just for students, think again. Colleges know that the high school-to-college transition can be just as exciting and scary for parents as it is for their students. That's why many orientation programs are designed to simultaneously ease parental worries while welcoming their new incoming classes.

To ensure an A+ college orientation experience for the whole family and learn to accept your child's newfound independence, take along these expert tips:

1. Go your separate ways.

"Be prepared to attend sessions without [your] child," says Leah Schuh, assistant director of the Center for Student Involvement at Otterbein University, Westerville, Ohio. She points out that most colleges have parents part ways from their teens for most of the orientation program, so go with it. "Let your child meet and mingle with new people. Remember, you won't be in all of their classes with them, so it is helpful for them to do things on their own," says Schuh.

2. Tame the paperwork monster.

"Be prepared to attend sessions without [your] child," says Leah Schuh, assistant director of the Center for Student Involvement at Otterbein University, Westerville, Ohio. She points out that most colleges have parents part ways from their teens for most of the orientation program, so go with it. "Let your child meet and mingle with new people. Remember, you won't be in all of their classes with them, so it is helpful for them to do things on their own," says Schuh.

3. Ask smart (not embarrassing) questions.

Schools have pretty extensive websites these days, which take quick site searches effective in answering simple questions. However, orientation is the perfect opportunity to focus on issues that are important to you, and how the institution handles potential "worst case scenarios." For example, you might inquire about the school's emergency notification system; what types of health services are available on campus; how tight campus security is; or where your student can go for academic or other types of support. Chances are if you are wondering about these topics, so are other moms and dads in attendance, so don't be shy -- ask away.

4. Find out whom you can call.

Often the hardest part of leaving your child behind is the fear that he or she won't know how to handle an emergency or work through challenges without you. "Understand the university policies regarding your rights and accessibility to your student's grades, academic status, and health status," says Stephanie P. Kennedy, founder of My College Planning Team, a Chicago-based company that helps families with college choices. Keep in mind that most colleges require the student to sign documentation granting parents access to such information, she adds. Your goal should be to leave orientation with a list of campus resources and people to whom you can reach out... just in case.

5. Sign up to stay connected to the campus.

"Our overall message to parents during orientation is that we would like to be their partner, but we need them to let their student take the lead," says Shawna M. Lusk, director of the Center for Orientation & Transition at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). One way RIT helps ease parental minds is by inviting them into a Facebook community for families of incoming students, which is moderated by parents of returning students. "Over and over we hear that this resource allows parents to gather information without being overbearing to their students." Other institutions have special move-in day events, family visit weekends, and ongoing social media and newsletters geared toward helping parents stay informed. Opt in for these opportunities so you can stay informed without being perceived as nosy by your teen.

If nothing else, orientation should be a key moment in which you begin the difficult process of letting go. "It can be bittersweet to watch your child become a fully-realized, self-sufficient human being, but that is what you are sending your child off to become," says Ben Newhouse, dean of students at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama. "Take pride when that becomes a reality."