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College orientation is exciting! You get to familiarize yourself with campus and your freshman class, and learn about college before you get thrown into the mix. You get to move into your dorm room and explore your newfound independence. However, there are a lot of questions that come up with college orientation. What will you be doing? Will you get all the information you need? Can you ask social questions? 

We talked to former orientation leader Devin Valdez, from California Polytechnic State University, San Louis Obispo, to get inside access into the orientation process so you know what to expect–and what to look forward to.

The purpose of freshman orientation

“With Week of Welcome, we get groups of 15 to 20 students and we become like our own little families. We have themes, for example we were group 110B2, I’m better than you, and our mascot was Beyonce. It was just a good time,” said Valdez. 

Valdez explained that the idea behind making the process fun is to get students involved and excited about their new college life. A major part of many freshmen orientations does include setting each student’s class schedule up and registering for classes, although this is not part of the orientation at CalPoly as freshmen students declare a major before arriving at orientation and are automatically signed up for their classes. 

“Since the students are already signed up for their classes, orientation is more about feeling comfortable with campus and also the general area. So, there would be some informative aspects like, ‘this is where you’re living,’ ‘this is what you can expect from your academic program,’ but then there was also some other fun activities,” said Valdez. “Me and my co-leader would take our students to a cute little town 15 minutes away, or show them the state park and go hiking, or take them kayaking in Morro Bay, just generally trying to make people feel a lot more comfortable with not only college, but the surrounding areas too.”

While each college determines their own university schedule, most have a lot to cover. Valdez shared that him and his co-leader planned every minute of every day of orientation week.

“It was very rigorous but a lot of fun to get to know people, because it wasn’t only to get comfortable with your program, but to have an immediate social circle. A lot of the students that were in my Week of Welcome group are still friends and roommates to this day. Being able to make them feel so comfortable is something I’m really proud of,” said Valdez.

The orientation schedule

The orientation schedule varies from school to school, but most have the same elements. You get an orientation of different elements of campus and college life: your academics, your living situation, clubs and sports, etc. Valdez explained a typical day of CalPoly’s Week of Welcome. 

“Typically it would be something in the morning that was more of the academic side. At CalPoly, they have their majors set when they come in, so they would go to their respective majors which would have their own orientation. After a sort of academic breakdown, it was up to me and my co-leader to have activities planned for the rest of the day,” said Valdez.

He explained that this would usually start with something fun, such as showing them places around San Louis Obispo or going to the local farmer’s market. Then at the end of the day, they would sit down and have a free space for asking questions or seeking out advice from Valdez and his co-leader. Valdez said he would often teach a casual yoga class during this time and students could ask questions and talk through answers as they came up.

Growing at orientation

Many students are nervous about the unknown aspects of college. Valdez shared that as an incoming college freshman, he was most concerned about general confusion and awkwardness, which probably resonates with you as a student.

“I was worried about not knowing where to go, who to talk to, or what to do outside of class because class makes sense, but essentially when you first go into college you’re still a highschooler. So a lot of the growing happens with the help of orientation, it shapes a lot of your experience. So I was most nervous about was just the social aspects of college and that is exactly how I tailored my orientation group to be, to help them learn how to navigate through college life, because that was my biggest fear,” said Valdez.

Another point Valdez brought up to calm an incoming freshman’s nerves is that orientation is likely something you’ve done before, and the process will be similar, but likely more fun.

“A lot of orientation is going to be similar to other orientations that you’ve had either through middle school, high school, jobs, whatever, similar aspects are still going to be there, but the purpose of orientation is to help you find yourself in college, to help you navigate for yourself because no one’s going to keep you accountable, it’s all on you,” said Valdez.

While this is true about college, that you are now on your own, orientation helps make the process less scary and sets you up for success in college.

“Orientation is there to give you all the tools you need so that you can live your best life, you can be who you’re hoping to be in college,” said Valdez.

See also: Pre-College Medical Checklist