Q: My son, Brent, got into his first-choice college and wants to attend the orientation program in late June. It conflicts with a family wedding. How important are these orientations?
A: It depends. At some colleges, orientation offers an extensive campus tour, visits with academic advisers and professors, and an introduction to the institution's culture and expectations. Some colleges offer advice to help helicopter parents detach.
At others, orientation is the time when freshmen meet their roommates, select their side of the dorm room and choose their classes. Missing class selection could cause Brent to lose his top course picks.
"Many colleges follow the airline model, offering only a limited number of spaces, especially in large required first-year courses that, when filled, are closed," says Jeremy Hyman, co-author with Lynn Jacobs of "The Secrets of College Success (Second Edition)" (Wiley, 2013). If you skip the June orientation, see if there's another one later in the summer or see if Brent can sign up online the minute enrollment opens.
Before selecting classes, dig into the college's website. "You've seen the campus videos. Now get familiar with the academic side of things," says Jacobs. "Search for college requirements, lists of majors and minors, and individual departments' home pages, where you'll probably find syllabuses for the courses offered. Look for courses scheduled (what's offered in the fall semester), which are different from the course catalogue (every course ever offered)."
How else can Brent get off to a good start at college? Hyman and Jacobs offer incoming freshmen these tips:
-- Get your hardware. "Tablets are fine for reading, but when it comes to the work of college, they often come up short," says Hyman. "They don't allow for easy use of basic programs such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel and so on.
"Get something less than 4 pounds with a 6-hour battery life, a webcam, good speakers and a 92 percent (size) or a full-size keyboard."
-- Install basic software, but hold off on task-specific software. "Every student uses word processing," says Jacobs, "but don't buy the high-priced graphics program for Design 101 until the instructor tells you what you need."
-- Master the academic calendar. Note holidays, breaks and testing periods. Share this with family and friends, so your cousin doesn't schedule a family reunion during finals.
-- Reach out to your roommate; get to know each other. Who will bring the microwave? The small refrigerator? Communication will make it easier to decide "room rules" (such as when the lights go out, what the 'do not enter' signal is, and so on) once you're moved in.
-- Get what's coming to you. If you've taken Advanced Placement (AP) courses or an International Baccalaureate (IB), apply to have them credited to the degree you're working on, says Jacobs: "If your college accepts College Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits, consider taking one of the 33 CLEP exams if you're strong in one of the fields."
-- Do the summer reading. Many schools assign reading for a freshman seminar, the so-called "Common Read" or "Common Book." Arrive having completed your first assignment because you wouldn't want to start a step behind.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)