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Information Overload: Rethinking College Orientation

It’s summer orientation time! Besides giving me a lifelong fondness for icebreakers and cheesy reflection activities, orientation was a truly transformative time for me in college. Not as an incoming first-year, but as an orientation leader.
I made some phenomenal friends, problem solved under pressure, and pushed myself out of my comfort zone. OLs are required to be peppy and social; have I mentioned that I’m an introvert? It was challenging and so much fun, and quite different from my first experiences with orientation.
As an incoming student, I was simultaneously over- and underwhelmed with the summer and fall orientations I attended. I was so nervous about trying to create a persona for myself that would make my life better than it was in high school. I desperately wanted to be accepted and liked, and it felt like I was forcing a fresh start. And of course, the cool kids could sense that I was a nerd immediately, and there weren’t many other nerds in my group to align myself with (don’t worry, I found them once we were all brave enough to just be ourselves).
Of the actual sessions, I remember nothing from either time as a student or either year as an OL. When I was entering college, I wasn’t concerned with all of the information I was inundated with because I figured I had time and resources (mostly my mom, to a lesser extent the internet) to take care of what I needed to before I moved into my dorm. No, my biggest concern was trying not to sweat through my shirt.
So I wonder, is orientation the best time to disseminate such important information? Colleges can reinforce messages or provide reminders, but the experiential part of orientation is what matters for students. It’s too much information—crucial, essential—to process in such a short time, and honestly, who’s paying enough attention to remember it all besides parents?
I’m not sure when the best time to share important information with students is, or even what the best strategy is; when I was an adviser, I met with my college-going students a few times over the summer to review important paperwork about health insurance, loan agreements, course registrations and bill payment. For some students, they also needed reminder emails, text messages, and social media messages to help them stay on top of deadlines. And even then, there were always a few frantic phone calls after deadlines passed from one or two students.
So, after being an incoming student, an OL, and a college adviser, here’s what I do know: most students need support beyond their orientation experience to get ready for college. Parent orientations, partnerships with community organizations, intensive advising programs, whatever the solution, it should be coupled with orientation programs. It’s in the best interest of students and colleges to let orientation be what it is—an introduction to the college and other students. All information should really be driven home once students aren’t worried about whether anyone saw them dribble their soft serve down their front.