What to Expect at Your College Orientation

campus life
advice for students
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By Deshan Mendis
Last updated on September 15, 2023

Orientation programs help students get ready for classes, learn more about student life on campus, and get familiar with university practices and policies. It is an opportunity for international students to get acquainted with their new environment, while also connecting with fellow students and university advisors.

Three international students, two female students, and one male interacting with each other at orientation.

As an international student, starting your university experience in another country or even online is an exciting opportunity. You might not be sure where to begin on your new journey, but there are many other students who feel this way, too! This is where an orientation program can help you get your bearings and give you a better sense of what your new day-to-day life will be like at your college in the US.

What does orientation in college mean? An orientation program is offered to freshmen and transfer students to make you feel more comfortable at your university. During orientation, you learn about your university’s academics, extracurricular and recreational activities, living facilities, school practices and policies, and more. You’ll also meet fellow new students and get to know your advisors.

You may ask yourself: “when is orientation for college?” Typically, orientation is scheduled before the start of a new academic year. The duration of an orientation varies by university and may range from a few days to a week. The agenda may include information sessions, group activities, events, and guided tours around campus. Additionally, your college orientation may be with students in your same degree program, or much broader, including all newly admitted students. University student advisors cover a wide scope of topics so students feel comfortable and empowered to make the most of their study in the USA experience.

Why Is College Orientation Important?

As an introduction to your life as a university student, your orientation helps you become familiar with your university and campus. Orientation staff will also introduce you to helpful faculty and advisors, point you to appropriate resources for questions and troubleshooting, show you around campus, and much more.

Attend your US university orientation to:

  • Get an easy transition into campus life 

  • Meet fellow students

  • Learn about campus resources and services 

  • Get an overview of clubs and extracurricular activities

  • Get support to complete necessary paperwork

  • Take guided placement tests

  • Learn the latest COVID-19 protocols

Once you arrive, you and your fellow students will have a full schedule of activities. Get ready to participate! 

What Is Covered at Orientation? 

Orientation agendas differ at each university, but all are designed to provide an overview of the basics that students need to know. Some universities have meet-and-greets with faculty, aptitude tests to cover before classes start, and tours of recreational facilities such as basketball courts, swimming pools, or intramural fields that may add to your overall university experience.

Orientations are structured so you will ease into your new life as a US university student. Here are a few areas that orientations will cover.

Academic Program Details

During orientation day, you may have a chance to meet your professors, staff, and other student administrators. Informative sessions may provide direction on study resources, compulsory classes, which majors and minors to consider, lecture timelines, and English-language course details designed specifically for international students.

This is similar to what may be covered in an online orientation as well. American Collegiate Live — a digital classroom experience that allows students to begin their university experience in any location and complete it on campus in the United States — offers a well-rounded orientation program. The all-virtual orientation introduces you to fellow students in your cohort, goes over how the interactive classroom technology works, and reviews required class materials.

Setting up Required Documentation

Your university experience will require a student ID, health insurance, and more. Orientation programs may cover how to complete necessary documentation and submit photos in order to receive your university ID and enroll in any required outstanding programs.

Extracurricular Activities

As an international student, participating in events outside of academics is a key part of the US university experience. It also helps in expanding your social skills, teaches you firsthand about cultural diversity, and gives you a chance to make new friends who share your interests. Orientations may cover different types of clubs and organizations that you can join; these may be cultural clubs, volunteer groups, or arts associations. There could also be sports clubs — such as swimming, basketball, volleyball, or rugby — looking for new members.

Icebreaker Activities

Social activities like parties, sports competitions, and games, known as icebreakers, may also be a part of your orientation. Some colleges may group you with students in your same degree program or will use a random selection of students. In any scenario, the goal is to work together, get to know your peers, and have some fun. This part of your orientation helps you socialize with your fellow students and gives you a chance to form friendships!

For online icebreakers, American Collegiate Live held online quizzes with students and university staff and shared each group’s hobbies and interests to make students feel welcome and excited about their university journey.

Guided Tours

A tour around campus is also a common activity during orientations. During a tour, you’ll get a sense of how long it takes to get to class from your dorm, where the nearest supermarket and pharmacies are, and where you can exchange or withdraw money. You can even find the closest recreation and wellness centers in the area, including university health and wellness facilities.

Support Services

Orientation covers many facets of US university life: Student advisors may brief you on the university general code of conduct and other regulations and policies, too. You may also be offered support to set up a bank account, get a mobile phone connection if needed, and purchase new supplies for your dorm.

In addition to your orientation, remember that Shorelight advisors are always here to help, whenever you need assistance. While orientations are structured to help you learn everything you need to begin your university life, you can also prepare for your orientation ahead of time.

How Do You Prepare for Orientation?

Some universities may share catalogs and paperwork via mail, email, or an online student portal. Take some time to read through any documentation you receive, as these may include a schedule of your orientation, what you need to bring, and other key details. If you have not received anything to refer to, reach out to your advisor for the latest guidance and resources. 

Additionally, it’s a good idea to find out whether you need to take your placement tests before or after orientation. If you need assistance, reach out to orientation personnel for specifics.  

Orientations can take a full day and can involve a lot of information, so it can be helpful to prepare for it in advance to make your learning experience easier. 

Get a Good Night’s Rest

Being well-rested is important so you can be alert and focused for your orientation. There will be a lot of back-to-back activities, tours, and other instructional sessions that you need to pay attention to and remember, so getting a good night’s rest helps you feel refreshed and ready to tackle orientation day. 

Ensure You Have All Required Documents

Your college may have provided a checklist of documents to complete and bring to orientation, such as immunization records, registration for placement tests, roommate surveys, visa documents, and more. Make sure that you have all required documents prepared and ready so you can avoid any last-minute registration delays once you arrive.  


Last but not least – have fun! While orientation is an opportunity to learn about your new home for the next few years, it is also important to have a good time. Savor every moment: enjoy the activities, make friends with your fellow students, and embrace your new adventure.

Once you’re rested, prepared, and relaxed, you are ready to take on orientation day in stride. Here are some additional tips to make the most of your college orientation.

Tips for a Successful Orientation

From meeting new faces, taking in the campus grounds, familiarizing yourself with important locations, and learning all about your new journey in the US, orientation may seem like a whirlwind of activities. Here are some tips for a successful orientation day:

Take Notes at Orientation

There can be a lot of information to absorb. Writing it down can help you refer to key details in the future. 

Ask Questions

Orientation is about getting to know what day-to-day life is like at your new university. No question is too big or small: If you want to know something that may help you through your university experience, do not hesitate to ask.

Learn Your Way Around

If you have your class schedule, find out where your classes are and how long it will take to walk from class to class. This can make your first day less stressful as you will know your way around already. If your orientation is online, make sure you attend a virtual tour of the campus.

Be Friendly and Flexible

You will likely meet students from various backgrounds, countries, and cultures. Keep an open mind, be friendly and polite. (You may even pick up some American slang along the way!)

Dress Comfortably

There may be several activities planned for the day. It’s smart to wear comfortable clothes and shoes.

Orientation programs are designed to support you, so you can settle into your new environment and thrive in your new home. Activities are specifically designed to assist new students like you. Let us take a look at some of the benefits orientations can provide you.

How Will Orientation Help You?

Orientation programs aim to provide an overall introduction to your university experience. Whether it is virtual or in person, orientations help students become comfortable with the campus, learn about college policies and expectations, and start connecting with key people. 

By the end of orientation, you will have:

  • A sound knowledge of your campus and living arrangements

  • Academic resources and detailed course information and expectations

  • Awareness of extracurricular activities and how to get involved

  • Introductions with lecturers and students in your degree program

  • An understanding of whom to approach if you have further questions

Finally, orientation is not just for students! Parents and families have similar opportunities to get to know the campus and the advisors working with their students. They may learn about:

  • University policies and protocols 

  • Communication channels for parents and families

  • Billing and payment processes 

  • How to access university updates

  • Contact details for key personnel

Orientation is an ideal setting for you to learn how to adapt to a new learning environment. Universities create a program that will cover all the necessary information to make the transition from your home country to the US relaxed and comfortable. Remember, Shorelight advisors are always available if you need any campus transition help.

Now you know the answer to what is orientation in college, what to expect, and how to prepare for it. After completing your orientation, you can confidently set off on your new path as a US university student!

Orientations with Shorelight campus teams make you feel at home at your new US university >