What to Expect at Your College Orientation

campus life
advice for students
Let us help you find your best fit university!Find your school
By Deshan Mendis
Last updated on June 4, 2024

Prepare for classes, learn more about student life on campus, and get familiar with university practices and policies, all while getting acquainted with your new environment and connecting with fellow students and university advisors.

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

What does orientation in college mean? This type of program is offered to freshmen and transfer students to make you feel more comfortable at your university. You will 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.

When is orientation for college? Typically, it’s scheduled before the start of a new academic year. The duration 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, you may be with students in your same degree program, or a much broader group, encompassing 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?

These introductory programs are an overview of life as a university student, getting you familiar with your university and campus. Campus 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.

Why Should You Attend?

  • 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

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

What Is Covered? 

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.

Activities are structured so you will ease into your new life as a US university student. Here are a few common focus areas.

Academic Program Details

You will likely have the 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 program that 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. Counselors may go over 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. Counselors and current students may go over 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 scheduled. 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.

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 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

Many facets of US university life will be covered: 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.

Remember that Shorelight advisors are always here to help, whenever you need assistance. While activities are structured to help you learn everything you need to begin your university life, you can also prepare 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, 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 you arrive on campus. If you need assistance, reach out to university staff for specifics.  

Activities can take a full day (or longer) and cover a lot of information, so it can be helpful to prepare 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. 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. 

Ensure You Have All Required Documents

Your college may have provided a checklist of documents to complete and bring with you, 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! Savor every moment: enjoy the activities, make friends with your fellow students, and embrace your new adventure.

Tips for a Successful Orientation

Take Notes

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

Ask Questions

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 activities are 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.

How Will Orientation Help You?

By the end of your program, 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, activities are 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

If you still have questions, remember that 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. You can confidently set off on your new path as a US university student!

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