Monthly Archives: July 2012

What we learned at college orientation (and why we’re glad we went)

Fridge, microwave; who needs a dining hall?

A couple of weeks back, Mod Squad Dad and I joined Pete for his college orientation. This decision wasn’t an automatic “yes” — we live near UVa and are fairly familiar with the grounds. This is a busy summer with work, children’s activities, and other obligations, so we paused before taking a day and a half to take tours, listen to administrators, and eat at a dining hall.

We’re glad we went.

There’s plenty of advice available online for both students and parents about orientation.

Melissa Woodsen wrote a guest post for Countdown to College Coach, Making the most of college orientation:

…the BostonGlobe reports that most parents found the events to be more than worthwhile. With events ranging from “Meet the Dean” to model classes and seminars on “Letting Go,” parent orientations offer an in-depth understanding of today’s college experience that can’t be had from a distance.

From GreatCollegeAdvice.com, see Signing up and Preparing for your Orientation Program, by Cara Ray:

Once you arrive at your orientation, make sure the STUDENT is taking the lead.  This is your first step into finding your place on campus. The faculty and staff on campus expect that you will be making decisions, not your parents. Carving your own way starts right now!

Cappex College Insider offers a list of what to expect and tips on how to best take advantage, in What to Expect at College Orientation:

Expect: Logistical tasks such as getting your student ID card, creating a school email (if you haven’t already), and registering for classes.

Tip: If you have the option, try to attend an orientation session earlier in the summer. Since you’ll be registering for classes before the late summer orientation students, it is more likely that you’ll get the courses you really want. Register for the number of credit hours your school recommends for freshmen. You can always drop a course if you get to school and the course load is too heavy.

From the US News blog, Twice the Advice, 6 Tips for Parents at College Orientation

2. Learn what resources are available for parents: Many parents—especially when the first child is leaving for college—have to get used to letting their child do the communicating with the school. There are often legal reasons for this, but it’s good for the growing up process as well.

That doesn’t mean parents are without a voice, however. During orientation you should learn when and how you can communicate with the school. If you don’t hear that information, ask.

Here’s what we saw and learned:

1. Parents asked questions we may not yet have considered.

Room for books, laptop, and keyboard?

  • Is using an illegal ID an honor code offense?
  • Will a bike (laptop, dorm room, etc.) be safe from theft?
  • What time should we arrive on Move-In Day?

2.  Parents asked questions we don’t really care about.

  • How many washing machines in ___ dorm?
  • How long will it take to get a triple room (assigned due to over-booking) de-tripled?

3.  Excellent administrators handled all questions professionally and thoroughly. This, in fact, was one of the most rewarding reasons for us to attend orientation:  the organization of the two-day event, the presentations and responses from administrators, the good humor and evident intelligence, the discussions of curriculum options and extra-curricular choices — all these reinforced our good feeling about Pete’s college choice.

4.  Administrators talked about what to expect and made specific requests of parents before our children go to college.

  • Talk with them about time management. Their time in high school was highly structured. College will require a huge adjustment to working within non-structured schedules. Teach them how to use unstructured time.
  • Discuss how to respond to problems. What steps have you taken? Have you talked to the RA? Have you talked to the Dean of Students?
  • High school typically requires black & white answers. College requires more thought in grey areas, critical analysis, tough thinking. Anticipate some confusion and frustration while making that developmental change.
  • Students will sign a roommate agreement form when they arrive, but many areas of possible discord can be talked through themselves, especially an agreed-upon policy on locking the door, overnight guests (and frequency), using each other’s things.
  • Have your child sign up for text alerts. They need to opt-in.
  • Make sure they thoroughly understand three terms:  effective consent, sexual misconduct, incapacitation.
  • Have them repeat, “Don’t drink what you didn’t make or open yourself.”

Orientation coupons

5.  The dining hall food was fine. Sure, Pete will tire of it at some point, but the food choices were excellent. But perhaps Pete wishes we hadn’t tried it out? The coupon reads:

A reminder: parents eat free when they visit during the 2012/13 academic year (beginning 8/24/12) at our residential dining rooms. (Two parents per student meal swipe, per visit. We regret that other family members are not eligible for this promotion.)

Just kidding, Pete. Four weeks from today, big guy.

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First Year [Freshman] Orientation

Welcome Class of 2016!

Sometime before the beginning of June Mod Squad Pete registered himself and both parents for summer orientation for first year students. At his college, the University of Virginia, one doesn’t say “Freshman Orientation” because one doesn’t ever say “freshman.”

[Expect a post on terms used and not-used at UVa.]

Pete registered for this week, traded a shift at his job, packed his bags, and was ready to go.

Actually, there was a bit more to it than that.

Instructions from UVa provided a deadline to upload a photo (with specific size, background, etc.) for his ID, requirements to familiarize himself with the Student Information System (which can be a real bear to deal with), and recommendations, such as to load up his course planner with possible selections in preparation for registration when visiting grounds. (One doesn’t say “campus” at UVa, either.)

Parents awaiting four hours of discussion panels.

Come orientation day, we showed up during the specified half-hour to find a very well-organized and cheerful team ready to process the five or six hundred students and their parents through the two days. “Students to the right; parents to the left.”

While many of us regrouped to drop off overnight gear at the dorm, the orientation team was clear:  many of the student activities were “parent-free zones.”

The student activities included:

  • Placement exams, if needed, for Russian, Latin, and German
  • Welcome and other speeches
  • Small group orientation ice-breakers
  • Scheduling workshop
  • Student life panel discussion
  • Activities at the fitness center
  • Course registration

Parent activities included:

Pete’s new address: top floor, corner room.

  • Welcome speech by the Orientation Director
  • ‘Parents as Partners’ discussion by the Dean of Students
  • Student Norms discussion (aka “Is Everybody Drinking?”) by the Student Health Center representative
  • Move in Day and beyond panel by Housing & Student Life representatives

Additional tours, open houses, resource fairs, and information sessions were available to all. We looked at a room similar to the type in Pete’s dorm.

Indeed, in an experience reminiscent of multiple dorm room visits on college tours,  we waited outside the room while multiple parents chatted away inside, squeezed in to take a look, stepped outside again after a parent elbowed us aside so she could measure the inside of the armoire, and then stepped back in just so we could see the darn room.

End result: we’re oriented. Pete is sort of registered — out of six courses in his planner, he is registered for two, awaiting professor approval for two, and wait-listed for two. Not bad.

M.S. Dad and Pete check out the view.

For the parents, and I’ll speak for both of us until M.S. Dad decides to guest-post:  every day of this post-high school summer brings us one step closer to the very exciting next step of Pete’s life [College! Wow! Moving Out!] and one step closer to the dreary next step of our life [Where did Pete go?].

Orientation reinforced that for all of us. We are so very excited for him and, oh man, we will miss him so.

Typical for this blog, I’ve got a few links on preparing for orientation. I’ll save those for another day.

If you’re a student — enjoy every moment of moving on, even the scary bits. If you’re a parent — well, we’ll learn how to deal with this just as we’ve learned how to deal with all the other bits of parenting (even the scary bits), right?

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How long should college take? Doonesbury weighs in.

In case you missed it a week ago, Garry Trudeau takes his turn at quoting Mr. Jefferson, and asks the question never heard in these parts: “Who’s Thomas Jefferson?”

How many years do you think a degree should take? See the full strip here.

Of course, Doonesbury could be reflecting changes to student financial aid programs which became effective July 1st. See the Project on Student Debt website for their Consumer Guide to Changes in Federal Pell Grants and Student Loans for 2012-13.

Change to Pell Grant Eligibility

Pell Grants are need-based federal grants available to both full-time and part-time undergraduate students. They do not need to be repaid. For the 2012-13 award year, the maximum Pell Grant remains at $5,550.

  • The maximum number of equivalent full-time semesters a student is eligible to receive a Pell Grant will drop from 18 to 12 semesters for all students, including those close to completion.

Meanwhile, some colleges don’t want students to finish too quickly. Here’s a UPI wirefeed titled, University sues over early graduation:

ESSEN, Germany, July 3 (UPI) — A German university is suing a student for lost income because he finished his bachelors and masters degrees in only 20 months.
The School of Economics and Management in Essen is asking the court to make former student Marcel Pohl, 22, pay an extra $3,772 after he obtained his degrees in only three semesters instead of the usual 11, The Local.de reported Tuesday.
“When I got the lawsuit, I thought it couldn’t be true,” Pohl told the Bild newspaper. “Performance is supposed to be worth something.”
Pohl said school officials agreed in advance he and two friends could take their 60 required exams despite divvying up the lecture hours between them and sharing notes afterward.
“We didn’t get any freebies, and we agreed [to] our plans in advance with the school,” Pohl said.
A university spokesman said officials do not want to comment before the case reaches court.

Hmm, sounds like he used his coursework well.

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Power restored at Mr. Jefferson’s University… and elsewhere.

June 27th Charlottesville Daily Progress.

I’m ready to get back to our college journey, but first I’d like to tie up a few local loose ends…

1.  On Tuesday, June 26th, to high praise from the University of Virginia community, the Board of Visitors reversed their ill-thought acceptance of President Sullivan’s resignation and reinstated her. This came after more than two weeks of rallies, hundreds of FOIA’ed emails, and thousands of tweets, column inches, chatter, and online comments.

2.  On Friday, June 29th, the Governor of Virginia reappointed Helen Dragas to the UVa Board of Visitors. It was Ms. Dragas, in her role as Rector of the BoV,  who — through borderline-legal manipulations and extremely poor management — launched the UVa community into this upheaval.

3.  Mere hours later, Mother Nature unleashed a derecho (straight-line storm with very high winds) and Virginia experienced its worst non-hurricane damage, leaving more than a million households without power, most for multiple days, and some are still without nine days later.

Coincidence? Surely.

In case you’ve not read enough about the UVa story, here’s one more article worth paying attention to…

Jeff Selingo, an Editorial Director for the Chronicle of Higher Education, wrote Fixing College for the New York Times op-ed page. He outlines the source of the anxiety UVa and most colleges face today:

Students were not the only ones to go deeper into debt. So did schools, building lavish residence halls, recreational facilities and other amenities that contributed little to actual learning. The debt taken on by colleges has risen 88 percent since 2001, to $307 billion.

This heady period of growth occurred precisely when colleges had the financial flexibility to prepare for what was to come: fewer government dollars, a wave of financially needy students, a drop-off in the number of well-prepared high-school graduates who could afford to pay, and, of course, technological advances in teaching and learning. Instead, colleges continued to focus on their unsustainable model, assuming little would change.

Other information industries, from journalism to music to book publishing, enjoyed similar periods of success right before epic change enveloped them, seemingly overnight. We now know how those industries have been transformed by technology, resulting in the decline of the middleman — newspapers, record stores, bookstores and publishers.

Some of Mr. Selingo’s solutions will sound very familiar:  better use of technology and more online courses were at the heart of the Dragas-led complaints about President Sullivan. Other solutions take higher-ed to task for their own mismanagement:  shift the focus to academics from administration and reduce the number of wasted credits. If you’re at all interested in the challenges colleges face today, it’s a good start.

Finally, I’ll end this with a quote from President Sullivan, when she spoke to a crowd of supporters after the vote to restore her to office. This, from the Charlottesville Daily Progress: Historic day at UVa: Sullivan reinstated after two weeks of turmoil.

She also expressed relief.

“As we know, Mr. Jefferson provides a perspective for every occasion,” Sullivan said, drawing a laugh from the crowd. “And I’m reminded of his letter to James Warren after the election of 1800, in which he says, ‘It is pleasant for those who have just escaped threatened shipwreck to hail one another when landed in unexpected safety.'”

The crowd cheered.

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