Is attending orientation with your college freshman helicoptering or helping?

This was my dorm accommodation last week when I went to UGA orientation with my daughter. I was four floors below her with many other parents and even grandparents.

I just spent two days with my daughter at a University of Georgia freshmen orientation and shared the travails of elevated dorm beds on Facebook. I expected ribbing about my ungainly attempts to hoist myself up and over the guard rail, but instead met with a spirited debate about whether parents even should accompany teens to college orientation in the first place.

Some people were unaware that most colleges now invite parents to orientation and create extensive programming for them. Others felt parents at orientation undermined the independence that college was supposed to develop in students. (I was four floors away from my daughter in her dorm. She roomed with a student from New Jersey who came sans parents but with precise instructions on where to go and when. In fact, we relied on all her mother’s reconnaissance to get places.)

My own parents were minimalists who only showed up for school graduations or command performances. I adhered to that model until I heard one too many times from my oldest daughter, “I was the only one there without a parent.”

This was my first college orientation — I didn’t go with my older two children. Now, I am adding that omission to my long reel of parental blunders.

There is a lot to navigate and figure out, especially at a big public university with nearly 36,000 undergrads and graduate students. (UGA is experiencing such a surge in enrollment that it’s offering Athens-area freshmen $1,000 to give up their dorm beds and stay at home and $3,500 to upperclassmen to cancel their university housing contracts and go off-campus.)

It is helpful to have another point of view and someone on hand with ready cash, as there were ID cards and placement tests that can’t be billed to student accounts.

UGA earns accolades for its carefully curated two-day orientation sessions attended each time by around 300 students and their entourages, including grandparents, younger siblings and older brothers. At the dozens of panels and presentations, they learn how to call the Dawgs, they watch spoken word performances about diversity and tolerance and listen to somber speakers remind the teens they are not in Kansas anymore: “We don’t have detention. We have jail.”

The newbies hear from an unfailingly cheerful array of current upperclassmen, all of whom fall into that category of extrovert who, if washed up on a desert island, would somehow create a beach volleyball league. (A suggestion to UGA: Consider a panel of kids who struggled in their first year to find their place on a sprawling campus. It would be helpful to hear how they overcame their struggles, doubts and apprehensions.)

Can most incoming freshmen handle orientation on their own? Yes, if everything goes right. (Of course, there are risks to leaving the entire process to your child. One teen showed up on his own bright and early for orientation Monday only to realize it began Tuesday.)

What you have to accept is that UGA is like any vast bureaucracy: You can get lost, and sending up a flare doesn’t necessarily bring immediate aid.

For example, appointments for advisement sessions are texted to kids midway through the final day of orientation and awaited by them and their parents with great angst. Students are told in these one-on-one sessions which courses to take. My child’s slot ended up being the last one of the day and on the other side of campus, which meant she’d miss the dorm checkout deadline. As a punctuality fanatic, I reflexively panicked and called to inquire about an extension; three transfers later, I finally got clearance. (A friend who disdains deadlines, no-parking signs or ever arriving on time checked out hours later with no apologies or repercussions, so my frantic calls were probably unnecessary.)

Going with your child to college orientation doesn’t assure success. After being told several times during orientation about how large this freshmen class was, I counseled my daughter to press her adviser on the options if the recommended classes were full when she sat down later to register.

She didn’t, some were, and now she’s figuring it out on her own.

Reader Comments 1

50 comments
EducatorWhoCares
EducatorWhoCares

Thanks so much for this article. I, too, didn't attend with my older 2 kids (I made lots of mistakes with them and they are okay by their grace & God's). Hubby & I are headed to UGA Orientation July 17 & 18 with our youngest & this discussion has helped so much!

Babycat
Babycat

The parent portion of the UGA orientation is minimal at best but provides some very good information during those sessions.  But staying in the dorm?  Come on!  Being from Decatur, you should have come home and let her be on her own!  That's what I did.  

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Babycat The orientation was two days.  Did you leave each day and commute back? The dorm was eight floors and all the parents were on the lower levels. I paid to stay there due to parking. We have family in Athens, but I did not want to have to drive back and forth to the events and figure out parking. (My older daughter went to UGA for two years, and my experiences with parking are not positive.) I didn't go with my daughter to anything -- she and the roommate assigned to her did so together. I have to say it was great to walk to stuff and never move my car.

Babycat
Babycat

@MaureenDowney @Babycat Guess it has changed from four years ago.  The first day there were sessions in the a.m. and after lunch for the parents that were really the most critical.  Done early afternoon.  Parked at Ramsey.  All other sessions, while providing info, really were just fluff.  But I guess after the first child (Virginia Tech) and having gone on the campus tour prior to application, I felt informed enough.  I also felt this would be a good learning experience for him and he needed to be able to take care of items on his own because, while Athens is close, I would not be there on a daily basis.  The boys all carpooled home together.  Bottomline, each parent has to do what is best for their child and each child is different.  The one thing I did do when he returned, though, is go through all the orientation materials with him to ensure he had everything complete and ready to go because it is a lot of material in two days.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

In 1970 my parents went with me (UT).  I saw them only briefly. It was a two-day affair,  It was a couple of months before the term actually started.


In 1999 my younger daughter and son went with me to big sis' orientation (Wesleyan).  It was short but separate for family vs students. 2004, the same(Warren Wilson), 2007, the same(Sewanee).  Each of these more recent ones were one day for family, and longer for students, who then started classes.


Were the differences private vs. public?

proudparent01
proudparent01

Do what you need to do and don't worry what others think. They will be independent soon enough. 

Cyndi Ballard McLaughlin
Cyndi Ballard McLaughlin

I went with both of my children, one at UGA and one at GA Tech. Both had parent sessions separate from student sessions. It was informative and not helicoptering in the least. That was in 1997 and 2000.

gapeach101
gapeach101

I went to the GT orientation with my eldest.  We attended the big session together, an honor student lunch together and that was all.  She was glad I went because they had more breakout sessions she wanted to attend than she had opportunities.  I was sent to gather information. I went home thereafter.  She stayed the night.

My youngest child went to UGA.  We arrived late for the big orientation (shocker--it actually started on time).  I said good bye after that and we made plans for pick up the next day.

I slept in a dorm room for 3 years, I've done my time.  Never again.

I have no clue when my middle child was oriented.  She was at a private school in CT, so I'm assuming they all oriented sans parents.

As for that middle child, she was accepted to schools in CA, MA, IL and CT (as well as GA).  She had to make her own airplane reservations (with my credit card) and figure out how to get to the school from the airport,  for whatever that weekend in April is called for all accepted students.  I figured if she went out of state she was going to have to do it in September, so she better be able to do it in April.

Even 8 years ago I would say my children were in the minority being pretty much sans parent.  But I think it was good for them.  Starts them thinking about how life is changing.

redweather
redweather

Parents should definitely attend because their children will be too busy playing with their phones to get any of the information. And you'll probably need to help them with their homework, too. Oh, and don't forget about their laundry. 

Jane Mathers
Jane Mathers

Wake Forest had other things for us to do as parents. It was great. This is definitely a time of transition and if handled correctly it can be a great way to say good by to your student.

Sink Tina
Sink Tina

When I started at Georgia State University in 1979, the orientation session I attended was strictly for the students. Fast forward to 2004, 2006, and 2009 when my older kids started college. Berry College, Gainesville State College, and Young Harris College had orientation programs specifically developed for parents to attend. Most functions were separated: incoming freshmen attended student-only meetings, parents attended parent-only meetings. There were some meetings for all. In my opinion, this is not helicoptering when parents are specifically invited.

Susan Blount Campbell
Susan Blount Campbell

It's totally NOT helicoptering. You don't go to sessions with your child. The kids do retort own thing while you go to sessions meant for parents. It's a nice transition. They tell parents things like how funding works and how emergencies are handled. It's good to go.

April Collins
April Collins

GA Southern EXPECTS parents to attend with their students. It's not mandatory, but close.

Christina Cotsakis Cordón
Christina Cotsakis Cordón

As a student who attended UGA's orientation without a parent (6 years ago), I felt like I missed some information that they covered during parent sessions.

Donalyn Harris Vaughn
Donalyn Harris Vaughn

I attended my children's orientations but went to the parent sessions while she did the student stuff.

Lashanda Fields-Nelson
Lashanda Fields-Nelson

I took my daughter to orientation fall 2016 at Alabama State. I made sure she had everything that she needed before I left a day or 2 later. This included scheduling, parking, finances, and etc. I don't consider it helicoptering though. I just needed to be informed and make sure she was fine before I left.

Andrea Ferrard
Andrea Ferrard

Attend as most colleges have separate programs for students and parents. Purdue did a fab job with it.

Heather White Sorensen
Heather White Sorensen

My dad went to mine back in the early 90s. He did the parent track, while I did the student track.

Keisha Long Cornwell
Keisha Long Cornwell

Went with both my kids in 2006 and 2012. Separate sessions for parents and didn't even see them. Lots of info for parents provided.

Jane Childs Carr
Jane Childs Carr

My son just got back - he went by himself and had a wonderful time. His text to me getting off of the plane upon returning: "I made so many friends." Clearly we weren't needed.

Andrea Griffin
Andrea Griffin

It's transitioning from high school to adulthood. Parents of all people should be there. It eases the parents minds and create family memories.

Mary Cullen Miller
Mary Cullen Miller

My parents attended with me over 30 years ago. There were different activities for the parents. No, it's not helicoptering. It's an overwhelming experience.

Kirstie Martin Knighton
Kirstie Martin Knighton

I first attended GCSU in 1990. Because of their jobs, my parents weren't able to go to the orientation with me. I was jealous that other students had their parents with them. I would've wanted my parents there if they had been able to attend. It's not helicoptering!

Ary Soon
Ary Soon

It's helping. It's helpful for both of you to know what you'll be going through. It's also helpful because parents can help give a bit of advise on how to tackle what's coming up. Most universities have a separate orientation for guardians and students. ... My mom came with me. I was glad. I was so nervous that I wasn't paying as careful attention as I might have been if I could relax. An extra pair of ears is helpful. My mom is by no stretch a helicopter parent. She helped my sister and I though orientation and move-in, and that was more or less the end of her "hovering". Nothing wrong with that

Ashley Norton Hutcheson
Ashley Norton Hutcheson

Mine didn't go. They unloaded the car and left. My son's a rising senior and I plan to do the same with him, wherever he attends in 2018.

Libby Christiansen
Libby Christiansen

I still feel like it is helicoptering. I went to college in the late 90's. No parents came to orientation. If you had an issue.... you figured it out. Schedule problems? You figured it out. Logistic issues? You figured it out. I will never understand this. It's time to let your 18 year old figure stuff out. If they are smart enough to get into college, they are smart enough to navigate their freshman year. If they fail or run into problems, that is a part of their journey and they will learn. My parents didn't even help me fill out my FAFSA. Where do you draw the line? I have friends who work in parking services at UGA and parents call all the time to try to get their kids out of parking tickets. I also have friends who are professors and parents are calling to make excuses or contest grades. When I was a college freshman, those were my battles. I learned a lot about myself and the real world navigating those waters.

Belinda Martin Campbell
Belinda Martin Campbell

My parents did NOT go with me to college otientation. I don't understand why it's different now.

Beth Day
Beth Day

Nah. You're good. There's not much to do after that. See ya later. But get that rail thing if they're stacking the beds in case one of them falls out.

Wendy D Lowe
Wendy D Lowe

A friend of mine just went to orientation with her daughter - I assumed in her case it was required. It was like $70 per person!

Peggy Jean
Peggy Jean

Wait a minute...parents go to orientation with their kids? Daddy just wanted the address.

Beth Boston Gearhart
Beth Boston Gearhart

Attend..... but stay off campus. I went across the country. My dad was with me but stayed in a hotel. I would have been a bit horrified if he was on campus \U0001f629

Kelly Paynter
Kelly Paynter

There are a lot of things parents do that fall under the helicopter category, but attending orientation with their rising freshmen is not one of them.

Amy Johnson Hayes
Amy Johnson Hayes

Only if there are separate parent sessions- parents should not attend the sessions intended for the students. I work at a local small university, and am amazed at the number of parents who call to get help with their SENIOR'S issues. When are their kids going to learn to handle things on their own? They're 20-21 and mommy is still making phone calls for them!

Amy Johnson Hayes
Amy Johnson Hayes

Ashley Norton Hutcheson Yep. When the professors don't respond or when they don't like their answer, then I hear from them...

ErnestB
ErnestB

Interesting question.  In the information age we live in now, I can find out much about a school by searching the Internet.  That doesn't take away my desire as a parent to understand the environment where my child will be spending the next few years of their life.


Like you, I didn't go to any orientation programs with my oldest children, partly because they wanted to assert their independence.  Both were boys if that makes a difference.  


My twins had the same option however welcomed me to be a part of that process.  Even then, we registered together then caught up again when we returned the room keys.  In other words, I gave them their space.  We did chat about the experience on the ride home from their respective schools.  They also had their older brothers to lean on for advice, which helped.

Angel Thomas
Angel Thomas

I'd prefer "helicoptering" to "letting go" if it means my child knows where everything is and is only slightly embarassed with my presence rather than being worried to ask for help every five minutes. I'd have preferred to have had parents who were able to do these things with me, as well.

Richard Cionci
Richard Cionci

My father dumped my crap on the sidewalk and got out as soon as he could.

Renee Lord
Renee Lord

As the mom of a rising senior, I have yet to form an opinion. Colleges send mixed signals when they expect parents to foot the bill yet want parents to stay out of the experience and even chastise parents for being overly involved. I plan to do as little or as much as the school expects.

Kyla Oswald Cromer
Kyla Oswald Cromer

I don't consider myself a helicopter parent at all...don't know how to log on to Athena and have never checked on my rising UGA Jr's grades. I attended her orientation and early last month attended my incoming freshman's. I didn't stay in the dorm, and went out to dinner with some friends instead of attending Orientation Live. I attended most of the sessions in order to guide my girls when they ask for help. When the inevitable phone call comes....I think I need to...or What do you think about... I can give sound advice. I encourage my girls to advocate for themselves with roommates, RAs, bosses, TAs and professors. Having grown up and informed discussions initiated by my kids is not helicoptering!!

Kay Nagel
Kay Nagel

I just returned from orientation at another SEC school. I hesitated to go because I thought it was helicoptering, and I grew up in an age where parents did NOT attend orientation (it wasn't even offered). However, given the amount of info given out, I was glad I went. I would've liked it to be shortened and some of the "lectures" put on the website to watch beforehand. But during the first big "lecture," I listened to 5 boys behind us chatter the whole time. I suspect their parents weren't there, and they were not to be depended on to bring the info home!

Cindy Fowler Knowles
Cindy Fowler Knowles

I'm shocked anyone would think this is helicoptering. UGA makes this as much about the parents as they do about the students (as you probably found out). I see nothing wrong with going to something and taking in as much information as possible about what is a new experience.

Angie Strickland Simpson
Angie Strickland Simpson

My mother attended orientation with me in 1979....this is nothing new. They don't room with their students at orientation and they attend separate information sessions. Parents need to know about finances, campus security, scholarship procedures, etc. When I attended UGA orientation as a parent years later, I was able to answer questions from out of state parents about the campus. It's valuable for everyone.

Elaina Black Forney
Elaina Black Forney

My daughter attends Appalachian State and with the exception of the opening session, all of our sessions were completely separate from our kids and we didn't stay in the dorms either. It was helpful for me, especially sending a child out of state.

Ang A Em
Ang A Em

That makes sense if there are separate parent sessions. I have some many friends that came to college from across the country or from another country by themselves. I was always amazed by that and said I would at least drop them off. Lol

Vera Wynn
Vera Wynn

helicoptering.let them go.When they need you they will call.If they have a strong foundation you have done your job.Stand back and evaluate your work.