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A few good reasons to attend orientation

By Ashleigh Viveiros

After the elation of receiving an acceptance letter from your post-secondary school of choice wears off, you'll probably find your head is full of more questions than ever: how will I find my way around a campus the size of a small town? How do I choose my courses and register? How do I meet people?

Luckily for you, most schools put making new students feel at home at the top of their to-do list as the school year begins.

In virtually every school across the country, a special day, couple of days, or an entire week before the school year officially starts is dedicated to introducing first-year students to their new surroundings.

In some schools, students might find themselves at specialized orientation sessions on-campus during the summer. At the University of Manitoba, for example, all new students must attend a pre-registration information session, which outlines everything students need to know about choosing courses, creating a balanced timetable, registering, and so on.

But in most schools, the majority of orientation events are held in the fall, often just before classes begin for the year.

Since these orientation events can be integral to getting your post-secondary experience started off on the right foot, some schools make them mandatory for new students. But even if your school doesn't, you should seriously consider attending at least some of your school's orientation activities, as they'll likely answer any lingering questions you might have about life at school.

Common orientation events include detailed school tours, presentations on what sort of student clubs and groups are available, faculty specific activities designed to give you the chance to chat with professors and fellow students in your academic stream, meet and greets with older students who will have some practical tips on student life, and seminars on student services, school policies, and basic student need-to-knows like how to get a locker, where to find parking passes, and how to get logged into the school's on and off-campus computer services.

Of course, there's also usually lots of free food, prizes, and fun recreational activities (ranging from live music to rock climbing walls to air band competitions) during orientation weeks, which make them an excellent way to build up some school spirit for your new home away from home.

As useful as all the above purposes are, possibly the single most important and potentially long-lasting benefit of orientation events is that they give you the opportunity to meet with other first-year students. Who knows, life-long friendships could be made over a free barbeque lunch in the quad, love at first sight might walk by you on a school tour, or, at the very least, you'll be able to pick out a few familiar faces in the crowd when you walk into your first class.

Now, even after reading all this, a part of you - the part that's watched too many Hollywood movies about life in college - might be wondering whether a school's orientation activities are really a cover for some sort of sadistic "frosh week" where older students force you to push an egg down the hallway with your nose or run naked through the library.

Don't worry - while it might have been all the rage a few decades ago, dangerous and embarrassing hazing stunts are often considered major offenses in Canadian universities and colleges today. In general, modern orientation events are well-planned, safe, and designed to be nothing more than a fun, casual way to get to know your new school.

While all of the above orientation activities are designed to put the new student's mind at ease, schools are also well aware that most parents of first-year students are likely stressed out about the upcoming school year as well. And so, most schools make a point of trying to make the mama and papa birds feel better about sending their younglings out of the nest.

In some cases, it's nothing more complicated than sending parents a brochure or inviting them to check out a special Web site outlining common parental concerns and explaining just what their child will be going through during their first year of post-secondary education.

Many other schools hold special orientation sessions just for parents, in which they're taken on school tours, learn more about university life, have all their questions answered, and possibly even spend a night in the dorms.

Information about a school's orientation plans - for both students and parents - are often sent out to students well before school starts. But if you're not sure of the whens, wheres, and whats of your school's orientation activities, contact the school soon for details so you don't miss out.

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