Image taken by the Keck Science Center.

Image taken by the Keck Science Center in Claremont, CA. I know we all look great, but don’t be fooled – it was hotter than 100 degrees Fahrenheit in a lab with no air conditioning! #sweatinglikecrazy

Welcome to college, Class of 2018! No doubt you are gearing up for the new school year by shopping for your dorm room, eagerly looking through major requirements, making lists of all the cool classes you are going to take, and getting to know people’s names in your class Facebook page. It’s all going by so quickly. And now there is another decision to make. Your college is offering you an opportunity to move in a week early and experience some facet of what your school has to offer.

To pre-orientation or not to pre-orientation? That is the question.

Benefits to Attending a Pre-Orientation Program

One of the most exciting parts of college is all the people you meet. This is even more exciting at a pre-orientation program, where you are lumped together by a program you all found fascinating. It is much easier to get to know people intimately when you are in small groups, especially compared to the hustles and bustles that characterize orientation and parties.

Another advantage is getting to know the campus and its immediate surroundings (though this is only true if the program takes place on campus). My classmates and I spent a lot of our free time getting to know the buildings on campus so we would not get lost when orientation began. We also ventured out into the city, looking for the movie theater, ATMs, and great places to eat for the nights when dining hall food wasn’t an option. It is not only a great feeling to know where you are going, but gives you an opportunity to meet more people: they will turn to you since you know where you are going!

If you want your college experience to be a new adventure, try attending a program in a field you are curious about. Maybe you want to learn more about fitness and health? Some colleges have that! Want to get your performance art muscle working, there may be one for that, too! I attended the science pre-orientation as a means of giving science a “last chance” (I had an atrocious experience before) and now I am committed to it. Who knows!

On that note, a pre-orientation program can be an important first exposure to a field you are considering as a career. Interesting in art? Astrophysics? Subject-specific programs usually have a professor sponsoring the program, which will provide insights into what a subject looks like in the real world. That, and professors can be lots of fun when you forget they’re 20+ years older than you! Professors can also be a vital connection if you do end up pursuing the field, helping you with advising and internships. True story, can confirm: I landed a research position the semester after participating in my science pre-orientation program because the professor was one of the main sponsors!

Drawbacks to Attending a Pre-Orientation Program

Pre-orientation programs generally require you to leave home at least a week early. For some people, that is too much time lost. For some, a week is nothing. After all, depending on your geographical location, it will be months before you may see home again. Really think about if losing a week is worth it for you.

Another thing to seriously consider is that your parents may not be able to make it to your official move-in day. Again, this is dependent on geographical location, but even some small commutes can be too much for working parents. On move-in day, parents are everywhere, and a lot of people who attended pre-orientation felt lonely. As families gathered in the family photobooth, week-long friends were each other’s families. If a classic move-in experience is important to you, attending a pre-orientation program may not be for you.

It is also important to weigh the cost of the program. My science program was funded by a grant, and was therefore $100 for students without financial aid (and every participant got a free textbook, goggles, lab notebook). It was so worth it. Some programs do not charge at all. However, some do. Is it really worth it to pay hundreds for a week long experience? That is a decision you have to make. Do note that some schools will waive or reduce a fee based on your financial aid status.

No matter what route you take, you are in for a wild ride. Best of luck to the class of 2018!

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the author

Lillian is a member of the Pitzer Class of 2017, where she is an anticipated Biology major. She is a first-generation college student that is interested in dental medicine (floss please!), mental health, visual arts, and political activism. Combining these interests, it is Lillian's life goal to heal communities on a micro and macro scale through medicine, art, and activism. You can learn more about her on her personal website. Since she will be retiring from TP at the end summer '14 in order to prepare for her study abroad in Ecuador, please subscribe to her blog to follow her journey!

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