Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

College orientation is like the fourth date: you’re still trying really hard to impress the other person, but there’s also a level of comfort in knowing you’ve somewhat sealed the deal. This is also when less-than-glamorous information starts showing up: “By the way, you should know I have four Chihuahuas…” Or in the case of colleges: “Here’s how to register for classes and avoid alcohol poisoning…” Yet as is oft the case, all orientations are not created equal. Some schools — like our number one pick — are still in the wine n’ dine phase, while others have jumped straight to pragmatics. Read on to discover the coolest, the meh-est and the weirdest college orientation programs nation-wide.

The Cool

1. Reed College, in Portland, Oregon

Reed College lives up to its quirky reputation with its unique orientation program. Highlights include an aquatic screening of “Finding Nemo” (complete with fish food and prizes), a Haircut Station for those who want a free mohawk or buzz-cut, croquet with the president, and tours of the labyrinth of steam tunnels under Reed. Plus they offer special events for non-traditional students.

2. Hendrix College, in Conway, Arkansas

Many schools have outdoorsy orientation trips, but Hendrix outdoes them all with the abundance of its offerings. In 2013 new students had a whopping 23 choices, from mountain biking, to island-exploring, to snorkeling and party-barging. There’s also a Pizza War, where local joints jostle for the title of students’ favorite pie, and a whole week of fun campus events.

3. Columbia College, in New York, New York

It’s just not fair—no matter how creative other universities can get, Columbia has New York City. One of their three pre-orientation programs, CUE, or Columbia Urban Experience, invites froshies to “engage in thoughtful dinner discussions” and go to “poetry slams, desserts at local cafes, museums, rooftop movies, jazz concerts, and much more.” At the end of Columbia’s main orientation, there’s also a finale soiree at a location that changes every year. So far, sites have included Governor’s Island, the Bronx Zoo, and the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum.

4. Colgate University, in Hamilton, New York

For those who are interested in journalism, Colgate has a pre-orientation program during which students help put together a special issue for incoming students of the newspaper, Maroon News. Aspiring radio broadcasters can spend three days with Colgate’s own station and learn “all things radio,” while thespians can work on stage movement, directing, dance, improvisational comedy, technical theater and more at Masque & Triangle’s camp.

5. Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana

New Hoosiers get a taste (literally) for all of the “horizons broadening” they’ll experience in college with Indiana University’s CultureFest, a huge bonzana of free food, music, and performances showcasing a variety of cultures. After the main event, students get to sample even more music, coffee, and desserts from around the world in the IU Art Museum.

The Meh

6. Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah

While BYU may offer an excellent education at a very low price, its orientation leaves much to be desired. Most of the day-time activities are informational lectures with names like “Getting to Know BYU: Part 1.” Listed among the highlights? A tour of the campus and an “ice cream reveal,” which is a new tradition where every class gets their own flavor of dairy dessert. Past flavors include Mint Brownie and Seriously Chocolate. While far from a bad idea, it’s a tough sell compared to some of the other college orientations we’ve looked at.

7. University of California, Berkeley, in Berkeley, California

CalSO is Berkeley’s one-and-a-half day introduction to life at the university, and while the schedule doesn’t look torturous, it’s definitely lacking in excitement. Day One includes workshops in academic success, students’ majors, personal safety, health, and campus resources, while Day Two covers scintillating topics like class registration and ID cards.

8. West Point, in West Point, New York

It’s not surprising that West Point’s orientation program is, well, intense. As soon as the cadets arrive, they’re issued clothes and, in the men’s case, standard Army-style haircuts. Strictly forbidden are snacks, cellphones, electrical appliances or even an “excessive number” of cosmetics. They will then begin “Cadet Basic Training,” also called “Beast Barracks,” which lasts six and a half weeks and was dubbed “the most physically and emotionally demanding part of one’s four years at West Point.”

The Weird

9. College of the Ozarks, in Point Lookout, Missouri

“Character Camp” is a ten-day program meant to build student character; judging by the YouTube video recaps, this means a lot of trust falls, skits and sports. Freshman are organized into small groups that are each led by two upperclassmen, nicknamed “Mom” and “Pop.”



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the author

Aja Frost is a college freshman at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which Oprah deemed the Happiest City in America. This suits Aja well, as she has been called "aggressively cheerful" and "someone who thinks the glass is 100% full" on several occasions. Her major? English. Everything else? Undecided. Aja does know, however, that her future profession will involve writing--and lots of it. In addition to the Prospect, she currently writes for her school's newspaper, her school's Her Campus chapter, and three other publications for college women. Besides writing, she LOVES to read. Don't ask her what her favorite books are, because she'll request a couple days and then come back to you with a list five pages long and categorized by genre, best time to read, and coolest characters. Other favorite things in life include oatmeal (it's highly underrated), Anthropologie (overpriced but gorgeous), and gourmet peanut butter (she has fifteen jars and counting.) If you want more weirdness, her Twitter handle is @ajavuu.

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  1. Go Soxs on June 11, 2016

    In response to Hendrix College’s opportunities, Colby College in Waterville, ME also has a trip component that all first years attend during their orientation. There are over 60 different trips offered, ranging from Yoga to White Water Rafting to Backpacking to Organic Farm Stay, all in the state of Maine. Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME and Bates College in Lewiston, ME also have a huge variety of outdoor orientation trips for first years to choose from–as it is a mandatory aspect of their orientation as well.

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