The cliché “you only have one chance to make a first impression” may seem a bit harsh, but it does have some truth to it. First impressions tend to stick with us (for better or worse), which is why we all want to avoid making a fool of ourselves when we are in a new setting (in this case – during orientation). Most incoming freshmen view the college experience as a fresh start. They are away from home for the first time and are looking to make new friends with whom they can have adventures and create lasting memories. It is an exciting time for all freshmen, and whether they admit it or not, everyone is worried about getting off to a bad start. There are so many things you should absolutely not do during orientation.
In order to ease your concern, I thought I’d pass along some tips on what NOT to do during orientation so you feel better prepared to begin the next chapter of your life! That being said, here are a whole slew of don’ts to make sure you do get off on the right foot!
1. Do NOT limit/label yourself.
As much as you may believe you know who you are and what you want out of life, you don’t. No one does at 18, but that’s okay because that’s what college is for! For example, you may have gone through high school convinced that Greek life is not for you, or maybe you already decided to go the pre-med route because you always wanted to be a doctor. However, now that you’re at school, all the sorority girls are friendly and you have fun when you hang out. Or when you look at your schedule you realize that you don’t enjoy science and don’t want to spend the next eight years in a lab. It’s okay to make changes and pursue new paths. Please don’t let your preconceived notions about college (or yourself) keep you from trying new things. You’ll regret it if you do.
2. Do NOT be standoffish.
It’s quite unbecoming and no way to make friends. Even if you’re not the most outgoing person, you can show that you’re open to meeting others through your body language and facial expressions. As someone with a bad case of RBF (resting bitch face), I am conscious of what I look like to strangers. I always want my classmates to feel that they can approach me, so I try to simply smile and make eye contact. Easy enough! From there, conversations just flow and friendships are made.
3. Do NOT judge based on appearance.
This isn’t high school (not that this kind of behavior is acceptable there either) and no one cares what you wear or how you look. Cliques don’t really exist in college, so don’t try to force your old ways during orientation because you’ll just miss out on meeting some amazing individuals. Some of your closest friends may turn out to be people who you never thought you’d hang out with back in high school, but that’s the beauty of growing up.
4. Do NOT be afraid to be seen alone.
Yeah it’s scary, and we’d all prefer to be surrounded by our closest friends rather than scrambling to make new ones, but it’s orientation which means that no one knows anyone. You’re all alone in this together! Don’t be afraid to go to the dining hall by yourself (you’ve gotta eat sometime). It’s a great place to meet people and no one is going to judge you for sitting by yourself because chances are they’ve been there before. In fact, being alone allows others to approach you and can make meeting your new peers easier.
5. Do NOT stress about your future.
Dude, you just got here! It’s okay that your schedule is a mess, that you are undecided, that you haven’t secured an internship for next summer yet. That’s the way it’s supposed to be – chaotic, panic-inducing, and wonderful. Enjoy your during orientation, and even the first couple of semesters because once they’re gone, that’s when shit gets real. You’ll figure everything out in due time. Eventually you’ll become a pro at scheduling your classes so that you have nothing on Fridays, you’ll declare yourself as a history major (or some other subject that you love), and you’ll find an amazing internship that will land you your first grown-up job after graduation. But for now, focus on the things that matter…like getting to know your new friends, going out and having fun, taking a bunch of different classes, exploring your campus, and all the other glorious things that are unique to the freshmen experience.
6. Do NOT hole up in your room.
I don’t care that you’re an introvert, or that you don’t like to party, or that you have social anxiety. I’m not asking you to become student body president and join every club with a booth at the activities fair, just get out and see what your new school has to offer. It is not acceptable to just sit in your dorm skyping your friends from home all day or binge watching Netflix every night during orientation. You have to go out and find something to do: a club, a sport, a job, a volunteer group, anything besides academics that you’re passionate about. I promise you if you make the effort there’s something more you can get out of school than just a degree. The things you do and the people you meet outside the classroom are what make going away to college so rewarding, and you’re more likely to enjoy your experience if you have something besides books to go back to each semester.
7. Do NOT get so drunk you get kicked out.
Okay, so I’ve never actually heard of that happening to anyone, but it is common knowledge that during orientation many freshmen take partying too far and get plastered to the point of blacking out and even hospitalization. Some get in trouble with their school before classes have even started: that’s not good. Some get taken advantage of and must live with those memories forever: that’s bad. Some even wind up getting their stomachs pumped or worse… A lot of incoming freshmen abuse their new-found freedom and are ill equipped to handle the consequences. I am all for celebrating with your new friends and having a good time, but please be smart about it. Know your limits so that you don’t make a mistake you’ll regret for years to come.
*It was really hard to choose just one gif for the drinking tip, so I went for this classic Bridesmaids moment – funny in the movie, not so fun IRL.
8. Do NOT feel like you have to be friends with everyone you meet.
Yes, you should be friendly and open to exploring new relationships, but always be yourself and don’t sacrifice your values for anyone. If you’re just not clicking with someone (or maybe they’re not clicking with you) then don’t force it. It wasn’t meant to be. Recognize this and focus your attention and efforts on others who are better suited to your friendship needs. Chances are, your school has thousands of freshmen, so if there’s one or two people who you’re not getting along with, don’t stress about it. The most important thing is that you don’t compromise who you are in the vain hope that someone else will like you…because a real friend will embrace your quirks and individuality, not fault you for them.
9. Do NOT let the choices you make during orientation haunt you for the rest of your college career.
The fun continues as upperclassmen start arriving and the semester gets underway. You will continue to meet new people in your classes, and you’ll find more fun things to do on campus. Your friend group will expand and evolve over the years. You’ll find new clubs and organizations to join. Orientation is a time for freshmen to get their feet wet on campus, but not necessarily to dive all-in. School will get even more exciting the more time you spend on campus and the more involved you become.
10. Do NOT be intimidated by upperclassmen.
They were in your shoes not so long ago and can relate better than you think. If you have questions about anything, from “where’s the best food on campus?” to “what’s it like to be a […] major?” don’t hesitate to ask. A lot of them will probably be happy to impart their wisdom to the next generation and make a friend in the process. In fact, getting to know people in your field several years above you is a great networking strategy and could come in handy come graduation when it’s time to find a job. But for now, you don’t really need to worry about the big picture stuff, just focus on befriending people who you get along with regardless of class year.
BONUS: Do NOT be afraid to be wrong.
Maybe you move in and start to realize this isn’t the place for you. Even after following the above tips and tricks during orientation, things just aren’t working out. That may seem completely terrifying and shitty, but it’s going to be okay! People make mistakes. We all make choices, and sometimes we choose wrong. There’s no shame in it, so long as once you realize this, you move to make things right. Stick it out for a semester or two to see if things improve once classes start and clubs pick up. Maybe orientation has just not been a good experience for you but things get better (remember what I said about first impressions). However, if by winter break you’re still unhappy, start looking to transfer. It should be much easier to find a school that’s a better fit now that you have some college experience under your belt.
These tricks are not a foolproof way to ensure your popularity in college or provide the perfect orientation experience. They’re just a few things that I know would have helped me immensely had I been conscious of them when I was new to college and I hope these “don’ts” aid you in finding your own way during orientation at school. Best of luck to you!