The transition from high school to college is no easy task—upon arriving on campus, first-year students are immediately plunged into a new world and a new way of life with much more freedom, independence, and responsibility. The first-year experience is entirely new and different, and the culture shock is jarring to say the least. Thankfully, Orientation is there to soften the blow and help students acclimate to college life. For four days preceding the start of the academic year, first years and transfer students learn about life at HWS, sign up for classes, participate in community service, and get to know their new classmates.
The Herald surveyed 34 first-year students on what they thought about the Orientation experience. Overall, the students felt that Orientation was a good experience that gave them most of the information they needed to acclimate to college life. They said that it was very organized overall. Students enjoyed the food trucks that were on campus the first night of Orientation and the fun activities that complimented the information sessions. Overwhelmingly, the students in our survey agreed that Orientation was most essential when it helped them make friends and get to know their classmates.
Gill Parrett ’23 agrees. While moving in on the day before Orientation, Parrett met another student on the cross-country team who has become a close friend. “I’ve found someone I can vibe with,” she says.
Parrett’s favorite part of Orientation was the Day of Service, during which she packed food at Bristol Gym. “I found it fascinating to pack 30,000 meals in one hour,” she says. This prompted Parrett to reflect on her own position at the Colleges. “I have the amazing opportunity to attend college and get a meal,” she explains, but “there are people in the world who may not have the opportunity to have food on the table.”
Through the Day of Service, Parrett was able to act on this realization. “I was able to help in some way … And I love that!”
Garret Downs ‘23 had a similarly positive experience of Orientation as a transfer student. Coming from Elmira College, he has experienced two different orientations. Orientation at Elmira was informational and structured, he says, while Orientation at HWS was “fun” and had “an atmosphere of joy.”
Through activities like bumper cars, laser tag, and bowling, Downs grew very close with his transfer OMs and the group very quickly, and he still makes time to meet with group despite the demands of the academic school year. To him, Orientation centered around meeting new friends and “falling in love with a new place.” He views Orientation as a stepping stone that helped him settle into, understand, and further appreciate the HWS campus and community.
However, students did not have uniformly positive perceptions of Orientation. Most of the students in our survey agreed that Orientation was too long and thought that, instead of the four heavily scheduled days, Orientation should have been only two days long or scheduled with more free time.
Some also disliked the continuation of Orientation through Kaleidoscope, in which students learn about HWS and its community for an hour a week during the first few weeks of the semester. One first year says that “the Kaleidoscope sessions have been very useful, but [they] should be offered during Orientation so that we aren’t trying to work around them once school has started.”
One aspect of Orientation that received few complaints were the Orientation Mentors (OMs). Students largely believed that their Orientation Mentors (OMs) were very valuable in helping them through Orientation. As students, OMs introduce first-year students to campus, the town of Geneva, and the day to day realities of being a college student.
OM Nathan Jacon ’22 drew on his own experience in Orientation to help this year’s first-year students. “Having just been through my own Orientation last year, I knew the kinds of questions that I get asked,” he says. “This year I was prepared to answer them and help in as many ways as possible.”
Jacon notes that “the transition from high school to college can be challenging and stressful at times, and I wanted to do my best to offer my advice on the best ways to relax and be happy and successful.” He hopes to be a resource that students can reach out to throughout their time at HWS.
The Herald wishes everyone in the Colleges a successful and healthy academic year. For the first years starting their journeys: the journey through the Colleges will be a place to learn, grow, and make meaningful relationships. Life is about making memories, laughter, and happiness, and enriching our souls with intellectual conversions. Take advantage of the opportunities around you and never forget who you are as a person. We hope your curiosity continues to make the Colleges a welcoming and dynamic place to be.