Okay, let's get this out of the way early: GWU doesn't have "freshman orientation," it has "Colonial Inauguration." Explain.
Thanks for having us on today. Cecilia, Chris and I are glad to talk about these topics as first year students are about to head back to schools across the country.
For GW, we created Colonial Inauguration or "CI" as we like to call it, over 20 years ago as a way to provide a special summer orientation experience for new students, parents and siblings. The program balances academic planning, building student community, and making the most of Washington, DC.
I like your tips because they are about building a network. Here is one more in that vein: Get to know at least one of your professors well. Visit him or her during office hours even when you don't have any particular issues and talk about the course, the news, or whatever is on your mind. Having one go-to professor will help you enormously when situations do arise. And a lot of times professors will bring you in to their research efforts or work with you on other projects.
I completely agree. This past semester one of my professors offered me a job at his consulting firm right around the corner for GWU. Although I didn't end up taking the job, interviewing for the position and learning about the feild has really helped me realize what my strengths are and what feild that will be best for me post graduation.
Taking advantage of Professors during their office hours or even after a class is one of the best ways to get connected to them, help them meet you, and start to build that student-professor relationship which is so important for your future.
Could you recommend any blogs, other articles and/or books for further reading. More tips, advice from profs and deans, or perhaps from students.
For parents, there are a number of good resources on "going to college," particularly for Parents. The book "Letting Go" is one great resource for parents that you can track down online or in the library.
Besides your campus resources, there are also a great number of national resource, including the College Parents of America association that can help parents with adjustment issues and questions.
What is the best way to handle the move in weekend with my daughter? What words of wisdom do I give her as her dad and I leave to drive back to Indiana?
The best advice I was given for handling move-in was to show up early and ship as much as you can in advance. We have a great package services department that will have hubs set up around campus, so you'll be able to pick up your boxed belongings when you get there. Other than that, the best advice I've heard is to follow the lead of your student. She'll know how she wants move-in day to go and what will make her comfortable, so be helpful but also let her do her thing. Finally, allow for more than just that one day for move-in. If possible, come to DC a day or two in advance so you can see where she'll be living and enjoy the experience with her. As for words of wisdom, I would tell her to keep in mind that every freshman is going through the experience together, and that it's something that they all have in common. Reach out early and engage with other members of the freshman class - it'll make the transition much easier!
No need for it to be a long speech. Just tell her that you love her, that you are proud of her and that you just can't wait to see everything she does with the rest of her life. Then a hug.
If three of the roommates are using drugs, what kind of measure is taken to save the the fourth roommate who against drugs and finds that her boundries invaded?
We want our students to make good decisions about drugs and alcohol and most campuses, like GW have lots of resources to deal with alcohol and drug use on campus.
The first place I would start would be to have the student talk to the staff in their hall or dorm, to find out how they can tap into those upper class students (RA, House Staff) working on the floor who can help offer support and talk through the issue and come up with an action plan to address making good choices.
We live on the west coast so I was wondering if coming home for Thanksgiving break would be too far and stressful.
Start by checking with the schools academic calender to find out what the breaks schedules are and have the student talk to the professors to find out what assignments are due around break. That may help you plan for any travel....
Many schools also offer programs for students who can't travel home, including international students so that no one is alone on campus during a holiday period. Common meals with other students, local alumni etc or going home with a student from that area are also options.
I'm from San Diego myself, and have made the trip back every year. While it was definitely a trek, I got almost a full week at home and it was a nice, relaxing, somewhat necessary break before heading into the stress of finals season. On the other hand, there are definitely people who will stay around campus for the Thanksgiving season, so if you decide not to go home you won't be alone!
What was the biggest challenge for you as a freshman? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge for me as a freshman was definitely finding a group of friends that I felt connected to and that I could trust. I think that I overcame it by becoming involved in one organization on campus in which I was passionate about. By doing this I was able to dedicate my time to not only the organization but the people in at as well. These people had similar interests to me of which I could build a long lasting relationship on.
Getting acclimated to a new city and school, living on your own independently, and making good decisions are three challenges I find that our freshman face.
Fortunately there are many resourcess on campus to tap into, including peer leaders, counselors, live in hall staff, and even parents....all of those people are good to start talking to about the challenges a student might face and then working together to try to come up with a game plan so students don't feel overwhelmed.
How often should you visit your son or daughter?
In a city like DC, its easy to visit, but I suggest you don't surprise your student. Often they are in a routine and have many obligations during their time at school - classes, job, volunteer work, clubs and organizations.
Just communicate your plans and try to negotiate what works best with students - remember they are young adults now, so they need to have some input on the visit.
Richard Light, a professor at Harvard, wrote a great little book called "Getting the Most Out of College: Students Speak Their Minds." If you are not enrolling at Harvard, you need to filter out some of the Ivy-ness of it, but it's good advice based on student interviews and surveys.
Thanks for the book tip. As I recall, Light's book had a number of student perspectives in it which was a great way to hear a student voice on life on campus and the issues and challenges students face.
Should I buy at campus bookstore or online? Everything I read says I can sya money avoiding the bookstore.
There are pros and cons to both. Online books are often cheaper than buying brandnew at the bookstore, but they are usually about the same price as used books. Plus, there's the convenience of shopping on campus and not paying for shipping.
If you have time, here's what I recommend: Go to the bookstore and look up prices for all of your books. Write down the info or snap photos. Go home and look those books up online. Then order a mix of both. Shop early to get the most selection (and dig through the pile of used books to find one that looks barely used).
How can universities expect students to success when they cram them into a 6 person room with no common living space and separate sleeping space? This is my last child to go off to college and I've never seen such unheathy (mentally, physically, scholastically) living conditions than at GW's Thurston Hall. Studies show the more students sharing a room the lower the GPA and higher the academic probation. Is this a way to weed out? I'm concerned that it's not conducive to academic success.
At GW we have a number of living configurations that range from 2 people to 6. One of the key points in educating student to take charge of their own academic aspirations is to talk with their roommates about how the room will be used, find a consistent time and place to study and determine their study patterns from the first day of class. That way the room may be where they live and socialize, but not the place they study.
Do you recommend that Freshmen pursue internships in either Fall or Spring semester? Also, is Thurston really out of control with partying?
I recommend that Freshmen wait at least until their Spring semester to take on an internship. Moving to a new place, taking on new and challenging classes and trying to make new friends can be stressful for many students in their first semester and sometimes their first year. By waiting a semester to see how you are balancing everything, you'll be able to gauge whether or not it is a good idea to take on an internship in your first year or if it's better to wait until your sophomore year. In terms of the Thurston question, Thurston is like an other college residence hall, just bigger. I think Thurston sometimes get a reputation for being a party dorm, but thats only because of the large number of students that live there.
I've never been in a large lecture class (about 115 students) before. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle one?
Coming from a small and conservative school, I was in the same boat when I came to college my freshman year. There are many ways to handle being in a large lecture class. First, definitely get to know your professors and your Teacher Assistants. This will give you a more personal relationship that way you don't feel completely lost and disconnected to the class. Another way is to get involved in study groups within your class. This will make it easier to go over material and to meet other people in the class which will make it feel smaller. Also remember that most large lectures have small discussion sessions that accompany the lectures. This will also make the class feel smaller and will allow for you to ask more specific questions to a TA based on what you've learned in lecture.
And sit up front! The class will only feel as large as the people you can see...
How important is it to attend the Parent's weekend? Doesn't that come right at the time that the kids may be having some adjustment issues?
We encourage parents, siblings, and even grandparents to join us at Parents Weekend. For GW that comes about six or seven weeks into the semester.
For GW, parents weekend is called Colonials Weekend, and it is a weekend when we open up the whole campus, showcasing Deans, Faculty, the performing arts on campus, athletics and of course this wonderful city of Washington, DC. We even have a special visit with comedian Bill Maher.
For parents attending parents weekend programs, they provides a great opportunity to check in and see not only their student 'in action' at their new campus, but also to see how they are doing academically, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
We love to see parents and hope you do come to campus to visit!
Get involved with 2 (max. 3) student organizations that are worth your time and stick to them. Pick something that helps you grow as a leader, changes the world for good and lets you dig into your future career. There is where you will make valuable relationships with your profs, pros and fellow students that just might get you a job when you are done!
This is great advice. Just try to find balance and start slow, college is a big transition.
I suggest making your classes your number one priority, followed by your own mental and physical health, and build everything else around that (jobs, clubs, organizations, volunteer work), including making friends and exploring the city.
Given the hype that all college admissions offices place on the benefits of their school over all others, how realistic is the advice given by both students and staff at orientation programs? My son will be attending a large state-run university in a few weeks and I want to know how much of the information given to me I should filter out and go with my gut and how much I should consider useful?
I think you always go with your gut, you know your student best, but the staff, faculty and students on that campus who are working on the student orientation have the best intentions to help make your student succeed at that campus.
Remember, "fit" with the campus is a critical factor in college success and retention, and only your student can really decide what feels right.
I hope your "Colonial Inauguration" had a diversity angle. I know you meant well but the title of the orientation in itself was not very sensitive or inclusive. "The New World" pathways. This would aleast acknowledge the differenct experiences that would face the arrivers to the new world. If our next generation does not get this race issue right, God help us.
I sat through a couple of hours of skits on the first night of orientation that ended with each CI leader getting up and sharing a detail of their life that defied how people in the audience might have stereotyped them. Several people in the audience told me it was their favorite part.
When there is no common living space and separate sleeping areas, how do studetns deal with the lack of privacy (Changing clothes, trying to sleep, etc...). The mulitiple rooms at GW are not conducive to separation of any kind, especially the 6 person rooms where the door opens into the sleeping space of at leasts 3 people.
At GW, we are fortunate that most of our residence halls rooms have their own bathrooms. This provides a great level of privacy when having a large number of roommates. Also, most of the 6 person rooms have three separate rooms within the room so all 6 people are provided with just as much space as they would if they were only living with one roommate. As Dr. Konwerski said previously, students should talk to their roommates about developing sleep and shower scheduled to ensure that roommates have the privacy that they need if necessary. Otherwise, students can always use common areas which are located in all residence halls if further privacy is needed (for studying, phone conversations, etc.)
Six to a room!?! In my reporting I talked to a few students at various universities who lived up to four to a room. All of them said that light was their big issue -- as in one of the four (or six) is up late working with the overhead light on while the others try to sleep. They recommended everyone having a personal desk lamp or not allowing any lights to be on after a certain hour.
I know that my undergrad university kept some dorm rooms empty if a situation like this occurred and one of the roommates needed to be moved out. For new freshman - just know that the university has plans in place if roommate situations are really bad.
That may be a solution at some places. Most schools have a number of resources to make sure first year students are adjusting well and at GW, our staffing is slightly higher for freshman and then tapers off for upper class students.
As a result, we have lots of ways to make contact with first year students, to monitor and check in with new students to see how they are doing and provide them the support they need.
Talking is usually the first step and moving is a last resort, but it does happen on occasion that students do need to move. I would just say be patient, the whole adjustment to college is a big transition and takes time.
If you think those rooms are small and overpopulated, you should see the dorm where my grandfather lived after World War II. Forty guys in bunk beds in a long, narrow room. He told me that at least it was nicer than the barracks at the army base. He graduated in three years and did all right after that.
Good point! Also: Have you seen the "sleeping porches" at some sororities, where dozens of of women are bunked in the same room.
As a former Graduate Teaching Assistant, I can not echo the "go to office hours" and "get to know your prof's" advice enough. I loved when students would come to my office hours. And in all honesty, I was way more likely to give additional details about the upcoming test or essay to those students who came to my office hours than I would in class.
On more than a few ocassions when I've tried to pin a professor down for an interview, they have asked that I call or stop by during their office hours because they will be sitting there, alone and lonely. Almost all professors I have meet want to help their students -- and not just with this class. Don't be afraid to get their advice on career plans, internships or picking a major.
I just want to congratulate you all on the CI program. My son attended alone at the beginning of the summer and has since felt amazingly comfortable and confident that he knows what to do, how to do it and where to go. He can't wait to get there and is not experiencing some of the fear of the unknown that his friends are experiencing.
Thank you for the feedback. While we are always looking to improve our program, we do appreciate those insights and they confirm what we belive is the value of a summer orientation model.
For GW, we have had summer orientation for years and while we realize it does require a trip to DC for most of our students, we think its a great way to give students, parents and siblings as much information as possible, well before the start of the school year, so they have plenty of time to digest it, ask questions, and get acclimated.
As an educator who believes in "experiential learning," the summer orientation model allows our students to get a real feel for campus, touring our academic buildings, meeting other new students, talking with faculty, meeting with advisors, and starting to experience the array of resources in Washington, DC.
There are plenty of books about University Life. Go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and search for "First Year University".
These are great tips.
At GW we also have an active Parents Association. We put every parents onto a listserv by class year and regularly send out relevant information to parents on topics that are important to them or their student.
Check with your campus to see if they have other on campus resources for parents like that.
I am still not convinced that the living conditions at Thurston Hall is conducive to studying. I want my child to be set up for success. What can be done about the rumored parties and noisiness of this residence hall?
As someone who lived in Thurston who was definitely not there for the parties, I can sympathize with your initial concerns. What I will tell you is that Thurston isn't nearly as scary as it's cracked up to be. Sure, there are a lot of students in one building, so by nature it's going to be social, but the vast majority of the students are there to study and work hard. There is a large, newly rennovated study space on the ground floor of the building, and there is always Gelman Library if that's what your student would prefer. For me, though, I was always able to study in my room. My roommates and I had an agreement that the room was a quiet space whenever anyone wanted to study, and if the hallway was noisey on a given night, there was always a door to close. In the end, the thing that I always say is that Thurston is a building - it doesn't do any partying on it's own. It's the people that move in each year that propogate the reputation, so each year it's up to the new residents to define what the culture will be. I had a very successful freshman year living in a Thurston quad, and your student will too as long as he or she is motivated to do so.
Not to re-enforce stereotypes or freak you out, but here's a story a Post reporter wrote in 2007 about Thurston called "Moving into GWU's Freshman Zoo."
And keep in mind that reputations change year to year, and floor to floor. I had coffee a couple weeks ago with a University of Nebraska undergrad. Apparently the freshman party dorm when I was there is now filled with studious first-years living in learning communities. (He added that a trio of dorms on the other side of campus had inherited the honor.)
If the room-mate is impossible, what steps do you recommend?
Step One: Identify what exactly makes your roommate so impossible.
Step Two: Talk to your roommate about these things. Maybe reference the roommate agreement you likely filled out at the beginning of the semester.
Step Three: If that doesn't work, ask an RA to mediate.
Step Four: If THAT doesn't work, ask for a room change.
You really have to try to make things work before bailing. And often, things will work out with just a little time and communication.
Have there been any first reactions to the new GRE that debuted this week that might be useful to people who are taking it soon?
While most of what we are talking about is for new students (freshman), its never too early to start planning for Grad School and the GRE.
While I can't comment on the "NEW" GRE test, I will say that while we have a number of academic support services for new Freshman, we also have plenty of resources and tools to help our upper class students as well as graduate students succeed on campus.
For GW, we just started to move toward a class based model to help address the developmental needs of different age students and that has allowed us to provide juniors and seniors a whole new set of targeted programs and services in areas like leadership, service, and career development, which are so important to where they are headed after GW.
Honestly, this is one of those things you should NOT read about. Put down the book and GO OUTSIDE and LIVE university life. Don't read about it!
AMEN! I was in a Bay Area bookstore last week, where they had three ROWS of bookcases filled with test prep materials, college guides and books about transitioning to college. Honestly, I have yet to read a guide-to-your-first-year that would really benefit freshmen. Put that money towards a pizza night out with people on your floor!
Thurston Hall has a quiet floor, at least it did when I was there (1995).
A quiet floor! Success! It does exist! (Or, it did exist at one point more than 15 years ago.)
Are "study drugs" like Adderall a problem on college campuses? Is this something parents should talk to their kids about?
Yes, parents can help out colleges and university administrators by having open, honest, adult conversations about any number of tough issues ....alcohol, drugs, safe sex, campus safety... with their students.
Parents should talk to their students about the risks of abusing substances, whether they are illegal or legal, like adderal.
I encourage parents to just put that discussion in the context of making good choices.
I sat in on several GWU orientation sessions for parents. Over and over parents were told: "Independence is encouraged." But then they are introduced to the Office of Parent Services, handed FERPA waivers and told its okay to call their kid's RA. How can parents give their college students support without hovering?
As my friend Rodney Johnson, our Exec Director of Parent Services, likes to say, "our role is to take a little gas out of your helicopters."
At GW, we want to be partners with parents and work together, but that means that students need to learn to live independently and parents need to learn to let go.
Its just a matter of balance and getting used to different roles.
Others have said "pick only a couple of organizations and dedicate yourself to them" and "exercise", both of which I echo, but I'd also venture to add that you should consider a part-time job your freshman year (yes, even in the fall!). I did work-study for all four years of undergrad and it was a huge, huge help in not only forcing me to budget my time wisely but also in building great networks. I still visit my old office when I go back for homecoming, and they not only remember me still but have also been invaluable in providing recommendations and advice.
These are great points. Our Alumni President, Laura Taddeucci Down likes to say "you're a student for four years but an alumni for life."
What starts as student life, becomes a lifelong affiliation with your alma mater!
I don't know that poster, but that answer is insufficient for the nature of the problem! This isn't petty differences, but a person forced to live in a home with illegal drug use. Why can't you help her? You imply SHE should learn to get used to it!
Drugs (including pot and prescription drugs you did not get legally) are illegal. Most of the college campuses that I have dealt with (especially the large public ones) have pretty low tolerance for drug use of any sort. Get caught with pot at the University of Maryland and you can immediately lose your housing. I can't imagine that any administrator would look the other way on a drug problem that's actually occurring. Your kid (not you) needs to step up and say something.
How well do AP classes really prepare you for college? Are college classes much different from high school AP classes?
From personal experience, I think the majority of the information that is learned in a college class will be the same as the information learned in an AP class, however, with a different teacher and a different textbook, they'll never be exactly the same. I can definitely say though, that the AP classes that I took and received credit for at GW more than prepared me for the upper level courses I took in the same subjects. Friends of mine who re-took courses that they had previously taken as AP's or at a community college while in Highschool have also said that the classes were much easier the second time around. In my opinion, college board does a great job of creating a challenging curriculum that really prepares students for college classes.
What should a parent of a first year student NOT do when helping on move-in day?
Dont stress out. Its a busy, stressful day, usually hot and crowded. Bring your patience and have some fun.
Your memories of the day will last a lifetime, so come and enjoy, and bring a camera to capture the spirit of this milestone in your students' life.
Granted that living is better than reading. But now, in the weeks before you start, you can't actually live university life. Now is the time when you are most eager to read something helpful. The right book now can be critical. (If you don't want to read a college guide, maybe try The Odyssey.)
We were really surprised to find that on the day registration opened up for my daughter many of her classes were already closed. She is still only registered for half her classes and continues to check daily for open classes. This is can be very frustrating to a freshman. After all, the purpose of college is academics. Is this a frequent occurrence? How can we avoid this in the future?
For a freshman, it is often a little bit more difficult to get every class that he/she wants. This is because the rest of the undergraduate student body has already participated in class registration by the point that they register. Therefore, after freshman year, it becomes easier and easier to get your first choice of classes. The best advice I can give regarding class registration in the future is to log on right at at the start time and type in all of the CRN's simultaneously. Either way, your daughter should not worry about getting the classes that she needs. She can always go to the class at the beginning of the semester and speak with the professor about transferring into the class, or she can take the class in another semester. There's no gaurantee that she'll get the exact professors and times that she vhad originally intended, but by the end of her Spring semester, your daughter should have taken the majority of the classes that she needs. No worries - our advisors will make sure that she is well prepared to graduate on time - or early!
I think the parent obsessed with Thurston and 6-person rooms needs to start letting go ASAP. I can only imagine that the number of questions he/she is submitting (and you are responding to) will directly correspond to the frequency of annoying phone calls to her child.
Okay, parents, lets all get along and be nice to each other.
I think it's okay for parents to be concerned about their kids and to air those concerns in an anonymous online chat. With that said, I hope that "Thurston Parent" realizes that she/he has spent the last 18 years raising what I bet is a super smart, talented kid who got into a top university. Trust that your child will make good decisions along the way, no matter where he/she lives. And trust that your kids will ask for help if they need it.
My son has signed up for the Emerging Leadership Program and has to move in earlier than normal. We shall be going with him to settle him at the dorm. Can you advise when we should reach the campus and ideally for which night we should reserve a hotel room ? Thanks, Alex
The Emerging Leaders Program begins on the 24th of August, however the majority of the day is reserved for move-in. The activities for the Emerging Leaders Program won't actually begin until the evening. Thus, I would advise that you come to DC the night before and reserve a hotel room for the night of the 23rd that way you can reach campus as early as possible on the 24th. The Key Depot at Amsterdam Hall will open as early as 8AM on that day.