Orientation and your first day, all over again

The school year is over. For those of us starting a new school in the fall, just a few months stand between now and a new beginning.

The first day back in school can make you feel like you’re a kid again. You’ve got new teachers, new classmates, and new school supplies. You’re probably feeling a mix of excitement and nerves.

I remember feeling overwhelmed during my first couple of weeks of seminary (though honestly, that feeling hasn’t ever completely gone away). I also remember that it took time to get settled in my new environment.

When you’re starting at a seminary or divinity school, you’ll likely find that they have some sort of orientation program set up for you. I went through seminary orientation twice because I transferred schools after my first year.

The purpose of orientation week is not just to provide you with information, though often they do give you a lot of that. It’s partially to acquaint you with your new colleagues. You have plenty of time to go through handouts, set up your email address, chart out your class schedules for the next two (or more) years, and so forth. It’s the relationships that will support you and help you keep going when you feel like you don’t want to or can’t.

If you’re enrolling in an online program, you might find yourself placed into a cohort. Not all schools use them—my husband got his master’s through a distance/online program that did not rely on cohorts. However, in faith-based programs, they’re more common because they build a community for online students who may feel isolated.

A cohort is a group of students who go through an academic program at the same pace. You’re joined together to learn as a team. If you’re learning online and are part of a cohort, getting to know them right away can help take the place of building in-person relationships during orientation.

Orientation is also an opportunity to think about where you want to be by the time you graduate. What kind of experience do you want to have? How do you want to grow? What do you need to get done? It’s important to make sure you’ll be able to fulfill all your graduation requirements on time. If some classes are offered only at certain times, you may miss them and end up graduating late.

Additionally, most students find they have to plan ahead for some “extras” like travel seminars, in-depth field education, and degree program emphases like biblical studies or religious history. If you don’t account for those ahead of time, you could miss out, so it’s worth it to think in advance.

If I could go back and make a recommendation to myself when I was going through orientation, I would tell myself to get acquainted with all my available resources much earlier on. I’m talking about my academic advisor, the library and all its electronic databases, the online student portal—everything.

Schools often have a lot of great resources for their students, but we don’t always catch those details when we’re trying to soak everything up during orientation. Sometimes, the school isn’t great about advertising those things, either. If you don’t know whether your school offers something you need (like a financial coach), try asking! When you have a quiet moment in your first few weeks, sit down and carefully go through your notes from orientation, emails, school website, etc. to find out what’s out there.

Being an anonymous student might be tempting, especially for those of us who are introverts or busy with outside commitments, but it can be so helpful to network and get to know who does what job at your school. Later on, when you need something, you won’t be some random stranger asking for a favor. You’ll be a face that they recognize, and you could build some wonderful relationships, too.

Orientation season isn’t coming up for a few months, so until then, relax! Have a wonderful summer.