Orientation season at the University of Virginia is in full swing. Between now and July 31, more than 4,000 members of the Class of 2022 and their relatives will swarm to Grounds to get a taste of what life as a first-year student will be like.
As students sign up for classes and get to know their classmates, parallel programming helps parents and guests learn more about life at UVA. New this year is “Families Helping Families,” a program in which veteran parents give first-year guardians the inside scoop on what to anticipate and what to avoid.
Assistant Dean Tabitha Enoch, the director of orientation and new student programs, created the new panel discussions. Last week, one such panel featured three parents who also happen to work at UVA: Gay Perez, the executive director of Housing and Residence Life; Karen Nuelle, director of parent engagement in the College of Arts & Sciences; and Mark White, an associate professor of commerce in the McIntire School of Commerce.
Here are their seven top suggestions for new parents, in no certain order.
1. Hold on loosely, but don’t let go.
Parents who grew up in the 1980s may recognize these lyrics from the band 38 Special:
Just hold on loosely
But don’t let go
If you cling too tightly
You’re gonna lose control
The message here is simple. Now is the time to let go, pat yourself on the back for helping your child get into UVA and allow her to find her own way. Once your child has moved onto Grounds, if you get a nervous call about something, resist offering a solution. Certainly, talk through the issue with your child, but hang back and let them try to work through whatever it is that is troubling them. There are people at UVA standing by and ready to help your student. Encourage them to ask for that help.
2. Encourage students to “shrink” the University
Many first-year classes are held in large lecture halls, and moving from one far-flung building to another can be overwhelming. One thing you can suggest to your student is to “shrink” UVA to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Encourage them to seek out clubs and other activities that can help college feel smaller and your student make connections with others.
Doing that could take the form of joining a recreational sports club, rushing a sorority or fraternity or enjoying programming at the Lorna Sundberg International Center on University Circle. UVA has more than 700 clubs and organizations, focused on everything from 3-D printing to ballroom dancing.
3. Let your student know there is more than one way to “do” UVA.
There is no one path a student must follow to have a successful and enriching experience at UVA. Alumni parents who participated in the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, for example, may wish that for their first-year. Because it is such a competitive program, that may not be possible. There are many ways for students to forge their own direction (see above for ideas).
4. Don’t feel pressured to sign a lease early in the semester. There is ample housing on Grounds and in the surrounding community.
Unfortunately, students begin to feel pressured to look for second-year housing not long after they move into their dorms. September is when some local landlords begin to look for tenants for the following year. This can cause students to whip themselves into a frenzy.
Don’t let it get to you. Tell your student that people are more important than location. Encourage him to wait until he is sure he has found his people. Remember, the early weeks at UVA are a honeymoon period for students. The people they think they like right now may not be the best roommates for their second years.
Students need not commit to on-Grounds, upper-class housing until January.
5. Enjoy move-in weekend, but maybe don’t plan to stay for Sunday brunch.
Your student’s move-in day kicks off the second part of his or her orientation experience, which is called Wahoo Welcome. If your student moves in on Friday, Aug. 24, consider staying in Charlottesville overnight so you can make those last-minute grocery and big-box store runs on Saturday. But rethink stretching your stay into Sunday morning. Wahoo Welcome includes mandatory programming for first-years on Sunday. (This year’s schedule of events will be announced in August.)
6. Curious about the first days of dorm life at UVA?
7. Become part of the University community.
There are several ways for parents to remain engaged with UVA after dropping off their first-year students. Giving to UVA’s Parents Fund keeps you involved and enhances the student experience by supporting clubs, cultural events, career services and more. And don’t forget to make your plans for Family Weekend. This is a time for families to come back to Grounds, visit with their student, attend Fall Convocation, when the University bestows its Thomas Jefferson Awards, and take in a football game (the Cavaliers play North Carolina). This year’s Family Weekend is Oct 26 through 28. And of course, subscribe to UVA Today, the University’s main media outlet.