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The Do’s & Don’ts of College Freshman Orientation According to New Students + Giveaway Ideas

The Do’s & Don’ts of College Freshman Orientation According to New Students + Giveaway Ideas
published: June 26, 2024

The fall can be a crazy time of year, especially for the planners of new student orientations. Hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of new students are about to descend on your campus and begin their higher education. This is your big chance to make a great first impression and start the year off right, with your freshman class secure in the knowledge that they have made the right decision. Our team at Crestline has pulled together ideas and suggestions based on Reddit threads from actual students to help you help your first-year class while avoiding pitfalls. And, of course, we have heaps of event supply ideas and orientation swag inspiration to support you in supporting your students. Let’s look at the Dos and Don’ts of college orientation planning:


1. Ace event organization

Students have often traveled to a strange new place to join your institution, and they are committing their investment to it. A ramshackle orientation event gives a bad first impression and can have your first-year class suspecting that they’ve made a mistake, even if the team responsible for orientation isn’t responsible for campus life during the bulk of the year. A new student orientation checklist can be a lifesaver.

2. Make sure your systems are working

Registering for classes can be one of the most stressful parts of orientation. Be sure students can get classes they need and want and make getting finalized schedules simple.

3. Nail the welcome

Use the word “welcome” on custom printed university signage and make sure the first stop of registration is friendly and organized. Use directional sail and razor flags so that students and parents know where to go and park.

4. Take pictures and give out IDs

According to a college Reddit thread, students carry their IDs in many ways. Accommodate the most popular methods with orientation giveaways such as phone wallets, lanyards, and card/ID holders. Provide lanyards that can carry keys, safety whistles, or pepper spray in addition to IDs, hands-free. Whether students like to wear lanyards around their neck, stuff IDs in a pocket, or clip a wallet to their backpack, these orientation gifts will be used daily.

5. Make paperwork easy

Even in this digital age, college orientation can still involve paperwork and forms. Help students be more efficient with writing instruments, document holders, and folders.

6. Help students with the campus layout

Be sure to hand out maps and offer practical tours for new students. If you are on a large university campus, be sure to feature tours by college or major. Include all the places they will need to visit regularly, not just the impressive or historic buildings and facilities. Introduce students to the different dorms, dining halls, quads, gym or health centers, and buildings with classrooms. Get creative with your new student orientation ideas: have your maps do double duty by printing them on microfiber cloths that can be used to clean tech devices and glasses.

Outfit your student or staff tour guides with college logo branded t shirts that match in color and design, so that visiting students can easily find the people that can help and guide them. Campus tours are the perfect opportunity to hand out truly thoughtful college orientation giveaways, some of which can be used right away, such as sunglasses, T-shirts, baseball or trucker caps, and inexpensive event drawstring backpacks. Fill these bags with small custom items such sunscreen, stickers, sanitizer, socks, lip balm, magnets, lightweight water bottles. Present the gift, designed to increase school spirit, at the start of the tour.

7. Share parking details and permit information

If many of your incoming freshmen will be bringing cars or commuting during the year, it will be important to cover how to get parking permits and any parking restrictions. This is the perfect place to throw in some fun car accoutrements as well.

8. Be smart about icebreaker activities

Many students complain that these are painful to experience and don’t help them meet the people they will be friends with at school. The easiest way for students to make friends is with their roommates, in classes and study groups, and in their extra-curricular activities.

Instead of awkward ice-breaking games, you may want to encourage and facilitate video calls between roommates before new student orientation. Soliciting support from older student representatives from campus clubs and activities to attend college orientation can also be an effective way to acclimate first-year students. New students can gravitate toward groups they are interested in and meet seasoned students to welcome them into the fold. Be sure student groups have branded table covers and signs so students can find them easily. This is another great spot for orientations swag such as office clips, adhesive notes, and stylus pens.

You may also want to use college orientation as an opportunity to encourage students to attend classes in person whenever possible to foster a feeling of true connection.

9. Reward participation

Instead of mandatory new student orientation activities, consider offering a choice of many different activities and tie giveaways or a chance at a higher-value reward for those who take part. Here are some ideas:

  1. Participation in a gym or fitness center tour or activity gives students a chance to win an opportunity to work with a personal trainer for a semester.
  2. Attendance at an activity held in the dining hall adds extra points to a student’s meal plan or credits for non-campus dining options.
  3. Engagement in a dorm activity is rewarded with tokens for free laundry, coupons for local restaurant delivery, or discounted movie or concert tickets. Or you may want to raffle off chances for larger prizes like a cooler chair or beach cart, golf cart rides to class for a day, a luxury custom backpack, or even a dorm fridge.
  4. Partaking in freshman orientation activities like a multi-day scavenger hunt can accumulate points toward buying a wheeled laundry basket, wireless charger and earbuds, a deluxe shower set, a snack crate to share with new friends or a power bank.
  5. Any other involvement in specialty events could allow students to earn shopping credits at the campus online spirit store.

A few fun raffle prizes are school logo laptop bags, headphones, or eco-friendly gifts.

10. Answer student questions

When prospective or new students ask questions, use the opportunity to answer them for the masses. Post questions and answers on your website, in email communications or newsletters, and in your snail mailings. Here are some common student questions about college orientations:

  • Do I have to go? Is orientation mandatory?
  • What happens if I don’t attend? Can I still sign up for classes? When, where and how?
  • If the event is not mandatory, what are the advantages of attending?
  • What happens?
  • Should my parents come, and if so, will they be on their own schedule with their own activities? What will those be?
  • What should I bring?
  • How should I dress?

12. End the day with a spirit boosting gift set

Before students head back to their dorms and parents head home, send them off with a preassembled new student welcome box. Here are some popular ideas:


1. Break promises

If you promise particular activities or that specific professors will be available at new student orientation, be sure those events occur and those individuals attend, barring unexpected emergencies.

2. Isolate new students

Think about how you’re grouping new students. If your school offers some majors with only a few students, consider combining them for tours and activities.

3. Leave newcomers on their own

No one likes to be lost, especially when they first arrive at college. Create clear directional signage for both indoor and outdoor activities.

4. Make things unnecessarily complicated

If students can sign up for classes more easily from home than they can at college orientation, allow them to do so. Use the in-person time for other activities or relationship-building.

5. Overdo the ice breaker activities

A lot of students find these awkward and anxiety inducing. If you make ice breakers mandatory or overdo them, you can actually lose these students before classes begin. While some new students report that they do keep some of the new connections they make at orientation, many find that these relationships are not as valuable as the ones they make more organically over the first several weeks in the dorms and at classes.

6. Forget the parents

Some of them will probably show up even if you didn’t plan for them. Be sure to plan college orientation activities for them, so they know that their kids and their investment are well cared for.

7. Forget basic event supplies

Keep these items nearby so you can make sure your student orientation schedule stays on track.

8. Do not underestimate the life changing capabilities of memo magnet clips and Popsockets

In allowing new students to organize their new lives and decorate their dorm rooms. See 28 Creative Ways to Use Magnetic Clips, and Life Hacks for Custom PopSockets™ Phone Grips.

9. Forget to order new student giveaways

The best time to order custom printed items for college orientation is right after graduation, during May and June.