Orientation & Summer Bridge Programs

Starting college is always an exciting challenge, but we know that you need even more support during these unprecedented times. These resources will help visualize your life on campus and prepare for a memorable and informed transition to college.

By Andrea Malkin Brenner, PhD and Lara Hope Schwartz, JD
Professionalism in College

The most successful college students approach college academics like a job. That means showing up on time, being respectful, and taking responsibility for your own performance. Check out this video to learn Lara's best tips for being a college pro!

For more info, see Chapter 5 in How to College

3 mins
Life Beyond the Classroom

Most first-year students report that they feel significantly more connected to their campuses and student community if they enmesh themselves in clubs and organizations as soon as possible. Andrea discusses how you can do this as an incoming student even if your first semesters end up delayed or online.

For more info, see Chapter 8 in How to College

3 mins
Discuss Before You Go

Families and students often have differing expectations about matters such as finances, safety, and communication. In this video, Lara and Andrea offer helpful discussion prompts so that you and your families can have frank, productive discussions before college in order to make sure everyone is on the same page.

2 mins

Getting involved

College isn’t only about what is taught in your classrooms. On campus, learning takes place absolutely everywhere—and this includes your involvement in clubs and organizations. College students don’t join clubs, activities, and teams to improve their transcripts; they join because of a sincere interest or passion in a particular area. Every campus boasts a large number of student-run clubs and organizations, and unlike in high school, you’ll have quite a bit of free time to get involved and choose how committed you want to be in each club or organization you join.

Even if your first semester of college ends up with a delayed start time or moves online, you can still get a jump on learning about clubs and organizations at your new school this summer and begin to get involved as an incoming student. You’ll be surprised how connecting to an existing group of students who share some of your passions will leave you excited about your life outside of the classroom once you do arrive on campus. During this pandemic, many almost-college students feel that the fall semester ahead is so tentative. Yet beginning to get connected, even from your home, can make you feel much more a part of your new campus.

How do I choose?

Many new students participate in two or even three clubs, organizations, or groups during their first semester of college. This can remain the same, even if your first semester of college takes place online. There are two different ways to choose clubs and organizations in college:

  1. You can drop some or all of your high school identities (as a soccer player, singer, debater) and try a brand new activity on for size. College is a time to try some completely new activities you’ve never had a chance to join before, or even return to some of the activities you liked as a child.
  2. Alternatively, you can really hone one of your current passions and develop skills to excel in it at the college level. Now that your resume isn’t focused on gathering various activities, as it likely was in high school, you can focus on one or more areas that you care about.

What types of clubs exist?

There are many different types of college clubs and organizations available to students, although the language used to describe them may differ by campus. Here is a list of the most common categories with examples of each:

  • Academic Organizations: undergraduate history club or a film students’ association
  • Cultural Diversity Groups: Black Student Alliance or a Korean student association
  • Faith/Spirituality Organizations: Hillel or a gospel choir
  • Professional Clubs: International Sociology Honors Society or business students association
  • Sports/Fitness Groups: intramural volleyball team or a hiking club
  • Political Groups: College Student Republicans or Students for Justice in Palestine
  • Publication Teams: campus newspaper or a photography journal
  • Honors/Achievement Clubs: a business club or Future Teachers of America
  • Public Service/Civic Organizations: Get Out the Vote or local elementary school tutoring
  • Fraternal Organizations: social, professional, or community service sorority/fraternity
  • Performance Groups: Shakespeare theater group or an improv comedy troupe
  • Social Clubs: gamers group or a Harry Potter club
  • College Representation: campus tour guide or student representative to the Board of Trustees

What steps can I take?

  1. Check out your school's campus life website. Set aside some time to check out your school’s campus life or student activities website, which will have a list of the student clubs and organizations sponsored by the school and the contact information of their student leaders. This task might seem overwhelming at first, as there might be hundreds of groups listed. Don’t worry—just go slowly and make a list of the organizations that (at least by name and category) interest you at this time.
  2. Do a bit of research. Check out each club or organization’s presence online. They will most likely have a website, a Facebook page, and/or an Instagram account which will give you an idea of the club’s mission, its past programming, and the students who are involved. For example, if you are interested in pursuing a passion for sports, make sure to look at the intramural teams, club sports, and also the opportunities that exist through your school’s fitness center or gym. If you want to learn more about opportunities for singers, check out the school-sponsored chorus(es) and the student-run acapella groups and bands.
  3. Reach out. Send a message by email or through the club’s social media account to the students who lead the clubs that most interest you and introduce yourself as an incoming student. Request to be added to their mailing list and ask any questions you might have about the number of students involved in the group, if there is a fee to participate, or the time commitment for new members. Ask how you can get connected to meet some of the current members, prepare for auditions, or learn about what current students in the group are doing to stay involved. Most importantly, don’t forget that the majority of the students currently involved in your school’s clubs and organizations are also stuck at home and have most likely found ways to stay connected with their groups. As an interested incoming member, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how welcomed these students will make you feel.

The Benefits

Studies show that being involved in clubs and organizations expands first-year students’ organizational and managerial skills, prepares them for college-level academic group projects, and helps to diversify their friend groups.

Students also report that their college clubs and organizations provide them with practical situations to use the skills they learn in classes.

One of the hidden benefits of joining a club or organization as a first-year student is the regular interaction you’ll have with upper-class students who can introduce you to others in the group and offer advice about classes and professors. This is true, regardless if your first involvement in the club is virtually or in person.

About Andrea

Andrea Malkin Brenner, PhD is a sociologist who works with high school and college students, parents, faculty, and staff on all things related to college transitions. She is the creator of the nationally-recognized AUx Program, the mandatory full year first-year transition course at American University. Dr. Brenner served as a faculty member in the Department of Sociology at American University for 20 years and directed AU's University College program, the university's oldest and largest living-learning community for first-year students.

Learn more about Andrea here.

About Lara

Lara Hope Schwartz, JD teaches in the Department of Government at American University School of Public Affairs (SPA) and is the Director of the Project on Civil Discourse. In teaching law and government, she draws on her experience as a legislative lawyer, lobbyist, and communications strategist in leading civil rights organizations.

Learn more about Lara here.

How to College

For more help on preparing for your first semester of college, see Andrea & Lara's book, How to College, the first practical guide of its kind that helps students transition smoothly from high school to college.

*Teachers and instructors interested in an exam copy for possible course adoption, please email academic@macmillan.com.