07/16/2013 08:31 am ET Updated Sep 15, 2013

7 Things I Learned At My Son's College Orientation

It's called "Freshman Orientation" but it's probably designed more for the parents than for the freshmen.

I recently traveled with my oldest child to his freshman orientation at Northeastern University in Boston, about a four-hour drive from our home. During the course of two days, I was struck again and again by the involvement of parents. At the special orientation seminars designed just for us -- including one called "Holding On And Letting Go" at which parents actually shed tears -- moms and dads took copious notes, as interested in the meal plans as they were financial aid opportunities. We were told about specific parent portal websites, emailed newsletters and all sorts of services designed to make us feel as though we were still going to be a part of our children's lives.

When I returned, I told a friend about how I'm not even sure my parents knew where I was going when I left for college. But it's a different story today. Parents are very, very involved. As a result, more than 90 percent of colleges now offer some kind of program for parents of incoming freshmen, and 31 percent of colleges have a parent office on campus, according to the National Orientation Directors Association in 2011. Of course one of the main goals is to teach parents how to remain engaged while not coming across as an overbearing "helicopter parent."

For my part, I appreciated the array of programming on offer at Northeastern and immensely enjoyed spending two days on campus. Oh, yes. And my son did too. I'm excited about all that awaits him and not nearly as melancholy about the thought of him leaving home as I was before the orientation.

Besides the fact that today's parents are very, very involved, I learned a few other things at orientation. Here are just seven of them.

1. Mascots are as big a deal now as they were when I was in school. At Northeastern, for example, the Husky dog mascot is ubiquitous. There's even a campus good-luck tradition. Rub the nose of the Husky statue in Eli Hall and good fortune will follow.

2. Universities -- including Northeastern -- have hundreds and hundreds of clubs. There's everything from the Lebanese Society to water polo to the Libertarian Club. If a student doesn't see a club they like, they are encouraged to form a new one.

3. Northeastern's co-op program, founded over a century ago, is one of the largest in the world. Students alternate semesters of academic study with semesters of full-time employment in positions related to their academic or career interests. The co-op program seemed to be the number one reason students choose Northeastern over even the likes of Harvard.

4. The student-faculty ratio at all Boston-area universities is impressive; 9:1 at Tufts.

5. Dorm beds suck! Almost every person I encountered was talking about trying to find mattress pads to fit Twin XL beds that are 80 inches long.

6. There's an annual Sex Week, part serious and part fun. Police talk about issues like sex trafficking while students host events like a "condom casino." All in all, I was told the event promotes safe sex and sexual awareness. (Does this take place at all colleges?)

7. Freshmen are really smart! I found myself sitting by an 18-year-old woman who planned to study physical therapy and who -- instead of enjoying her last summer off before college -- had already found herself an internship at an area hospital.

Have any of you attended a freshman orientation this summer? Let us hear about it in comments.

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