Campus Life

How to Start Strong at USF

This is your first-year college experience

by Talya Sanders, USF News

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Weeks of Welcome (WOW) include more than 200 events for first-year students.

New to USF? You don’t have to go it alone.

“Orientation reassured me that I’m supported here at USF and that there are communities and offices here to help me,” said Rachel Romero ’26, an engineering major from Fremont, Calif.

“During the first weeks of college, our students are transitioning to a new and what can at times be an overwhelming environment. We’re here to help all students get connected so they can thrive academically, personally, and socially — from day one,” said Julie Orio, vice president of student life. “Because students have different needs, we offer a wide breadth of support, resources, and engagement opportunities.”

Here’s what to expect when you arrive at USF.

New Student and Family Orientation    

The cornerstone program for first-year students is New Student and Family Orientation, held on campus the week before continuing students arrive. The GO (Get Oriented) Team leads activities for small groups of new students, helping them to form strong connections outside of residence halls, said Orio. Orientation includes social events on campus, study skills workshops, and adventures in San Francisco — like riding a cable car, going bowling, or attending a Giants game. The One Community, One Book project features small-group discussions on a shared summer reading assignment, facilitating conversations and fostering ideas about how students can transform words into actions to change the world.

The first-year community comes together for larger events, too, including new student convocation, affinity group orientations, concerts, and student retreats led by University Ministry.

“My GO Team leader and group helped me feel more connected with people outside my classes, which has been really helpful. And the support systems that I learned about during orientation are helping me balance my school life and my social life,” said Romero.

Romero’s favorite first moments as a Don were making friends during game nights and a campus scavenger hunt.

She credits her early experiences on campus with helping her land a job as a student ambassador giving tours to prospective students and a job at Koret Health and Recreation Center.

Weeks of Welcome

After New Student and Family Orientation wraps up, the Weeks of Welcome (WOW) extend orientation into the first two weeks of classes with more than 200 events, said Orio. Highlights include an on-campus concert called “Dons Night Out,” fairs featuring campus resources and student involvement opportunities, athletic events, community convocation, and a Mass of the Holy Spirit.

Small Seminars

USF101 is a free, one-credit course that helps new first-year students connect with each other and start strong at USF. Students explore San Francisco and USF’s campus, learn to define their academic and career goals, and learn about wellness through cura personalis, the Jesuit tradition of caring for the whole person. Guest speakers from the Center for Academic and Student Achievement (CASA) and Career Services Center help students plan their academic and career paths, and student peer mentors and recent USF alumni share their journeys at USF and beyond.

First-year seminars are small classes on a range of topics, including writing for multimedia, the environmental history of Golden Gate Park, and theater, dance, and opera in San Francisco. The classes, which meet a core requirement or serve as a prerequisite for one, feature discussions, critical thinking, and group work while helping students learn USF’s social justice mission and how they can apply it to their education. The seminars enable students to get to know faculty who can support them over the next several years.

Community Action

In the months and weeks leading up to move-in day, USF fosters connections so students and families can meet other Dons who live near them and start interacting with their respective GO Teams. Virtual and in-person events around the country and letters from GO Team leaders help first-year students and their families start building communities long before they arrive on campus.