As your child heads to college for the first time, there are a few things that you need to plan for now if you haven’t already. But hurry — the six-week countdown has already begun.
It may seem like only yesterday that you watched your high school senior receive his or her diploma. Mixed emotions of pride and “where did the time go” were lost in a frenzy of graduation preparation and parties. You thought you had plenty of time before thinking about your child leaving for college, but here it is July, and the uncertainty, panic, and nostalgia are setting in.
Though you may want to stop time just so you can catch your breath and preserve these moments, it’s inevitable that day will come when you will have to kiss your “baby” goodbye. You may still see your child as the clingy one afraid to climb the water slide at the kiddie pool, or that little reckless daredevil climbing the basketball pole in her tutu and bare feet, but it’s time to let go and loosen the grip. It’s time to step back. It’s time to send them to college.
While some young adults may be anxious and ready to leave, others might be clinging to the safety of home. Whatever situation you find yourself in, this six week countdown to college can make the transition to life away from home easier for everyone. But before that day comes, there are a few things that you need to plan for now if you haven’t already.
Double-check dates, times and schedules
Don’t rely on your freshman to know the days and times of move in and orientations. Some schools schedule specific times for these events, and there is rarely room for exceptions without standing in long lines or jumping through a lot of red tape. You may want your child to take on more responsibility during this transition, but nothing is worse than showing up to orientation or move in time and realizing you’re a day or even a couple of hours late.
Find out if the college offers a parent orientation and other parent-friendly activities. By going to orientation, you will learn important information about campus life, safety, financial aid, and health services that will help ease your anxiety about sending them off on their own.
Book airline tickets, car rentals, and accommodations
If you’re planning an overnight stay to get your student settled in the dorms, don’t wait any longer to book a flight or hotel room. Also, consider that renting an SUV or van can save mileage on your car. If you can’t find suitable accommodations, consider searching Airbnb or VRBO for affordable room and apartment rentals.
Shopping can be a fun and stress-free experience, especially with stores that want to capitalize on the college bound. Many stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond have checklists for dorm life or at least a generic list of college necessities. Sure, a mini fridge would be nice, but just because it’s on the list doesn’t mean your freshman will need it. In fact, before you buy any big-ticket items, check with the school to see what’s provided. Many dorms come equipped with microwaves and mini fridges.
Consider shopping online and arranging pick up at the store location near college. Not only will this save you time, but it will make packing easier.
Though you may want to wait until you know your room set-up before purchasing, pack and haul some of these items to the dorm:
- Laundry basket (lightweight collapsible with handle), laundry soap, dryer sheets and a month’s supply of quarters for the washer and dryer.
- Sewing and mini tool kit
- Oversized mug for microwaving soup, ramen noodles and mac and cheese
- Extension cords, power strips and three-prong adapters
- Portable fan and lighting
- Smoke alarm and small fire extinguisher
- Coffee pot
- Noise-reducing headphones for the introvert who wants to tune out his roommate or dorm noise
- First-aid kit
Use time wisely
Though you may have had grand ideas of spending lots of quality time with your family this summer, chances are they have other plans. Your child’s last summer at home may be filled with working to save up extra cash for college and spending time with friends that they may not get to see for a long time. It’s not that your child doesn’t value family time, it’s just they know you will always be there. Their high school friends may not. So, whatever time your freshman offers you, enjoy it without laying on the guilt trip.
See if your child’s school or major requires a specific computer operating system and ask for the student discount at the campus store. You can also get student discounts for certain software online. Before you buy a printer, see if you can find out who your child’s roommate is and if they are bringing one to college. You can arrange for purchasing extra ink in exchange for using the printer. Here are some other items to put on your technology checklist:
- External back up drive
- Two flash drives to back up school papers
- Copy paper
- Extra ink cartridges
You may be the kind of parent who had their children making lunches and doing laundry at 10 years old, or you may still be washing their clothes. Either way, being on your own and not having parents as a backup when doing daily tasks can be daunting.
Home economics 101
Even if your freshman knows how to wash, iron their own clothes, and sew on a button, still walk them through the basics. Teach them how to clean the bathroom, make a bed, cook basic meals, and how to take their temperature. Make a checklist and see if there is anything your child doesn’t know how to do.
Car maintenance and transportation
If they will have a car, educate them on basic maintenance and show them how to change the oil and a tire. At the very least, set your child up with oil change coupons and AAA for roadside emergencies. Research public transportation and decide if a bicycle is a more cost-effective way for your student to get around. Show your freshman how to use ride share apps like Lyft and Uber. If using these services, make sure your child is not charging your credit card without your knowledge.
Working in college
Talk with your child about the pros and cons of holding a job on or off campus while maintaining grades. If a job is necessary, see if there are any desk jobs where studying is allowed. As a freshman, acclimating to school and dorm life is hard enough. Throw in a job and your freshman runs the risk of burning out or worse — dropping out.
Banking and finances
Managing money can be overwhelming. To ease the anxiety, teach them how to properly and safely use an ATM or debit card as well as keep track of money spent. Create a college budget; go over how to keep track of expenses and how much is in their bank account so they don’t mindlessly swipe a debit card and experience those awkward insufficient funds moments.
Walk them through making a bank deposit, online banking and bill paying. Research area banks and request to set up an account over the phone. If this isn’t possible, make sure you set up local banking before your student gets immersed in college life.
Discuss college expenses above and beyond tuition, room and board and who will pay for items like toiletries and extras including late night pizza. Determine who is responsible for certain charges and what you, as a parent, will contribute to if anything. Set up money transfers and apps like Square Cash and Venmo, but make sure you research if there are any fees involved in the transfers.
Educate your child about credit card companies targeting college students and discuss if a credit card is something your student will need. If so, teach them how to use it responsibly .
As the farewell gets closer, both you and your freshman may be experiencing all kinds of emotions. If you’re feeling a sense of loss, write down your feelings so they don’t come out in negative ways. During these last few weeks, your child may experience strong emotions as well. Be sensitive to the impact leaving has on the other children in the family. It’s OK to want to nurture family relationships, but don’t smother your freshman or the others in the home. And don’t use another child to fill the gap you may feel with the one who is leaving.
Start a conversation
Find a quiet time when neither of you are rushed and tell your child how proud you are of all they’ve accomplished. Highlight one or two great qualities and why you think they will have a successful freshman year. Share some fears you had in your life about being on your own. And remind your child that from time to time they might feel like they do not belong, and that’s normal. Then ask if your freshman has any concerns about college. Encourage them to be comfortable with being uncomfortable as life changes.
Talk about expectations, (yours and theirs), particularly when it comes to communication. How often do you want to talk by phone and by text? Can you be friends on social media? Too often, parents get anxious when they don’t hear from their son or daughter so they start to stalk them on social media. This can be a really bad idea.
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College life can be mentally and physically demanding, but throw in the newfound freedom every freshman experiences and your student can burn out quickly. Some may choose to study or work too much, while others will stay up all night partying. Either scenario has risks to your child’s health. While balance is the key, rare is the freshman who realizes this by the end of their first semester.
When Laura Drumb’s daughters went to college, she told them that even if they didn’t eat well or sleep enough, they should make sure they didn’t forget to exercise. “Even a brief break from studying for a short walk can do wonders and help the body relax so the brain works better,” says Drumb. “Both my girls said the advice really helped them many times in college.”
According to a Bio Med Central Obesity study, 60.9 percent of freshmen gain an average of 7.5 pounds. And with many colleges having buffet style meal plans, fast food and vending machines around every corner, it’s no surprise that the freshman 15 is not an urban legend.
Despite the odds, your freshman doesn’t have to end up a statistic. Locate a map of the campus and figure out where your child can add more exercise into his day. That may mean walking or biking to class and the cafeteria instead of driving, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, especially if the dorm room is on the third floor or lower.
Campus urgent care
While the best medicine is prevention, which includes getting enough sleep, balanced nutrition and exercise, there will be times when your freshman will need to see a doctor.
Find out ahead of time if there is an urgent care clinic on campus and what the hours and costs for a doctor visit is. There’s nothing like running a 103 fever on a Saturday night and not knowing who to talk to. Stress the importance of not ignoring symptoms that can be potentially dangerous, like those of mono and meningitis. Assure your child that health comes first, and you are always a phone call away. Make sure you provide a thermometer and fever reduction medicine in the first-aid kit.
Any significant issues that could impact your child’s experience and life at college should be disclosed to appropriate college staff. “If your child has a mental health challenge, be sure someone on staff knows, especially if they are taking meds,” says Jenny Schneider, a high school guidance counselor. “Sometimes students get to college and think they can reinvent themselves and that they don’t have the same issues and don’t need the same medication. If they quit taking needed medication, it’s important someone on campus is aware that they should be taking meds and watch for signs of not taking them.”
Safety and sexuality
Whether your child is ready or not, they will be confronted with campus life which may include sex, alcohol and drugs. Talk to your freshman about these issues and how to handle certain uncomfortable situations. Remind them that the best way to deal with potentially dangerous circumstances is to have a plan.
While crime is a fact of life, students on campus may feel safe in their bubble. Teach your freshman how to be safe. Stress the importance of traveling in groups, walking in well-lit areas, and having campus security escort them after dark or any time they feel uncomfortable.
Have your freshman survey areas like “fraternity row” with friends to observe how different students are behaving. The less involvement your freshman has with alcohol and drugs, the safer they will be. Most students would never do something sober that they are willing to do under the influence.
Remind your freshman not to readily give out personal information or swap photos with people they don’t know well. Helping your student program emergency numbers such as police, fire, family and friends in a cellphone can also come in handy if they are confronted with an uncertain or dangerous situation.
Remind your student not to let their guard down in the dorms or leave valuables such as debit cards, wallets and electronics in plain sight. Encourage your freshman to get to know neighbors so everyone can keep a look out for people who shouldn’t be on the floor or in and out of rooms.
Now is the time to make sure nothing is left unsaid or undone. Re-evaluate what your child really needs to pack for college. If they are going to college in Florida, they probably won’t need a winter coat. Determine if it’s easier to pack clothes and valuables in suitcases and plastic bags or in portable containers and laundry baskets they can use in college. You may even decide to mail some lighter things rather than paying for extra luggage on the airplane.
It’s also fine to pack away some childhood memorabilia for safekeeping, but wait until they’re off to college before turning their room into your office or craft room. In fact, if you want your child to come home during holidays and vacations, make sure it still feels like home. And offering to do laundry or cooking favorite meals may make them visit more often.
Many colleges have student orientation volunteers to help move freshmen in, so don’t be surprised if your student wants to say goodbye at the curb. If you’re lucky enough to see where your child will sleep and help set up the room, don’t linger. This separation may be hardest on parents, but it’s important to make it quick and as painless as possible.
After you wave goodbye to your freshman, let them go. In fact, Schneider suggests giving them six weeks before getting overly involved in their college life. Know that there may be some homesickness and culture shock, but encourage them that it will get better. “Make sure they have at least one close friend within that first six weeks’ time,” says Schneider. “Social connections are a huge factor in college success.”
Homesickness and dropouts
According to some stats, 30 percent of freshmen drop out. But running home when things get rough is not the answer. While it’s important to support and show empathy, don’t try and solve all their problems. Remind them that they can talk with a resident adviser and that what they are feeling might be normal.
“This is their first foray into adulthood, and parents need to let their children have the freedom to figure things out for themselves,” says Schneider. “Don’t rescue them. They will learn so much more from their failures than from parental rescuing.”
With today’s technology, it’s not hard to stay connected. Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and Snapchat may make you feel as if your child is still across the hall, but don’t take it personally when they don’t call every day. Give your freshman space, text every so often and keep connected.
Then watch and wait for when your young adult starts to seek you out. That’s when you know all the turbulent years from toddler to teenager were worth it.
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