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Dropping kids off at college is one of the hardest things for parents to do. It can be hard for teens too, but they’re excited about this new phase of their lives. Aside from summer camp, this may be their first time away from home. Of course, as parents, we’re happy for them to start college life. Letting go isn’t easy but the transition can be a bonding experience for parent and teens. Whether you’ve agreed to a college drop off or to help arrange the dorm room, move-in day is a milestone. Here’s how to do it in style.
Tips for Dropping Your Kid Off at College
Having dropped off three kids at three different colleges, I know experiences can vary. For the students and the parents. But no matter what, it’s never easy waving goodbye to your college freshman.
Whether far away or in your home state, dropping kids off at college is tough. My three each decided to stay in our home state. Two are in Southern California and my youngest child in San Francisco.
For me, the first time was the hardest. Christina was excited about shopping for and moving into her dorm room. But I’ll always remember driving away on the first day and watching her fade in the distance. At home, I sat in her room and cried for days (OK, weeks), breathing in her scent. The separation felt like a breakup. Rounds two and three were a tad easier since we all knew what to expect. But letting go is never easy. And the way home is hard (bring tissues). Each time I had an empty feeling leaving them behind and coming home to their vacant rooms.
With each college move, we became more efficient. We remembered extra extension cords, surge protectors, and other things easy to overlook. Many schools provide carts to haul luggage and supplies. But it’s handy to bring along your own furniture dolly to move items from your car to the dorm. Here’s some expert advice from parents of college kids.
Shopping for the Dorm Room
By the end of high school, teens are planning for college life. By now they may be in contact with their soon-to-be college roommate. Compare shopping lists so you don’t duplicate items like microwaves and coffee makers.
Start with the college website. Many college websites list what’s supplied, recommended and forbidden in residence halls. Keep in mind that dorm rooms are usually small, so keep it simple. Most dorm rooms provide beds, dressers, desks and closet space. Initially, just buy the basics and see what your teen needs after they move in.
Dorm Room Essentials
Bedding (XL twin sheets, pillow, comforter) and toiletries are the most important items. Also, shower shoes and a basket for toiletries. Must have items include computers, printers, extension cords, desk lamp, and other school/work supplies.
Next, get a basket of cleaning supplies. Windex, sponge, toilet cleaner, and maybe potpourri. More handy items: small vacuum, paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent, small iron, and full length mirror. Often overlooked but equally important is a tool box. Include essentials include a hammer, tape, glue, poster putty, hooks, thumb tacks, nails, measuring tape, etc.
Shopping Tips from Moms
Brenda Rees, a California mom, advises looking for the easiest solutions. “We discovered where the closest Target was and gave her gift cards to use for stuff she might have forgotten (like laundry detergent, etc.).”
Rees also recommends creating a “medicine chest” of aspirin, cough syrup, etc. “They don’t think of it, but it will come in handy when they get sick – which she did come winter.”
During her daughter’s senior year of high school, Kansas City mom Lisa Waterman Gray began shopping for her dorm apartment. “I gradually collected a kitchen-full of must-haves and presented them to her before the college move. Then did the same for our younger daughter.”
For big items like a refrigerator and microwave, South Carolina resident Julie Thompson Adolf plans to wait until her daughter moves to college 14 hours from home. That way she can ascertain what is needed, without having to pack it for long-term travel.
Also, consider buying gift cards to Trader Joe’s, Panera Bread, and a grocery store close to campus.
For bulky stuff like bedding, many families like the services and products at stores like Target and Bed Bath & Beyond. This service is especially convenient for students attending college out of state. Bed, Bath and Beyond has a “pack and hold” option that appeals to Gaye Fowler Jacobs in California. “You go to your local store, pick out everything you need, and they send the order to the store near your college. You fly in, go to the store near the college and your order is there waiting for you to pick up. It’s the best service ever and they really have a huge selection,”says Fowler Jacobs.
A mother of two in Connecticut, Anthy Hellmers says her family bought most of their kids’ items at Costco and Target. But Rees and her daughter are fans of a university’s services. “Her school had a checklist for suggested items. We got the bedding items from a program the school does with a private company. Just easier that way.”
Move-in Day: Dropping Kids off at College
It’s emotional. Should you drop off your teen or stay to help them settle in? And how long should you stay? It depends on your child. “I see too many moms take over. The instinct we have is to nest,” says Debbie Ficarra, a mom of two in Santa Clarita, CA.Instead, ask your son or daughter how you can help. Remember, this is your teen’s experience.
With my kids, we helped transport things from the car to the dorm room. After the first year we remembered to bring our own furniture dolly. While our kids arranged their personal items, we connected computers and printers. Afterwards, we took a walk around campus together and stopped by the bookstore. That’s where you can buy coffee mugs and those “proud parent” bumper stickers. Of course you can also buy books, but better deals are usually found online. Check out Amazon and Chegg, which provides textbook rentals and other student services.
Before leaving, you may want to offer to take your teen and his or her roommate out to dinner. Though it’s tempting to linger, at some point it becomes apparent kids want their parents to leave. After all, colleges usually have orientation and fun activities planned for the newbie college students. And it gives the roommates a chance to hang out together.
Customize the Dorm Room
Dorm space may be small but it can be cozy. My kids brought family photos and small mementos for their dorm rooms. For example, my youngest child brought a crocheted pillow made by her grandmother.
“I made sure they packed a favorite blanket or an item from home that they liked. Framed picture of our pets, ” says Hellmers.
Deborah Hettesheimer-Citarella, mom of a college freshman and junior, says little touches make a difference. Battery operated strings of lights and flame retardant curtains add a little flair to a dorm room. “Having little things like string lights for decoration, lots of photos we printed out to pin on wall, etc, made the transition easier,” she says.
For kids from Hawaii attending college on the mainland, the list can be unique, says Vicky Kometani. “At top of the list is a rice cooker! Then, I left both my girls a pre-prepared care package of foods I knew they’d miss,” she says. These included Spam, li hing mui mango, arare, POG juice, won ton pi chips, and other favorites.
Book Your Hotel
Look for deals near campus when booking your hotel. With our daughter Megan at San Francisco State University, my husband and I found our best hotel rates outside the city. In fact, staying in the charming little beach town Pacifica, we were just a five-minute drive from the university. With ocean views and free breakfast and parking, our stay felt like a mini vacation. It washed away a little of the sadness. And we saved big bucks by staying just outside San Francisco.
Dropping Kids Off at College: Mom Tips for Coping
Some parents recommend bringing along younger siblings for the move. It’s fun for them and you’ll have a child who still lives at home riding back with you. After dropping off your last child at college, consider taking a fun trip with your spouse. Right away, straight after dropping kids off at college.
Several moms mentioned that in hindsight, they wish they would have started planning for life without kids at home. Kim Mulhausen, a stay-at-home mom of two, says she wasn’t prepared for an empty nest. “It was all about the kids. Even to this day I’m not adjusted,” she says. “You should start thinking about that before they leave.”
Send Care Packages!
The freshman year is an adjustment for everyone. Stay connected and send your teen treats throughout the year. Most universities offer prepared care packages filled with snacks and other goodies. You can buy these from the company and have the packages delivered. Or make your own. Buy your teen’s favorite snacks, write a note and send it to the school.
These are fun but crowded weekend events with scheduled activities and dining. Some parents advise skipping these and visiting the following week for a more personal visit. But Parent/Family Weekends are festive and offer another opportunity to visit your student and meet their new friends. Discuss it with your student and decide together the best time for college visits. Take advantage of the opportunities you’ll have to visit and reconnect. Before you know, they’ll be graduating!