Sending your child away to college for the first time can be overwhelming—financially, emotionally, physically and in every other way. Here’s some helpful advice from moms, college coaches, psychologists and students to help smooth the transition for you and your child.
Are you sending your child off to college for the first time? Preparing both them and you can really go a long way – you’ve already done the college tour but there is still a lot that needs to be done. For example, psychologist Erin Floyd recommends rehearsing practical life skills, such as basic meal preparation, balancing a checkbook, and laundering clothes in the weeks before you pack the car for the big move to campus. Here are some other helpful tips for sending kids off to college.
Before the First Trip to College
- Spend some time encouraging your child’s independence. Let her set her own hours, learn to get out of bed on time without help, and manage her own money. It will build her self-esteem and (hopefully) ease your worries about how well she’ll cope on her own.
- Help her set a budget, says Susan Beacham, president of Money Savvy Generation. Brainstorm about the expenses she’ll be responsible for once she gets to school, then write out a proposed budget. Make a plan to review it after the first month.
- Set up a checking account with a parent as a co-signer and get your child a debit card to be used in emergencies.
- Make a copy of everything in your son or daughter’s billfold (driver’s license, credit/debit cards, etc.) and keep a copy at home. It will come in handy if a wallet is lost or stolen.
- Have a parental power of attorney drawn up. It will be necessary in the unlikely event your child, who is now legally an adult, is in need of emergency medical care.
- Teach your kids to change a tire and make sure they know what to do if they have car trouble.
- Spend a little time with their cell phones. Make sure they have stored the emergency number for your auto insurance policy and that they have your phone number listed under ICE (in case of emergency). Medical personnel are trained to search a victim’s cell phone for that number.
- Buy bins in several sizes and label them: school supplies, sweat shirts, kitchen supplies, shoes, towels, etc. Store them in a spare bedroom or garage and start packing them sooner rather than later. On moving day, you can just grab the bins and place them in the car. The bins can often be stored under the bed at the dorm without unpacking.
- Buy linens, towels and a bedspread on sale before you leave for campus. Chances are they will be sold out at the stores near the school.
- Model calm and present an air of optimism and trust in your child. It will go a long way toward bolstering their confidence and self-assuredness that they can make it on their own, according to Floyd.
- Talk to your kids about potential dangers they may not have faced before, such as parties where people are consuming large amounts of alcohol. Advise them to go with a friend, stay with that friend and return home together.
- Tell your child how to be sexually safe, and encourage them to go to student health services if they have questions or concerns they don’t want to talk to you about.
- Talk about the risks of alcohol abuse and the dangers of alcohol poisoning. Encourage your kids not to crack under peer pressure and tell them that if they are ever in a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable, they can always leave.
- Encourage your child to contact his roommate by phone, Facebook or email sooner rather than later. It’s important to discuss who will be bringing what. Dorm rooms are notoriously small and there won’t be room for two TVs or mini-fridges.
- Make sure you and your student read everything the school sends so he doesn’t miss deadlines for enrolling in student activities.
- Once you know your child’s schedule, investigate the possibility of buying or renting books before heading to the campus bookstore. Chegg.com, Half.com, Bookrenter.com and BetterWorldBooks.com are all good options. According to Student Monitor’s 2010 Lifestyle and Media Report, students who rented textbooks in the Spring 2010 semester report they saved an average of $139.
What to Bring
- Call or check the school’s website for dorm information. Many schools have recommended lists of what to bring and what NOT to bring. Some things may not be allowed (electric items) and some may be provided on the dorm floor, such as printers in the lobby.
- Send some eating supplies – plates, silverware, glasses and coffee cups.
- Check on campus rules for microwaves, hot plates, etc., before sending them with your child.
- Consider sending a small college refrigerator – students will want to eat late night snacks and drinks. But check with the roommate first. There’s no need to have two fridges in that very small room.
- There usually isn’t much space for storing food in a dorm room, so don’t send much. If you do send food, opt for healthy snacks. They might help while your student gets used to scheduling around the cafeteria system. Trail mix, nuts, fruit, crackers, granola, oatmeal and energy bars are great snacks.
- Send cleaning supplies! Your child may never have cleaned his room at home, but he will be responsible for keeping his dorm room clean. Dorms have regular health and safety inspections to ensure that he is doing his part.
- Send a small fan, carpeting, and a tool set.
- Ensure your student has a dishwashing sponges, soap, and laundry supplies.
- Send a few rolls of quarters for the washing machines.
- A good rule of thumb: If it doesn’t fit in the car, (bike on rack OK), you packed too much!
- Bed risers help make the most of limited dorm room space. Ask whether the beds at your child’s school are loftable or can be turned into bunk beds.
- Underbed storage containers, large Ziploc bags, collapsible laundry baskets and tables save space.
- Limit home entertainment, including gaming systems, which are not always compatible with studying. Encourage students to study in the room and seek their entertainment outside of the room.
Barbara Deschamps offers the following tips from her book, It’s in the Bag: Your Custom Business and Travel Wardrobe
- Closet space in dorms is minimal, probably one-quarter the size of a home closet. Instead of sending most of their clothes at the start of the school year, switch them at breaks – Thanksgiving, Winter Break, Spring Break. Teach your student to layer – sweatshirts, sweaters and jackets are a must.
- Send casual clothes that can be easily machine washed.
- Send shirts, underwear and socks in blue and blue-grey tones instead of white. That way, if your kids wash their undies with their blue jeans, it won’t matter.
- Instead of going on a shopping spree before school, spread clothing purchases over the year. That way, if your student joins a club that requires specific clothing, or gains or loses weight at school, you can accommodate changes. You may even be able to help your student learn to budget by promising X dollars each month as a clothing allowance.
The Out of State Move
- There are now moving companies that cater to college students. You can order boxes and pay shipping online and the movers will bring the boxes right to your child’s room. A more price-friendly way to use movers is to load items yourself into a large cube provided by the mover, and then unload it yourself when you arrive at the school.
- Consider shipping things ahead, but always check with the school about policies for shipping dorm room items.
- If transporting or shipping bedding is a challenge, there are sites such as DesignYourDorm that allow you to select room furnishings, including bedding, and have them shipped right to the dorm room. They’ll be there waiting in the room when your student arrives.
Once You Arrive for First Trip to College
- Arrive early enough to walk around campus with your child and his or her schedule in hand. The great thing about a college campus is that most people are friendly and willing to offer help with directions.
- Take the time to visit the different services and introduce yourself to the staff. This tip is for you—it will help you feel more comfortable if you know who will be there for your student once you go home.
- Encourage your student to seek out the right personnel and ask for help themselves. This will help them grow and gain some independence.
- Encourage your child to take advantage of all of the free and low-cost student entertainment options and make sure he uses all the college services you’ve already paid for such as the meal plan and the health service, Beacham says.
- Encourage your child to join clubs and get involved in activities. It’s the best cure for homesickness.
- Students with learning disabilities typically must introduce themselves to the staff at the Office for Students with Disabilities and discuss their needs and how they can be met. To request specific accommodations such as extended time for tests or homework, students must identify themselves to the professor.
- Frequent upset phone calls home probably means your child is struggling. Try to maintain a balance between being supportive and too involved. Most colleges have counseling centers on campus where your child can talk with a professional.
- Sit down and talk with your child about their concerns and what they’d like you to do to help.
- If you are worried that calling too often may be invasive but still want to contact your child, text or e-mail them.
- Don’t forget to pack tissues for your trip home, sans child.