Last summer I did a segment for “Good Morning America” on sending your first child off to college. I canvassed friends and strangers for their best advice and got an overwhelming response. The end result was really more of a video diary. My college bound son forbid me to put him on camera, so I documented the parent’s end of it; the shopping, packing, drop-off, the giant Jackie O sunglasses to hide the tears on the pivotal day.
Sending a kid off to college—especially the first child—is a milestone. And what I realized in the process was that it was just as much about me as it was about losing him. My son is pretty independent and not overly communicative, so I was prepared for this to feel like part of an evolutional process. I was blindsided by the complicated tangle of emotions I felt as the big day got closer.
I zig-zagged between contemplating the changing dynamics of the house, how time had flown, how old I was, and the hope that his Dad and I had truly given him our best stuff. All of this was mixed with anger and frustration at how completely self-absorbed he was in those last weeks.
Be kind to yourself right about now if you are feeling an emotional cocktail. And give them a little slack if they appear clueless and callous as they prepare to cut the cord.
This summer, friends have asked me to share these tips again and I decided it was time for a blog that would go into a little more depth, offer up some of the spot-on anecdotes and quotes from other parents, as well as what I now know.
The number one rule for ALL of this advice is that YOU know your kid best. If you have a talker or an introvert, a kid prone to homesickness or Miss Independence, you’ll be able to apply that filter to all of the advice offered below.
Part one of this blog will start with the preparation. If you haven’t begun already, it’s time to lay some groundwork and begin assembling that pile of items in the corner of the room.
WHAT TO BRING
- The advice I heard over and over was…… DO NOT BRING TOO MUCH JUNK TO COLLEGE! There are big differences in what and how much boys and girls bring to college—but all of us over pack and over purchase. Remember that your child can buy items with friends when they get there—think of it as a bonding experience!
- Start now. Make a checklist. If you have a kid who doesn’t love shopping—like I do -- get the small, boring necessities on your own and save the more “fun” stuff like sheets and clothes to do with him.
- Pack things in duffel bags, garbage bags or collapsible carriers as there won’t be room to store luggage in the dorm rooms.
- Beyond the obvious like clothing, laundry basket and toiletries—these are some additional popular key items you may not have thought of:
- Approved power strip, shower caddy, flip flops for bathroom, first aid kit, new mattress pad (some recommend the egg crate version)
- Make sure your twin sheets are XL for dorm room mattresses.
- A fan for air and white noise in the dorm
- A laptop computer lock and external hard drive to back-up information. My son’s computer crashed in the fall and he lost a term paper.
- Smaller sized Britta water filtration system—cheaper than plastic bottles, no hauling cases and better for the environment
- A small touch light (or light up mirror for girls) offers a way to walk in the room after hours without flipping on the overhead lights.
- Instant breakfast food; breakfast bars, oatmeal packets mean they can grab something quick before class if they won’t get up for the dining hall breakfast.
- 3M picture fastener strips for photos since most dorms don’t allow nails.
- More than one parent suggested to leave the X-box etc at home. “They can bring it once they pay for the tuition & all expenses. They still play games on the internet.”
Stores like Homegoods “Back to Campus” program or “Bed, Bath and Beyond’s “We Love College” program making shopping simple with prepared checklists, discounts and the ability to ship to the dorm. You can scan items in at your local store or choose on-line and they’ll be there when you arrive.
- Figure out how you are going to handle money issues with your child ahead of time. Most parents report that it’s best to have some kind of a budget with your kid and let them manage it. You may want to cover how much they will get in allowance, who's paying for books, dry cleaning, entertainment and spring break!
- You may or may not need to open a checking account in the college town. Kids write very few, if any, checks on campus these days.
- We gave our son a credit card linked to ours as well as a debit card, linked to our checking account so we could each track expenditures. This also allowed us to transfer money to his account. Even on a budget—emergencies do pop up.
THE MEDICAL STUFF
- Take your child for their health check-up before you go and fill any prescriptions ahead of time. Make sure that if birth control is in the mix, they have what they need. Come prepared!
- Investigate the local ERs, hospitals and health centers on or near campus before you go.
- Check out your personal health insurance policy as it applies to a college-aged child. We were required to call our insurance company when our son turned 19 to keep him on the plan. Who knew?
- If your child has a particular medical issue that requires a specialist, get the name of an appropriate local doctor that accepts your insurance before your child gets to school.
THE ROOMATE SITUATION
- Thanks to social networking, most kids have already gone on Facebook or MySpace to meet one another before they get to school. My son had worked out who was bringing the TV and who had the fridge before summer started.
- Remain as neutral as possible about the prospective roommate(s). Keep your trap shut when you see naked jello shooter pictures posted on their Facebook page. You don’t know how their relationship will play out and you don’t want your remarks to haunt you.
BASIC SURVIVAL SKILLS
Don’t assume anything. Just because your kid knows runs a load of laundry at home doesn’t mean he’ll know how to put quarters in the washer or balance a checking account. I was stunned a few months ago when my 16 year old put the stamp on the wrong corner of the letter! These are still adolescent brains.
- Teach your child how to do laundry if they don’t already do it. Send them with quarters but most schools have a “school card” that you can electronically add money to and can be used for sundries, food and laundry on campus.
- Learn how to text message or IM– be mentally prepared to not call too often, let them call you when they want to talk, get advice or miss home. Let it happen on their terms.
- Learn how to Skype – that way you can check in on your kid visually; although you may not want a visual after a night of fraternity parties.
- Make sure your child has the services he needs ahead of time. If your child has a learning disability, ensure they are certified for extra time before you arrive.
RANDOM PRACTICAL ADVICE
- Keep student’s passport current at home (yes, they may be invited to go overseas on short notice)!
- Get a duplicate driver’s license to keep at home (“Mom, I can’t find my ID and am not sure if the airline will let me go through security tomorrow without it”). FedEx is your friend.
- Xerox the contents of your kid’s wallet and give them a copy as well as keep one at home. This will make life so much easier if they lose their wallet.
- Make sure they have their cell phone contacts backed up on their computer. It seems like a no-brainer, but my son had everything programmed only in his phone and lost his cell the first week of school.
- You know your kid when it comes to food, but if he or she is living on campus, purchase the full meal plan for the first semester and then reassess. Many times kids don't wake up for breakfast or they don't eat any meal before noon on Saturday or Sundays so why pay for them? You can request a reduction second semester and save some money.
- Look into tuition insurance if you like to have a safety net. You never know what life brings; mono, death of a loved one, depression, the list is long and if a child has to “stop out” for a period of time, you are covered!
- If your child has a list of textbooks ahead of time, you can buy them online before you get to school. There can be a dramatic price difference is. One of the best sites which shows all textbook prices is http://www.directtextbook.com
- Book accommodations today for parents weekend (freshman year may be the only time you go). If your kid is a plane flight away—book those holiday weekends home for him now.
Next up? We’re going to tackle what you need to know for the actual drop-off. The best advice from parents who’ve been there.