Transitioning To College: A Guide for Parents

Your new college freshman is like no other. All the time you thought you had has suddenly flown, and your unique and wonderful child is ready for that first experience of independence. Ready or not, you have no choice but to go along with it. A few strategies to deal with practical matters and the emotional impact of this moment will help you make a smoother transition.

child go to college

Plan ahead

Moving your child to a dorm room or an apartment near campus will require some knowledge about rules, campus layout, recommended books and supplies, expectations, and facilities.

Visit the school’s web page if your child will be living on campus to find out what appliances and other furnishings are permitted in dorms and on-campus apartments.

Your student will need a computer. It is best to check with the school about recommendations. A computer recommended by the school will be the type best supported by technical and internet services on campus. Some programs, like premed, will require certain types of equipment.

Find out how to set up an account for your student to cover incidental expenses, books and supplies. Most classes will require about $100-200 worth of books and supplies.

Obtain a campus map and look it over with your student to become familiar with the layout. This will be a big help on the move-in day. Find out where you will be permitted to park while settling in. Check on convenient places to obtain lunch or snacks.

Let your student take the lead in selecting decorative items, rugs, bed coverings, etc. for the room. Shopping for a dorm room is part of the excitement of that first year of college. Some practical items such as waste paper baskets, laundry baskets, pots and pans and dishes may be found at garage sales.

Send your student’s health card with her and make sure she knows how to use it. Find out what student health services are available, and check with your doctor and the school about recommended vaccinations.

Talk about money and other stuff

Set up budget limits ahead of time. Let your student know what you will provide and how you expect him to take responsibility. The school budget will include tuition, fees, room, meals, books and supplies, personal care items, snacks, entertainment, cell phone, computer, dorm room amenities, and clothes. Discussing these costs ahead of time will help to convey the size of your investment and what you expect in return.

Set up an account for on-going expenses and let the student know that anything else will be her responsibility. Most students actually maintain better grades if they work 10 to 15 hours per week, and campus jobs are available. The experience will help her develop employability skills and confidence.

Talk about safety and the importance of traveling in a group at night. Discuss safety measures provided by the school and why they are available. A student who is not street smart needs more preparation in this area than one who has more experience.

Discuss the need for moderation in social activities, drinking, and other adventures. Emphasize that the primary purpose of college is to prepare for a career. This investment of your hard-earned money should count toward your student’s success.

Talk about how you will stay in touch. Get a family plan for your cell phone, and discuss limits. It may help to set up a schedule for calls from home, so your student knows when to expect to hear from you. Email is an excellent way to stay in touch and can be used frequently.

Be honest about your own feelings about letting go, but don’t overdo it. Talk about the excitement of your college experience, how nervous you were about doing well, and how you want to stay in touch but not crowd your student.

Listen to what your child tells you. This is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Express confidence in his ability to pursue a college education and successfully launch a career.

Find out about the class schedule and work hours he will have as soon as possible. Ask for the address and telephone number where you can reach him, and the telephone number of the dorm or apartment complex.

Don’t discuss these things:

  • Don’t ask your student if he is homesick. Let him tell you.
  • If the new roommate seems a bit odd, don’t mention it. Let your child sort out how she will deal with issues such as room agreements and social concerns.
  • Don’t say “These are the best years of your life.”
  • Don’t ask too many questions.

Stay connected

Towards the end of the first week, give your student a call. Make it brief, but give her some news from home and ask if she needs anything. She will know she has your support.

Send letters. There is something particularly gratifying about receiving a note from home in your mailbox. Occasionally, you may want to send a little extra cash or perhaps a gift certificate to local eating establishments.

Once in a while, send a care package. Nothing is more welcome than homemade goodies to hoard or share with new friends.

Visit when you get the chance, but don’t make it too frequent, and give plenty of notice ahead of time. When you visit, it would be great to take your student and perhaps a friend out for a special meal. Or bring along some homemade cookies and snacks for the dorm room.

Prepare for visits home

Expect some changes in your student. You won’t be invaded by a complete stranger, but the child who left will not be the same as the one who returns.

Your routine will probably be disrupted, and your student will want to spend time connecting with old friends. Just make sure you know when to expect him home. Set boundaries and expect them to be respected. Ask for some time with your student and plan how you will spend it together. Prepare some favorite meals. Listen to your child, and enjoy the visit. It will be over too soon.

Take care of yourself

Expect to feel some discomfort. Acknowledging your mixed feelings and discussing them with your spouse and/or friends will help to ease the transition.

Spend some of your newly free time with friends or pursuing a new interest. Perhaps you had a hobby that you have put aside and would like to renew. Maybe you would like to take a continuing education course or learn a new skill.

A gym membership will encourage you to exercise regularly and meet new people. Or join a yoga or tai chi class, tennis or hiking group or a square dance club. Get moving.

Turn your child’s old room into the home office or craft room you’ve always wanted. It can still be used for visits home, but will not be used as often as it once was.

Trust your child. You brought her up and gave her a good start. Trust her to develop the skills and wisdom to handle her challenges.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Save confrontation for things that really matter. Remember, you have to let go if your student is ever going to fly.

The first year of college is both exciting and stressful for everyone concerned. A little planning and communication will go a long way toward smoothing the transition and making this a positive experience.