Letting Go: Tips for a Successful College Send-Off
The day you both yearned for and feared has finally arrived. Your child is leaving for college. Yes, you’ll need plenty of tissues, and, yes, you’ll be writing more checks than you ever have before. But there are a number of other things you can do to make this transition successful for both you and your child. Thinking about these issues, and talking about them before your child leaves for college, is an opportunity to help make college the transformative experience it was meant to be. When graduation day rolls around in four (or five or six) years, you’ll be happy that you had a handle on letting go. And remember to change the locks so they don’t try to move back in.
ADMINISTRATIVE STEPS TO TAKE
No one likes paperwork, but it is a fact of college life. Here are some essential administrative items that have to be handled before college begins:
Your child will be sent a number of documents relating to their college living arrangements: campus housing, meal plans, roommate preferences. These choices will help define their college experience, so make sure they complete and return them by the deadlines.
It’s the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and it’s a law that keeps a student’s records private…meaning you have no right to see them. Have your child sign a waiver of FERPA rights with the school’s registrar’s office in order to give you access to communications regarding tuition and grades. Beyond the fact that you’re footing the bill, having this access will allow you to spot any problems early on.
At nearly every school, students are required to have health insurance. Many colleges offer their own plans, in which case you may choose it or opt to keep your child insured under your family plan. If you elect to stick with your current plan, make sure that your student will have access to providers near to where they will be attending college. Also, make sure to waive the school’s insurance or you will be billed for it.
Your child’s school will have them register for classes online during the summer. It’s critical that your student meet deadlines in order to get the classes they want. This is even more important on certain campuses where some classes are not offered often, causing students to take more than four years to graduate.
LIFE SKILLS TO TEACH
Yes, they may look like adults, but do they know how to get what they need without asking you how to do it? If you think there could be some gaps in this area, help them gain experience in the following areas:
Decide how your student will pay for things while they’re away at school. Will they have a checking account? A debit card? A credit card? Before they leave, give them some experience both with budgeting and using whichever form of currency you choose. Make spending limits clear in order to avoid overdrafts or being surprised by huge bills.
Have your student become acquainted with the transportation options in the area of their college. If they will be taking a car, they should contact the school to ensure that freshmen are allowed cars and whether they will need a special permit to keep it on campus. Do students ride bikes around campus? Does the school offer shuttle services? Is there public transportation?
Organization and Study Habits
Emphasize study and organization skills during the last semester of senior year. Remind students that group work, taking notes and using some kind of calendar will be necessities once they are in college.
Your kid may know how to build a computer but may still be baffled by everyday basics. Make sure he knows how to do laundry, cook simple things, clean a bathroom, and set an alarm clock.
Before your student goes away, model a healthy life style. Serve balanced meals, exercise, and go to sleep at a regular time each night. Mention the benefits of such behavior – mental sharpness, energy, emotional stability.
Let your student know that depression and anxiety are common among college students. Seeking help and support as soon as possible is the smartest thing your kid can do. Find the addresses and phone numbers of support services and put them into your kid’s phone.
PLANNING FOR LIFE APART
Let’s face it, once they’re gone, we’ve pretty much lost control. Still, there are steps to take to minimize anxiety for those at college and on the home front. Expect some glitches and plan accordingly:
Staying in Touch
Plan to keep in touch: to insure that you have a good handle on how your child is doing, agree on a schedule of phone calls or Skypes. If she misses one, it may be a hint that something is going on. And be upbeat when you speak to your college kid. He’s already dealing with the stress of change. Don’t add to his woes with minor problems at home.
Almost every kid has a moment when they say, “what am I doing here?” It’s a combination of buyer’s remorse and abject fear. Stay patient and don’t jump into problem solving mode. Assure your child that this, too, will pass, and mean it.
If your kid calls and says he didn’t get a course he wanted, or his dorm room is drafty, it’s not up to you to jump in and fix things. Encourage your kid to seek out the appropriate resources – facility managers, academic advisors – and deal with it himself.
Prepare your kid for not necessarily being the best student, but being the best student he can be. A successful college experience is one during which kids take academic risks by stepping out of their comfort zones and trying new things. Over-focusing on grades may deter this.
Expect a Major Change
What we mean is…a change in “major.” Don’t panic. Most kids change their majors somewhere along the line. The earlier, the better, in terms of catching up with required courses, but don’t catastrophize this common occurrence.
Sharing is Caring
Remind your kid that he’s probably not going to have his own room. This means sharing, remaining patient, and learning to communicate in an even tone. Sometimes roommates become life long friends, sometimes they don’t. Either way, they will have to live in harmony for at least a semester, so get ready to loosen up.
Don't Forget Sex, Drugs, Alcohol, and Rock 'N' Roll
Ok, forget rock ‘n’ roll. But have frank conversations about being safe and doing what one feels comfortable doing. Most kids try out new behaviors in college, but they need to be aware of the pros and cons of these behaviors and actions they can take to minimize risk. No driving under the influence. No sex without protection. Your kids will roll their eyes and tell you they already know all of this or have done all of this. Maintain your cool and tell them again. Their embarrassment should not deter you from providing them with sage advice. Once you’re done, find a quiet, out of the way place to scream.
Your child will need some basic items for her home away from home—sheets, towels, a desk lamp. Not sure what to pack and how to get it there? Make use of the