By Lisa Wingate
It’s the middle of July, so if you’re accustomed to the usual high school or elementary school routine, it seems a little early to be talking about back-to-school issues. But, if you’re sending one of your little birds away from the nest and off to college this year, now is the time to be focusing on the pre-launch details and preparing for that big day in August.
For kids heading off to college for the first time, it’s almost time to pack up the clothes, the new notebooks, the alarm clocks, desk lamps, new sheets and comforters, and head for that all-important week of freshman camps and orientations. For the last few weeks in Sunday school, we’ve been enjoying the revolving door of high-school seniors heading off to this-or-that college camp or orientation. They’re excited, they’re nervous, they wonder if they can handle it all. The next year will change them and challenge them in ways they cannot imagine. Some of them will thrive and some of them will falter. Some will grow in confidence and some will begin to doubt themselves when they never did before.
If you’re dropping a kid off at college this year, here are a dozen helpful hints I wish I’d had before embarking on that emotion-packed journey of taking our firstborn son to college three years ago. If you’re not dropping a kid off at college this year, these will bring back memories or provide a little glimpse into the future, or both ;o)
1. Get to know the roommate ahead of time, if possible. These days, with cell phones and social media, it’s easier than ever. Not only is it exciting for kids to make future plans for their dorm room together, but it’s a comfort. It helps kids to visualize the future and to feel that they’ll have a friend waiting when they get there.
2. Do the freshman camps, orientations, meet-n-greets. These may sound cheesy, but they are important. Don’t underestimate the value of starting college with even a few friends from freshman activities. Don’t let your kid miss the introductions because of a last-minute fear of college, a desire to hide out at home one more week, or the urge to keep that summer job a little longer.
3. Become your kid’s Facebook friend or Twitter follower. You might be already, but if you’re not connected with your kid on social media, now’s the time. This will give you a non-intrusive way to be present in your student’s daily life without having a stalking complaint filed against you.
3. Invite yourself along for the big day. Whether you’ve been invited to help with move-in day or not, plan to go. Take off work, cancel plans, do whatever it takes. There will be paperwork and details to handle, boxes to carry, new friends to meet, memories to make.
4. Take pictures, beginning in the morning with the loaded-up car. Yes, eye rolls will be directed your way, but this is a momentous day. You’ll look at those pictures in a couple years and laugh about all the emotions in front of the camera and behind it. You’ll also find yourself scrolling wistfully through those last photos in the weeks to come.
5. Keep a copy of the schedule. Make sure to print off a copy of your mini-adult’s daily schedule, so you’ll know when to call. Resist the urge to over-monitor, but don’t stick your head in the sand, either. The transition to college isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen all at once. Be sure you know the dates for midterm grades and (heaven forbid) the last day to withdraw from a class that isn’t going well. Walk the campus with your child. It will comfort both of you, I promise. This is also a good time to discuss security on campus.
6. Check out the local churches, campus clubs, and organizations. Urge your child not to wait to plug in to the college ministry of a local church, as well as any clubs on campus that might fit his or her interests. It’s easier to plug in when everyone else is new, too.
7. Shop. While unpacking in the door room, make a list of items needed, then head to Wal-Mart or the local grocery store. Never underestimate the value of furry neon-colored throw pillows and plenty of comfort food.
8. Create a Budget. Create a weekly budget for your child and make it clear that you will not be kicking in extra. We all have to learn to budget, and now is the time. Consider leaving a little envelope of “mad money” that first week or two for incidentals or invitations out to eat with new friends.
9. Take care of utilities, computer, supplies. Make sure you’ve arranged for Internet access, utilities, or anything else that’s needed. Arrange all books and supplies in a way that says, “Ahem! Have fun, but you’re actually here to get an education.” Be sure your child also has a surge-protector power strip and a thumb drive or portable hard drive to back up those all-important school assignments. Computers do crash, and losing an in-process term paper can be a disaster.
10. Grab a pizza or a last meal. A well-fed kid is a happy kid. Share a last meal together after the move-in work is done. Take another lonely kid or two along if you can. A friend in feed is a friend indeed.
11. Create a breakaway period. Talk to your child about not coming home for several weeks, especially if the college is close by. Some kids have no problem breaking away from family ties and high-school friends back home; others really struggle. Constant trips home prevent the formation of friendships during downtime at college. We urge the high school seniors to give it six weeks before the first home visit, or at least to try.
12. Say good-bye in the dorm room. Don’t, I repeat, DON’T let the kid walk you to the door, the sidewalk, or the parking lot. Trust me, there’s nothing more traumatic than leaving your beloved child sniffling on the curb, and from the kid’s point of view, there’s nothing worse than watching your parents drive away when you’re not in the car. Make the good-bye quick and leave the kid safe and cozy with the new roommate and the stash of Wal-Mart food.
Resist the urge to call every ten minutes on the way home. That big-little person with whom you’ve shared so many years and milestone moments is fine, and even if those apron strings are pinching a little, you’ll be fine too.
Question: For some reason, as I was writing this I was remembering that the morning I packed up my car and left for college, everyone was still sleeping when I left. I don’t know if this is what comes from being the third child in a revolving-nest house, or if this was my parents’ way of dealing sending me off with no drama ;o) Do you have a college drop-off story or tip to share?