That Perfect Letter To My College Kid

You know those wonderful, heartfelt letters that moms slip into their child’s camp bags or leave in college dorm rooms, the ones with wisdom and love that make lifetime mementos? Yeah, well, I have never written one of those. Whenever I hear of a wonderful parent who takes the time and care to compose such a missive to their college student, I beat myself up for a few moments as a derelict parent. And then promise me, next time.

Woman writing a letter by a lake on a summer day
Here is why you must write a letter for your teen to read after leaving them at college.


And as I am fairly certain in the rush to get my third son off to college, I will once again fail to write that perfect letter; here is what I might have said if I could get my act together.

What I want to say to my son as he begins college

College is a Privilege

Sure, I expected you to go, and, in turn, you expected nothing less from yourself. But this does not take away from the fact that spending four years learning, growing, and focussing almost exclusively on yourself is a gift like none other. Before you set foot on campus, think through the sweep of human history and guess how many people were given this opportunity. Only after you acknowledge how rare and special this gift is will I help move you into your dorm.

Best Four Years of Your Life

You have heard adults say it a hundred times, and it may be accurate, but it is not automatically so. Imbibe deeply of all that a University has to offer. Heap your plate with its academic, athletic, cultural, and social offerings. Never again will life mix youth, freedom, opportunity, and resources in quite this heady combination. If these are the best years, you must make them so.

The First Weeks of College are a Time like None Other

Everyone will want to meet you, and there will be no social awkwardness that usually accompanies rushing up and speaking to total strangers. Do not squander this short window of opportunity; it will never reappear.

Drinking Dilemma

You are now where alcohol is both tacitly and legally forbidden. The only thing between you and a horrible experience is your good judgment. But here is the tricky part. You need to exercise that good judgment at the very moment when it is already impaired by alcohol.

Being Friends in High School was Easy

You sat in the same classes or did the same activities as your high school friends. In college, maintaining friendships is a bit more work. After college, it is a lot more work. Investing in friendships now pays dividends forever, truly.

Living With Those Who Love You

It is your good fortune never to have lived in a place where no one loved or cared little about you. At the outset, college is that place. Despite everyone’s outward cheer in the first weeks of college, you will have no real friends. You will know some kids, but these are not true friends yet. They are still just acquaintances you like. Living amongst those you love is better, but it takes time, and only you can make this happen. College gets better after that first Thanksgiving.

Do Not Fool Yourself; I Was 18

Looking at me, you probably see “Mom” and “Old.” Do not fool yourself. Not one fiber of my being has forgotten how it feels to be 18. If you have a problem, talk to me. Few things you will say will shock me, and there is every chance, though admittedly just a chance, that I might have a good suggestion. And while the law may recognize you as an adult, I promise you you still have much to learn.

I have loved you every moment of your life. Even as you prepare to move out, I shock myself by loving you even more. This love comes without strings, but life does not. If there are things you want to achieve, the knowledge you want to gain, or friends you want to make, it is now entirely up to you.

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About Lisa Endlich Heffernan

Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan is the co-founder of Grown and Flown, the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author.
She started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and is co-author of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

Read more posts by Lisa

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