I was sitting in traffic the first time I felt it, and then again when I was setting the table for family pizza night. I have come to know this brief fluttering kind of heartache. It is a tangle of love and excitement mixed with some despair. It is knowing that next fall, my daughter is leaving for college.
Over time so much of the excellent mom advice I received has proven to be true. There will be amazing growth during your teen’s senior year, and there will be senioritis too. And the college choice your teens make, where they end up is most often not where they begin.
Last week we experienced Freshman orientation for the class of 2022, and it was great. It was also exciting, productive and emotional, yes, emotional. Something we weren’t ready for.
7 Tips for College Orientation
1. Expect The Emotion
I was standing in the first line of the day when my friend next to me confided “I think I am going to cry already.” I enjoyed the car ride with my daughter that morning, but still, I felt the very same way.
I was all goosebumps and misty eyes at every turn.
I saw at least a dozen people openly cry throughout the day. The Dean that cried, as she shared her vulnerability, her journey of raising adults was a great lesson about how college looks different for everyone. The parents, so moved by her words that some came up to the podium after, with one father admitting “Okay, now I can let go and trust you with my daughter” as tears trickled down his face.
For the students, orientation also required a great deal of emotional flexibility. Lines were long, and there were frustrations with unexpected delays and program changes and the new unspoken pressure of independence. Students were challenged socially and making important decisions about their programs.
Emotion was everywhere, even at the buffet line, where one student worried out loud about being able to find a roommate from the start when we grabbed our forks, to the end where we snagged our cookies. (I dragged my daughter over to meet her later and reassure her how awesome the online process was.) I expected orientation to be informational, when really it was a day-long total immersion of heart, mind, and body.
Sometimes staying busy can reduce anticipatory anxiety for an event. Your student should have a pre-orientation checklist and be checking their college email account often. In our case, orientation was a full day that included course registration. Registration required updated transcripts, immunization records, placement tests, picture id’s, social security info and college sign in ids and passwords. Encourage your student to be prepared.
Don’t be the parent (in my case this was almost half the room) with the hand-held high when the Dean asks the audience “How many of you parents gathered the records needed for today and sent them in on behalf of your child?”
3. Cut the Cord and Increase Confidence
Talk through orientation/ registration decisions ahead of time. Empower your student to make their own decisions given the information they have at the time. Encourage them to consult an advisor if needed. This is all about expectations. It is likely you will be separated from your teen at orientation. In our case, course registration was happening concurrently with students, while parents were listening to a presentation about promoting independence and success.
At one part of this presentation, the Dean questioned “How many of your teens have texted you since the start of this presentation?”
As hands and phones shot up in the air, a parent called out that she was receiving a FaceTime call from her teen (from registration next door) at that very minute. Imagine the students shock when the FaceTime call connected to her Mom, and the Dean who ran from the podium answering the call with a big smile saying “Mom is busy now honey, she can’t help you right now.”
4. Repeat Exposure can Reduce Anxiety
Walk the campus in advance. If you have the opportunity to visit your college again before orientation, do it or study maps online. Being familiar with the environment and locations of main buildings and parking will help make orientation day run smoothly.
5. Lead by Example
All of this emotion requires extra energy. So eat your breakfast, go to bed early and stay calm with any unexpected changes to your travel plans and routine.
Don’t let little things like traffic throw you off your game. Take the opportunity to make connections; this is true for you and your teen. In between sessions, I found the presenters to be personable, open and engaging. All of them offered me their cards with direct contact information. I got great advice and met some cool people just by taking my time and reaching out of my comfort zone. Be curious, ask questions and be open to recognizing unexpected resources.
Make a note of any questions you have in advance. My daughter and I were curious about the process of move-in day, and after asking this question to the presenter in between sessions, a spontaneous crowd gathered, and the process announced to the whole room. We weren’t the only ones wondering.
6. Find The Fun
Be mindful of simple pleasures that lighten the mood and indulge, like great photo opportunities; a student-led lesson on how to sing the college fight song, or a fun photo with the school mascot. During a quick bathroom break, I ran into the school mascot and asked for a selfie I immediately texted to my daughter and some friends, and it made for a great laugh.
And finally, teens…
7. Let College Grow On You
Phillip Scharf, Assistant Vice President for Student Success Initiatives at Arizona State University states, “Don’t expect day one of college to look like your last day of high school. It will look much more like your first day of high school when you were lucky to find all of your classrooms on time and hoped to get through the day. You weren’t involved in clubs yet or playing sports. You didn’t know everyone or have a hundred friends. Let college grow on you just like you did high school. Take on new chances and opportunities and realize that in four years you will be able to accomplish so much, just like you did in high school but you don’t need to do it all by Tuesday.”
For parents, let college grow on you, too. Because we didn’t know everything from the beginning. And those fluttering heartaches I sometimes used to feel?
They are almost gone now; college is growing on me, too.
Suzanne Perryman is the mom of two teen girls. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona where she celebrates the everyday on her website, Special Needs Mom. Her work has been featured at NBC Today Parents, Huffington Post Live, Brain,Child, Scary Mommy, The Mighty and various parenting platforms, anthologies and print publications. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter.