The One Thing Your College Student Would Love to Receive From You

“Mama, when you get a chance, can you send me a card?”

The question came during a fairly routine conversation with my daughter, a college sophomore majoring in theatre. In the midst of the usual back and forth texting about homework, auditions, RA duty and friends she slipped in this quiet question and it brought me up short.

When my daughter left for college a year ago, her entry was a little rocky as she navigated ever-forming and shifting groups of friends. There were some lonely nights, some tears over new friends who had ditched her, and a whole lot of insecurity over her place in the campus community.

So, I started sending cards — every week, sometimes more than once a week–funny cards, encouraging cards, blank cards. Every time I shopped I would pick up one or two more for my stash so I would always have just the right one on hand. Every week I wrote a quick message reminding her I loved her, I was proud of her and to hang on and things would get better.

College students love to receive handwritten letters or cards.
Dean Fikar/ Shutterstock

During my first campus visit to her, I was touched to see the cards proudly pinned to the bulletin board next to her desk.

Sure enough, as I knew it would, she found her tribe, and she grew busy with rehearsals, volunteering in the admissions office, participating in the campus feminist forum, and enjoying a healthy social life with a group of friends that seemed solid. By the time her freshman year had ended she had landed on the Dean’s list twice, and secured jobs as a summer orientation leader for incoming freshmen, and as an RA in an upperclassmen dorm.

She was so fully and beautifully part of the campus community that my worry eased and, while I still sent cards, I felt less urgency to infuse them with encouraging “you can do it” messages. After all, she was in fact, ‘doing it,’ and beautifully so.

Sophomore year started early when she had to report to campus for two weeks of RA training. My ex-husband and I moved her in leisurely on a humid day punctuated by a few torrential late-summer downpours. With only the RAs moving onto campus that day, and with a year’s experience under our collective belts, we set up her room easily and at our own pace—quite the difference from the anxious, organized chaos of Freshman move-in day a year prior.

We went out to lunch, loaded her up on last minute supplies at Target and bid her farewell with long hugs that were infinitely less tearful than before. We knew this routine now, we had this. I admit, I went back to “real life,” without a worry — checking in every day via some form of modern communication. A few texts here, a Facebook tag there, the occasional Face-Time session.

It was all good.

Or so I thought.

“Mama, when you get a chance, can you send me a card?”

I had forgotten, in my joy over how well-adjusted she was, that cards aren’t just to encourage or bolster in hard times. The handwritten card or letter or even post card is something that doesn’t disappear in a lifetime of text history, it doesn’t get lost in the noise of social media timelines. It can be pinned to a bulletin board, tucked in a favorite book, re-read over and over. It is something we can touch that tells us “someone thought of me, today.”

My mother went to college and graduate school in the 1940s and 50s. Her parents, both deaf, were not much for writing letters and my mother said she never forgot the loneliness of the empty mailbox. She wrote my brother, my sister and I every day when we were in college. Postcards, quick notes, greeting cards from her ‘cards for every occasion’ packs that she had no use for (let’s just say, this Catholic girl got several Bar Mitzvah cards over the years!).

She would even write my roommate from time to time because she didn’t want her to have a lonely mailbox either. She was famous for her cards and letters.

How had I forgotten her lesson that everyone loves a full mailbox?

The next week I started loading up on cards again and have sent my first one to my favorite college girl, with the promise of more to follow.

Because even when everything feels exactly right, there’s nothing like a card from mom.


The Perfect Letter to My College Kid 

46 of the Best College Care Package Ideas






About Katie Collins

Katie Collins, a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 32 years, has been a contributing writer to Grown and Flown since 2017. A nonprofit development professional by day, Katie also has over 30 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded the NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. . When not working, writing or acting, she enjoys road trips and adventures with her wife and visits from her talented daughter, a college admissions counselor.

Read more posts by Katie

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