Dropping off your student at college can be stressful for many parents. It’s hard to know what your student wants. I know that parents struggle to figure out how they can help and be supportive while also giving their students the space to be independent.
Parents can find a balance between helping and overstepping at college drop off
Before drop off
- Help your student make a checklist
- If your student wants your help, help them make a checklist of everything they need to pack for college.
- Help to ensure they do not forget anything important and have the essentials, including things that might be easy to forget, such as medicines, etc.
- Don’t create the checklist for them, though, just help remind them of things they may be missing from the checklist
- Assist in packing
- You might think it’s time to let your student do all the packing, but if you make it fun, we’d love your help! It will help take our stress down a notch or two. (Audrey Redell, senior at Arizona State University)
- Teach life skills
- Teach your kid how to be independent with activities like laundry, grocery shopping, and cooking. Essentially, it is important that your child knows basic life skills for living on their own, since most high schools no longer teach home economics classes. (Irene Chen, senior at University of California, Santa Barbara)
- Don’t embarrass your student
- Don’t ask the resident assistant a million questions
- Don’t be overly loud when talking
- Offer to make a grocery store run
- We welcome a stocked refrigerator and lots of snacks
- Invite your student to go with you, or they may prefer you to go on your own while they start to settle in (Rebecca Li, senior at the University of California, Berkeley)
- Invite your student for lunch or dinner before leaving
- After getting the dorm set up, it is very comforting to go out for lunch as a family, so the student feels comfortable in the college town. (Rebecca Li, senior at University of California, Berkeley)
- Listen to your student
- Pay attention to what your student says they want. Don’t always follow what other people are doing because everyone is different.
- Your student might want help unpacking and decorating, but it’s also possible that they want to do it all themselves. Follow their lead.
- The point above recommends inviting your student to lunch or dinner. But don’t be offended if they decline and ask you to leave. Some kids will want to jump into the college culture because this is a new chapter of their life and something they have probably been looking forward to for a while.
- Don’t be overbearing
- Be there to help with whatever is needed and let your student decide how much of the move-in process you will be involved in.
- Let your student direct you; don’t keep offering to do things as that can be stressful. (Mitchell Drysdale, recent graduate, North Carolina State University)
- Let your student do the talking
- Many parents will try to make friends with their students. Let your student introduce themselves to the other kids in their dorm. Don’t talk for your student or over them; let your student carry the conversation with other students they are meeting for the first time.
- Don’t go into other rooms and introduce your student to others (refer to the point above: don’t embarrass your student!)
- Leave a note and/or a fun gift for your student to find after you leave
- It’s so nice to find an unexpected note or gift in a desk drawer, dresser, or refrigerator after the family leaves!
The first week or two after drop off
- Consider staying close to the area after moving in
- My parents stayed in town for 3-4 days after moving in to see the area (as I was from a different side of the country), but after move-in day, I only saw them once, maybe twice, for a meal. It was comforting to know they were close if I needed them or wanted them around but gave me a chance to dive into dorm/college life and meet my neighbors. Know it will be hard and new for you and the student, but you’ll both be excited. This is their first time going off on their own, and they get to find themself. It might be strange initially, but it will all work out how it should. (Emily Rentschler, recent graduate, Arizona State University)
- Give them space
- Many parents will be tempted to check in on their child every hour or so for the first few days. I think most kids want to feel independent when they leave for college. I recommend calling around every other day to start.
- Do not text your students multiple times; if they aren’t responding, they are probably busy, so just give them time, and they will respond when they can.
- Don’t comment on all of their social media posts, and don’t stalk their social media.
- Be there for them in times of need
- Students often get lonely or homesick during the first few weeks of college. The overwhelming stress of being alone in a new town can have new college students feeling anxious and alone. Sometimes the simplest things can mean the world to your child, such as reviewing a paper they wrote or sending them a care package. Things like these mean a lot to college students and help them to feel loved from a distance. (Amber Li, senior at Arizona State University)
- Be empathetic and encouraging
- Sometimes it helps just to vent. We don’t need you to solve our issues but want you to listen to what we are feeling. (Chi Nguyen, junior at Arizona State University)
- Don’t ask too many questions
- Don’t ask every day about new friends we are making. It can be stressful if we feel like we aren’t finding our friend group right away.
- Don’t keep asking, “How are you?” or “Is everything ok?” (Mitchell Drysdale, recent graduate, North Carolina State University)
- Don’t pass judgment
- Your student will meet many unique individuals, perhaps much different from those in your hometown. Don’t judge the different types of people your student may meet and become friends with. For example, just because someone has a lot of piercings or tattoos does not necessarily mean this person will be a bad influence on your child.
- Send pet pictures
- We will always welcome pictures of our pets! (Rebecca Li, senior at University of California, Berkeley)