The ABCs of College
A is for Acceptance: The moment has finally arrived: Your kid is leaving home to start a new chapter. Can you handle this milestone? "The transition of moving away is as profound for parents as childbirth. And for the teens, it is usually the first time they have functioned without the enormous infrastructure of their family home," says Laura Kastner, Ph.D., co-author of The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior Year to College Life. "There may be upheaval, because it signifies changes for everyone in the family. But parents should focus on the positive fact that it reflects an accomplishment worthy of celebration, not mourning."
B is for Bargains: College can be pricey, but that doesn't mean you can't find ways to save. For better deals on books, visit chegg.com or download the free Amazon App (amazon.com) to scan barcodes and compare prices. For more discounts, go to familycircle.com/collegedeals.
C is for Checklists: Start putting them together as early as possible and refer to and update them frequently. Not sure where to begin? Get suggestions from the free College Packing List app by Slug Books (iTunes).
D is for Doctor: Schedule appointments for your child before she leaves, and be sure to fill any necessary prescriptions. Yes, she'll have the campus health office, but you'll feel better if you send her off in tip-top shape. (Book now: Back-to-school is a busy time of year!)
E is for Egg: Can your child boil one? Freshman dorms may or may not have cooking facilities, but ensure that your kid can subsist on something other than Cup Noodles. College Cooks: Simple Ingredients, Easy Recipes, Good Tasting Food (amazon.com, $18), written by six college cooks/roommates, is designed to teach students how to make healthier meals with typical pantry ingredients.
F is for Finances: Figure out how you and your child are going to deal with money issues. Not only should you give him a mini crash course on creating a budget and paying electronically, but also determine whether or not he will receive an allowance and which bills he will be responsible for.
G is for Gravitational Pull: Not all little birds leave the nest so easily. "Homesickness abates for most students by the second month. However, any child who has had emotional challenges in high school, especially ones involving anxiety and depression, may need extra support," says Kastner. She advises that students reach out to the college counseling center, where staff members are experts at determining just what they may need, be it help with stress reduction, nudges toward extracurricular activities, tutoring assistance or medical intervention. "Before parents spring into rescue maneuvers upon hearing a tirade of complaints, they should remember that students save their 'dump phone calls' for their parents, who are still their primary attachment figures. Students don't want to come off like wimps with their new friends."
H is for Husband: Remember him? Now there will probably be a little more time to focus on your relationship. This can be a joy to some and a drag to others. "When a couple first have children, they adjust their lives to organize around their roles as parents," according to Charlie Brown, Ph.D., a performance psychologist and the director of Get Your Head in the Game consulting. "When a child leaves for college, this pattern changes and there can be either a void or an opportunity. Rediscover what it is like to organize around being a couple. Look for ways to enjoy simple acts that enrich your lives, bring joy and laughter, and say 'I love you.' You started out as a couple, and when the children eventually leave the nest you will end that way."
I is for Information: And you can never have too much. Stuff Every College Student Should Know (amazon.com, $10) by Blair Thornburgh is a pocket-size but thorough guide for your newbie.
J is for Job: Whether your college-bound child needs to work or not, this is an excellent time to plant the seeds of financial independence. Just a few hours of peer tutoring, dog walking, babysitting or helping out at the local coffee shop to earn a little cash will be great for both your child and you.
K is for Kale and Other Leafy Vegetables: You won't be there to bug your student to eat her veggies, but Oster's Juice & Blend 2 Go with a portable cup (target.com, $50) just might inspire her to go greener.
L is for Loosen: As in, "Loosen that leash." We know you've been holding on tight for about 18 years, but give the kid some credit.
M is for Management: Specifically, time management. "Establishing healthy habits and routines—like scheduling non-negotiable time to address academic or social weaknesses and finding space for health and self-care—allows freshmen to balance their lives in a way that's crucial to success and happiness," says Julie Zeilinger, upcoming Barnard senior and author of College 101: A Girl's Guide to Freshman Year (amazon.com, $15). "Freshmen need to cut themselves some slack and put in a solid, responsible effort without striving for ultimately unattainable perfection."
N is for Naked: As in The Naked Roommate. While this happens to be the catchy title of a college guide by Harlan Cohen, it also speaks to the new person sharing your child's space. "It can be wildly uncomfortable to live, eat, sleep, change, study and wake up with a stranger in the same room," says Cohen. "The secret to having a successful relationship with your roommate is to make it safe to talk about uncomfortable situations." He suggests that your child take an honest approach and say, "If I do anything that makes you uncomfortable, please tell me. If you do something that makes me uncomfortable, can I tell you?" "That's called getting comfortable with the uncomfortable," says the author.
O is for Opportunities: Help your child understand that college is a place ripe with possibilities. "It's crucial for new students to get involved," says Cohen. "It's all about three and five—locate three places on campus where you can find connections before arriving on campus. Identify five people in each place who can support, help and guide you. College campuses are overflowing with passionate, experienced and motivated students and professionals who love helping first-year students succeed."
P is for Parties: Of course there will be parties, with all kinds of temptations. A word to the wise for your freshman from Zeilinger: "Drinking happens at college in ways both tame and dangerous and everything in between. It's always possible for freshmen to advocate for themselves and make safe choices, but because there is no universal party situation or prescription for how to behave, my ultimate advice is to know and respect your personal limits, to only do things with which you feel completely comfortable, and to make sure there are people you know and trust with you and watching out for you at all times."
Q is for Quote: Here's one to take to heart: "Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands." —Anne Frank
R is for Room: Dorm rooms need not be dreary. Help your kid pick out some fun items to personalize that new dwelling.
S is for Security: David Tedjeske, director of public safety at Villanova University, offers some key tips for keeping your student safe on campus.
- Know your surroundings. Take the time to find out about crime on campus and in the vicinity. Learn what types of activities occur and what you can do to avoid becoming a victim.
- Trust your intuition about risky situations. Chances are if something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't—even if you can't put your finger on exactly what's wrong.
- Thefts are very common on college campuses. Don't leave personal belongings unattended, and always lock your residence hall room door.
- Check with the campus security department to see if it has an escort service. Most colleges offer one so students don't have to walk alone at night.
T is for Technology: Students will want to check out a few good apps.
- iStudiez Pro tracks assignments, grades, exams and more (iTunes, $3).
- gFlashPro lets you create your own flash cards (iTunes, $4).
- Scoutmob, currently available for more than a dozen cities, finds cheap off-campus restaurants (iTunes and Google Play, free).
U is for Up: As in, "Up and at 'em!" It takes just three easy steps to get to peppy with the Melitta Ready Set Joe Single Cup Coffee Brewer (melitta.com, $9). Simply put the filter and coffee over the travel mug, pour hot water over the grounds and let coffee drip below. Good morning.
V is for Volunteering: If your child's departure suddenly leaves you with an emotional void, giving your time to a cause can help channel your nurturing ways in a positive direction.
W is for Wake: As in, "Wake up, darling." If you've become the official alarm clock in your child's life, he's going to need an effective and innovative replacement, ASAP. The Sonic Bomb with Super Shaker (amazon.com, $43) not only delivers a 113-decible alarm (not unlike a chain saw) but comes with a more roommate-friendly shaking device to slip under the mattress for extra insurance.
X is for X-Rated: Well, no, but now that we have your attention...sex on campus is a reality for many. Help your child stay safe and protected, whether that involves a trip to the pharmacy or the gynecologist, and don't be embarrassed about it. "Freshmen enter college with a wide range of sexual experiences, attitudes and behaviors," says Zeilinger. "However, sex on campus is something all college students will face, whether in terms of personal experience or tangentially, in friendships and in collegiate culture at large. Though conversations about sex can be difficult and awkward, it's vital that parents have these discussions so their children feel supported and prepared."
Y is for Yuck: A dorm floor is like a petri dish for germs. Get rid of the funk with Lysol Spray & Scrub Liquid Dispensing Mop (homedepot.com, $20). It's lightweight and comes with a washable and reusable microfiber mitt so your kid can clean up his act.
Z is for Zygote: Doesn't that phrase seem like it was just yesterday? They grow so fast. Sigh. Celebrate this next passage of your lives. You've both come a long way, baby.
Parental Wisdom on...
...the Hardest Part
"Realizing that family dynamics will change forever. When a child departs for college, they enter a new chapter in their lives and though they return home for summers, they are transitioning into adulthood and it changes their role in the family." —Cindi Gatti, 63, Collegeville, Pennsylvania
"Simply missing them. Our family didn't feel 'normal' anymore, because everything we once did together was basically down to the two of us—the parents. We missed everything that was so uniquely theirs; their jokes, their cerebrally charged conversations, their debates. They loved challenging the old-timers!" —Farah Sattaur, 51, Weston, Florida
"Remember that your child is trying to separate and become their own person. It is important to help them do this in a healthy and happy way without making them feel guilty about their decisions." —Diana Planells-Bloom, 57, Pleasantville, New York
"We helped set them up with a monthly budget for additional expenses outside of the meal plan, for example. They should have their own checking account with a debit card, as well as a credit card in their own name. However, take some time to discuss what they absolutely need and what is left for fun!" —Claire Gallagher, 54, Weston, Florida
"Sending my daughter off to college was difficult, but I knew the outcome would be awesome. If she had passed up the opportunity to go away, she never would have known 'what could have been.' The concerns and worries I had as a mom faded away as I watched her excel in school and learn to be an independent person." —Gloria Colella, 62, Bellmore, New York
Student Wisdom on...
"Take advantage of all the opportunities offered. Say yes to things, instead of trying to rationalize why not to do something." —Caty Austin, Bryn Mawr College, Class of 2014
"Everyone is in the same boat. Everyone is looking to make friends." —Emma Woeckener, Michigan State University, Class of 2014
"Parents should discourage kids from coming home on the weekends, even if they are having trouble adjusting. I'm glad I stayed; it was the perfect time to make friends." —Sandra Edelman, Villanova University, Class of 2014
"Let your child get in touch on their own terms. Give them some space the first few days; they'll need time to get acclimated, but they'll call. Don't worry, they will call!" —Zach Goldberg, Syracuse University, Class of 2015
"Open a savings account from day one—there is always a big something to save for, whether it's study abroad, spring break or an internship in another city. Having a savings account, separate from regular spending with friends, will make it easier. Setting a budget and keeping a running tally of weekly spending are also great ways to avoid overspending." —Samantha Brody, Northwestern University, Class of 2014
What They Wish They Had Brought
"A mattress pad is essential. It really does make all the difference in having a good night's sleep." —Carl Johnson, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Class of 2014
And What They Could Have Left Behind
"I never used my iron or ironing board." —Alessandra Cirillo, Boston University, Class of 2017
Originally published in the August 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.