5 Ways to Prepare Your Student for College Out-of-State During COVID19

college student wearing a mask


When the pandemic began, colleges were quick to send students home and begin online learning. At the time, most people assumed this online learning experience would just be a couple of months and then everything would return to normal in the fall. But as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the country, it is becoming more and more uncertain what college will look like through the end of 2020.

Will students have an on-campus experience, or will they be learning remotely? What restrictions will be in place? How will universities ensure the safety of their students—and the families that they will be returning home to? These are all questions parents are hoping to have answered in a month or so. For parents of students at out-of-state schools, this year may be even more complicated.

Not only do you need to make all the usual college preparations, like buying bedding and supplies, but you also should take some extra steps to ensure things go smoothly and safely while your student is living far away from you during a pandemic.

Are Universities Even Holding Classes on Campus?

A wide variety of plans have been announced for the fall of 2020. For instance, the largest public university system in the nation, California State University, which has 23 campuses and nearly half a million students, will remain largely shut down and teach students remotely.

Harvard Medical School also announced that it will begin its fall classes online for all first-year medical, dental, and graduate students. But they are planning to offer on-campus research and clinical training for returning students. Wayne State University indicated it will likely to be online-only in the fall as well.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame and Purdue, both of which are in Indiana, as well as Brown University in Rhode Island, have all said that they plan to hold classes on campus in the fall. Notre Dame will start two weeks early on August 10, not offer a fall break, and end the fall semester with Thanksgiving break. Nonetheless, professors and students alike are being told to prepare for the possibility of moving back to full-time remote education.

Also, to ensure the safe return of its students to campus, some schools are planning comprehensive testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and isolation protocols. They also will require students to wear masks and to engage in social distancing. Some have identified facilities to isolate students who test positive and quarantine students who have been in close contact with them.

For many schools, decisions depend on how the virus is progressing in their given state. If a second wave sweeps through the country, schools will have some tough decisions to make.

What Options Are Universities Considering?

When it comes to returning students to campus in the fall, there are a number of things that are being considered at this point. For instance, some universities are designating certain dorms as isolation or quarantine areas for students that become ill with the virus. They also are making use of meeting rooms and common spaces to provide more classroom space so that professors can teach while students remain six feet apart.

What's more, many universities are requiring masks on campus and in classrooms along with daily temperature checks. In fact, some are even in the process of utilizing apps that record this data and give students a "day pass" that they can scan to enter buildings. Other possibilities may include limiting the number of students in classrooms.

Others are considering plans much like Notre Dame's, where students forgo their fall break and then leave campus during Thanksgiving break and do not return. The idea behind this scenario is to reduce the likelihood that students will return home for a period of time and then bring the virus back to campus.

Meanwhile, other universities are considering creating a hybrid of on-campus learning with classes conducted both online and in-person in order to limit the amount of times students and faculty interact in the classroom. This type of set-up also helps familiarize students with online learning should the university have to revert to it in the winter due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

But the big X factor is how to get students to make good choices and practice social distancing after school hours and on weekends. This issue seems to be one that no administrator knows how to address. Consequently, parents will need to be diligent in communicating with their students about the importance of social distancing.

How to Prepare for On-Campus Life

The key to preparing for your student to be out-of-state during the pandemic is to make plans now assuming they will be on campus in the fall. Whether you have a returning student or a new student, navigating an unfamiliar area in the midst of COVID-19 will not be easy. Here are some things that you should consider as you begin preparing.

Discuss Safety Issues

Aside from the general safety concerns that you should discuss with your student like not walking alone after dark and being aware of their surroundings, COVID-19 brings with it some additional safety concerns.

  • Know what the state and the university require from your student. In other words, some states will require masks, and others only recommend them. Likewise, your student's university may require them to take their temperature daily and wear a mask while on campus. If this is the case, you are going to need to make sure your student has those items on hand.
  • Purchase extra masks and plenty of hand sanitizer. Because most health experts recommend that cloth masks be washed after every use, it might be wise to purchase a week's supply of masks for your student. You also should make sure they understand how to properly wear a mask and that washing it is an important part of staying healthy.
  • Talk about how to be out in public. After months of being under stay-at-home orders, some college students may not be familiar with the protocol of how to wear masks in public and stay safe while shopping or attending classes. Therefore, it's important to have these discussions.
  • Stress the importance of good hygiene. Encourage your student to get in the habit of washing their hands as soon as they return home. And, if their dorm doesn't have a sink, encourage them to wash their hands in the bathroom before entering the room. Remind them that they should be washing their hands frequently and not touching their face.
  • Discuss what transportation methods your student are using and how they will stay safe. For instance, if your student plans to use public transportation, a campus shuttle, or use an Uber from time to time talk about how to stay safe while doing so, especially in light of COVID-19.
  • Have important conversations about the risks they will face at school. Even though parents often don't like to think about it, sexual assault and bullying do happen at college. So, you need to have those important talks and be sure that your student knows how to take extra precautions.

Prepare for Healthcare Needs

When college students are living in such close proximity to one another, they are bound to share illnesses like coughs, colds, and the flu. With COVID-19 this is even more of a possibility. Have a clear handle on the best places for your student to get the healthcare they need.

  • Locate the hospitals and urgent care facilities in the area. Make sure your student knows where to go for medical care, including where they would go if they needed to be tested for COVID-19. Talk about how to handle emergencies during the pandemic and stress that if they are truly experiencing an emergency situation that they should not hesitate to get the help they need—even in the midst of COVID-19.
  • Find a local doctor that your student can call for appointments. You also may want to see if your doctor can make a recommendation for a physician in the area so that your student has someone to call if a problem should arise.
  • Familiarize yourself and your student with their university's wellness center. Make sure you know what services they provide and how your student can make an appointment. Also, talk about where they can access mental health services should they need them.
  • Get a health release signed or ask your student for a healthcare power of attorney document. Because your student is likely over the age of 18, HIPAA laws prevent healthcare workers from sharing information with you without their consent. Be sure your student signs a release before they leave so that if they are hospitalized, you can remain informed about their care.
  • Make sure your student has a flu vaccine and is current on all their other immunizations. With the risk of COVID-19 being so high, it's incredibly important that your student be up to date on all their immunizations in order to stay as healthy as possible.
  • Request that they always have open discussions about how they are feeling. Some students don't want to cause their parents to worry or they fear their parents will make them come home if they get sick. Have very frank discussions with your student about the importance of keeping you informed about their health and how they are feeling.
  • Put together a first aid kit should your student happen to get sick. The last thing you want is for your student to have a fever and need to go out to get some Tylenol. Aside from bandages and Tylenol or Ibuprofen, pack your first aid kit with what you think your student might need like allergy medications, saline solution, hydrocortisone cream, and antibacterial creams.

Talk About Logistics

Living in an unfamiliar city—even if your student is a second- or third-year student—can be a little overwhelming. Help your student determine things like how they will handle mail, food delivery, groceries, and other necessities.

  • Research local restaurants and food establishments to determine their policies and hours. It's important that your student knows which places nearby offer delivery or curbside pickup. This way, when hunger strikes, they will know where to turn.
  • Identify the best way to get groceries and other necessities. Will your student use services like Instacart or Amazon to get groceries? Or do they plan to shop for their food? Make sure you work out a plan ahead of time and then if you can have your student practice placing an order. Doing so will eliminate frustration and confusion when they are hungry and out of everything.
  • Discuss how to handle mail and packages. Is the mailroom a far walk for your student? Do they hate the idea of lugging heavy packages across campus? Be sure you discuss how to handle mail and packages ahead of time because even though you might enjoy putting together a huge care package, your student might not appreciate it as much as you had hoped.
  • Plan for what things you will pack and what things you will purchase once there. If you're flying, your student will not be able to take much on the plane. So, you will either need to ship things to them or purchase things once there. If, on the other hand, you're driving, you could potentially have a little more room. Take an inventory of the space you have and plan what you can pack and what must be left behind.

Discuss Entertainment and Communication

Although your student is attending college for an education, they also will want to do a few fun things now and then. As a result, you need to talk about what is safe and what isn't in light of the global pandemic.

  • Research the area to determine what types of activities are open to the public. With COVID-19 still a risk in many communities, places where there might be large gatherings are often still closed. Do a little digging to think about what your student could do during their free time, especially if campus activities and events are canceled.
  • Encourage your student to keep in touch with the family. Establish ahead of time how you plan to communicate with one another. Do you want to FaceTime? Have a family Zoom party? Text or talk on the phone? Make sure you are on the same page about how often you will be communicating with one another.
  • Have a frank discussion about social distancing. Even though your student is going off to college, it's still important to practice social distancing, especially in their dorms. Listen to their thoughts on how they plan to stay safe and still enjoy their friendships. Also, discuss how they will handle loneliness that may crop up at school—especially being so far away.

Plan for Every Situation

Finally, there are some other more general things that you will need to consider that parents with students in-state often don't have to think about. Here's an overview of some things to think about as you prepare to send your student out of state for college.

  • Make sure to pack light, especially if you have to fly. If your student's university suddenly announces that the campus is closing and that students must be moved out due to the spread of COVID-19, you don't want to have a lot of items to pack up on such short notice.
  • Check out accommodations in the area. If you live far away from your student's university, it's likely that you will need overnight accommodations. In most areas with large universities, these hotels can fill up quickly. As a result, you may want to make your reservations now. Just make sure that you book with a hotel that allows you to cancel without penalty.
  • Research local storage options. In the event that you have an emergency and you need to get your student home quickly, it's a good idea to know where you can store your student's things until you can return for them. Having a list of local storage companies can save you a lot of time and headaches.
  • Make contact with friends or family in the area. If you have family or friends who live in the area where your student will be attending school, reach out to them. In the event that you need someone to help your student right away, these contacts might be willing to make a trip to campus for you at least until you can get there.
  • Determine how you will get your student home quickly should an emergency arise. There is so much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, that you need to prepare for the unexpected. Make sure you have a plan in place on how you or someone you know will get to your student quickly should the need arise. In other words, can you afford to put your student on a flight home? Can you take off work to drive there? Think through all types of scenarios and put together a rough safety plan of how you would address an emergency.
  • Talk to your student to be sure they are still comfortable with the idea of living so far away during such an unpredictable time. Some students may not like the idea of being far away from family during a pandemic and that is OK. Give your student the option of staying closer to home if they would like. It is better to find out now and lose the deposit than it is to find out halfway through the semester that fear and anxiety about COVID-19 is impacting your child's wellbeing and affecting their schoolwork.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to stay optimistic for your child during this difficult time, but it's imperative to prepare accordingly. Clearly, university leaders want to open their campuses up to students, but they need to do that with a great deal of forethought and preparation. Likewise, you also need to be spending time preparing your child for what awaits them, and keep open the lines of communication when they do return to school.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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