Everything You Need to Know (and Do) Before College Drop-Off Day

A Survival Guide for Parents

parent moving son into dorm

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Dropping your teen off for their first year of college can be one of the most emotional and stressful experiences of your life. But it doesn't have to be overwhelming if you go into it prepared with a game plan.

Whether you are the type to drive around campus hoping to catch a glimpse of your teen or the type to suck it up and leave campus as quickly as possible, you will get through this.

And before you know it, Thanksgiving break will be here. To get you started on that game plan, here is a list of 30 things you need to know (and do) before the college drop-off day actually arrives.

What You Need to Know Beforehand

As the drop-off day approaches, it is normal to wrestle with a wide range of emotions. On the one hand, you might struggle with anxiety, stress, sadness and worry about this next phase of your child's life. Then, at other times, you might find that you are bursting with pride at all they have accomplished. You might even feel a little excited about what the future has in store for them.

But to keep this emotional roller coaster from taking over your summer and your life, there are a number of truths about college drop-off day that you may need to remind yourself about. Here is a list of the most important things you need to remember.

This Is Not Forever

There is no doubt that college drop-off day is hard.

After all, you are dropping off your teen in an unfamiliar city. But before you panic, remind yourself that this is not forever. Before you know it, it will be Parent's Weekend or Thanksgiving Break and you will have some much-needed time with your student. Every time you start to feel like you will never see your child again, look at a calendar and remind yourself of the next time you can visit.

Drop-Off Day Hurts a Little

Everyone who has experienced college drop-off day tells you about how hard it is. But until you experience for yourself, you will never know just how much. After you give that final hug goodbye and your teen promises to text or Skype, there is a feeling of finality to the day. You are hit with the realization that this is it. Drop-off day is really here and it hurts. 

You Are Not Losing Your Kids

Even though drop-off day feels so final, you have to remind yourself that your kids are still your kids. You will talk to them again. You will see them again. In fact, some parents have even found that their child's newfound independence brings them even closer. Some kids will even become more communicative. But even if they don't, your kids will always be your kids. 

They Will Soil the Nest Before They Leave

It is not uncommon for parents to go into the summer before college expecting to build great memories with their teens only to be disappointed when it doesn't happen. Instead, their teens become completely self-absorbed in those last weeks trying to cram in lots of fun with their friends and their significant others if they have them.

They also might become distant and even standoffish.

This is normal and often referred to as "soiling the nest." So give them a little slack if they appear clueless as they prepare to cut the cord.

Remember How You Felt

As you make your way home, think about how you felt your first day or college or the first day you left home. Maybe you felt excited, nervous or maybe even relieved. But most likely you did not feel sad. You were finally out on your own and it felt great. Remind yourself that this is how your college student feels. 

You Prepared Them 

Remind yourself that life is about change and that you prepared your kids for this day. And, if you did it right, they are prepared, capable, and ready for what awaits them.

Try to take comfort in the fact that you did your job and you did it well or they wouldn't be where they are right now.

Homesickness Happens

It is true that not all birds leave the nest easily and it is not uncommon for your student to experience some homesickness. Just remind yourself, that this is normal. The homesickness usually goes away by the second month of college as your student settles into life on campus.

Also, keep in mind that you may be the only one that your child is sharing these complaints with. Many times, as soon as you hang up, they are off playing pool or having coffee with a group of new friends with your phone conversation about homesickness is just a distant memory.

Allow Your Child to Separate

Remember to follow their lead. Even though you may have more experience and tons of advice to offer, do not lose sight of the fact that this is their moment. Put your need to be needed behind their need to find their own way. For instance, allow them to set their room up the way they want it. Do not take that away from them.

It Will Hurt the Most When You Get Home

Most parents are not prepared for their feelings when they finally arrive back home. The house is oddly quiet and your teen's bedroom is empty and dark. That's when the realization that they are not coming home for awhile finally sinks it and it hurts. Be prepared for these feelings by planning something fun to do or starting a project.

Little Things Will Make You Miss Them

You will miss the strangest things about your student. For instance, some parents say they even miss the fighting and bickering among siblings. Or, you might miss the way she talks to the dog or going to her sporting events. you might even miss the pile of shoes she used to leave on the floor or the trail of things she left throughout the house on the way to her room.

You Will Cry at Weird Times

Some parents find that they do not cry at all on drop-off day—even though they expected to shed an avalanche of tears. But then, suddenly out of nowhere something will cause you to miss your child and the waterworks will start. Remind yourself that this is normal. You are getting used to a very big change in your life and it is normal to feel sad about your empty nest.

Change in Communication Is Hard

You are used to talking to your teen every day. And then suddenly you might just get random texts and a FaceTime call at the end of the week. And then suddenly the FaceTime calls start happening every other week or at odd times because now your student is in a Sunday evening study group and no longer has time to chat.

If this happens, and it likely will, it will be hard. After 18 years of knowing everything that was happening in your teen's life, you now have to survive with just bits and pieces of information. Just cherish the moments you have to stay connected.

Recognize That They Will Call With Strange Questions

When you do get a call from your student out of the blue, do not be surprised if it is to ask a strange question. For instance, your student might call to ask something like: "How do I use a can opener?" Or, "How do you know which lightbulbs to buy?" Just be sure not to beat yourself up over not teaching them everything. Instead, be thankful that they still see you as their go-to source of information.

What You Need to Do Before College Drop-Off Day

After high school graduation, it can seem like you have a lot of time to prepare for the next stage. But it will go quicker than you might think. As a result, it is always a good idea to get a head start on as many things as you. This way, you will not be rushing around trying to do everything at the last minute. Here are some things that every parent should try to accomplish if they can before drop off day.

Book Accommodations

As soon as your child selects a college and sends in their acceptance start booking hotels for Parent's Weekend, Homecoming, graduation and anything else you plan to attend throughout your child's four years of college. And if your teen's new college is a plane ride away, start booking flights home for the holidays sooner rather than later. It can be hard to find flights if you wait until the last minute.

Take a Family Trip

If it fits within your budget, plan a family trip before your teen heads off to college. It doesn't have to be anything big. But if you can, do one last thing together as a family before your child sets off on this new adventure. Besides you never know if your student will be available next summer. He or she may be working, participating in an internship or any number of things.

Schedule One-on-One Time

Sure, there are a lot of important talks that you want to have with your teen before they head off to college. But you also want to have some fun, too. Be sure to schedule some one-on-one time. It doesn't have to be anything huge. Just plan to have coffee together, go on a hike or head to a bookstore. Maybe you want to visit a nearby city or take a local tour. The key is that your teen has time with you before they leave.

Take Care of the Medical Stuff

Once you know where your teen will be attending college, scope out the area. Where is the closest 24-hour pharmacy? What are the hours of the campus health center? How close is the ER or a Minute Clinic?

You also may want to have your child sign a medical release form, especially if he or she is still on your health insurance. This way, you will have access to their medical information should the need arise. It's also a good idea to pack a small first aid kit with cough drops, a thermometer, allergy medication, ibuprofen, band-aids and more.

Encourage Your Teen to Pack Lightly

It is not uncommon for teens to want to pack everything they own. But remind your student that college dorm rooms are small. And they most likely won't need everything they think they need. Stick to the basics like clothing, shoes, jackets, toiletries, school supplies, command hooks, storage solutions and so on. 

The key is not to try to bring their entire room from home and transplant it in their dorm. Instead, they should bring only what they know they will need or use. You can always ship things to them later.

Bring Necessities

Don't forget key necessities. For instance, almost everyone recommends purchasing a zippered mattress cover that keeps bed bugs out along with a mattress pad of some sort to make the bed more comfortable. Additionally, it might be wise to include a surge protector, an external hard drive for their computer, and a fan.

Figure Out Finances

Before your teen heads off to college, be sure you have talked about how you plan to handle the finances. In other words, what will your teen be responsible for and what are you willing to pay? For instance, will you pay for food and travel while they pay for entertainment and extracurriculars?

Also, be sure you have established a budget if you are allowing them access to a credit card. And encourage your student to develop a budget and stick to it.

Zip Your Lips About the Roommate

It is important to remain as neutral as possible about the new roommate. Refrain from saying anything negative and instead allow your teen to take the lead. Remember, you have no idea how their relationship will play out and the last thing you need is a negative word or remark coming back to haunt you.

Get a Few Phone Numbers

Make sure you get the telephone numbers of a few people that will be around your student like roommates, the residence hall leader and a coach if your teen is on a sports team. These numbers will be invaluable if you are unable to reach your teen in an emergency.

Take Extra Precautions with Important Documents

There are some steps you can take to protect your child including keeping their passport at home. There will be no reason that your teen needs this important document at school. And if they do, you can find a way to get to them.

You also should get an extra driver's license for your teen or a state ID card to keep at home in case they lose theirs and are unable to get on a flight home without it. Another important step to take is to photocopy everything in your child's wallet. This way, if they lose their wallet, it will be easier to call the bank and credit card companies to cancel the cards.

Back Up Their Phones

Many college students lose their smartphone at least once during the school year. As a result, it is important for students to back up their phones, especially their contact list, to the computer. This way, if something unexpected happens they still have access to their information.

Consider Tuition Insurance

While everyone hopes to never have a need for this type of insurance, unexpected things can happen. If there is a death in the family, your child gets mono or suddenly struggles with mental health issues, you can withdraw your student from the college without being on the hook for the tuition. Instead, the insurance will cover unexpected emergencies.

Invest in a Quality Alarm Clock

If your child has trouble waking up in the mornings, you may want to invest in a quality alarm clock that has a feature that shakes the bed along with making the alarm sound. This might be more roommate-friendly than a blaring alarm clock that your child sleeps through.

Tips for You After College Drop-Off 

Once you finally get home after dropping your student off at college, you will be hit by the realization that this is for real. Your student is off at college and not coming home for awhile. At first, it can be tempting to just sit down and cry, but if you plan ahead for this moment, you will handle it with fewer tears. Here are some ideas to help make the transition smoother.

Plan Something Fun

You already know you are going to feel a little sad when you get home. You are going to miss your teen. These are all normal feelings, but why spend days feeling blue? Instead, distract yourself with a fun activity.

Have some friends over for drinks or go to a movie with your spouse. Have a nice dinner or plan a mini trip. The key is to do something to keep you from feeling down about something that really is a positive for your child.

Work on a Project

Now that your teen is out of the house, you can start working on those house projects or those scrapbooks you have neglected for so many years. Pick something you have been wanting to do for awhile and get busy. Keeping yourself busy will keep you from stalking your child online or from texting her incessantly.

Enjoy the Silence

Remember all those times when the television was too loud or the beeps and buzzes from the video games annoyed you? Well, now you won't have to deal with those things as often, especially if your student is an only child. If you have other kids at home, just recognize that the noise level has gone down some in your home and you should sit back and enjoy it.

A Word From Verywell

It is normal for college drop-off day to feel a little bittersweet. After all, saying goodbye to your new college student is never easy. But if you go into it prepared it will sting a little less. Remember, your freshman is embarking on four years of growth, hard work, self-discovery, and fun. Embrace the idea that this is an exciting time and before you know it, it will be winter break and your student will get to spend a few precious weeks with you and the rest of the family.