A child starting their college journey is an exciting time, for both students and parents. While getting ready for the major shift can be scary, it doesn't have to be. After all, as a parent, your ultimate goal is preparing your kids for adulthood and giving them the skills they need to navigate the world on their own.
While going back to school is a frenzied time at any age, college is a whole new ballpark. Your child embarking on higher education is a major change for them, and you should not compound any stress -- or, for that matter, dampen any excitement -- by showing too much worry.
Because it can be hard to know when to hold on and when to let go, we've compiled seven expert tips to help you navigate the major parenting milestone of seeing your kid off to college.
Crunch the numbers
Don't let college sneak up on you. Preparing for higher education is time-consuming and expensive, for both students and parents. Compare tuitions, explore financial aid and scholarships, and select schools that will leave you with manageable student debt at the end of four years. Additionally, set clear expectations with your child: establish a budget and talk about what happens if they run out of money, how to handle a financial emergency, and who to call first. Bestselling author and financial expert Mark Kantrowitz makes the following recommendation: "Aim to have total student loan debt at graduation that is less than your annual starting salary, and, ideally, a lot less."
Make moving easy
Parenting expert Michele Borba offers us a rough reminder for moving day: "Most kids are embarrassed pulling up in a big moving van." Ouch! But she's right. To cope with this inconvenient truth, simplify move-in day. Use boxes that are easy to pack and dispose. Use a wardrobe already on hangers. Pack things your child won't think of, like a first aid kit.
Review any safety concerns
Make a plan for your freshman's welfare. Etiquette expert and modern manners authority Diane Gottsman encourages parents to make a safety plan with their kids. "Attend parent orientations and learn what safety courses are available on campus," she recommends. "Have a candid conversation with your child on real dangers and precautions they should take. For example, travel in a group, avoid running or exercising on a track alone, take out your earbuds and stay alert, and sign up for a self-defense class before arriving at campus."
Know when to connect
Between adjusting to life away from home and managing a rigorous course load, first-time college students have a lot on their plate. Remember that your son or daughter is trying to fit in and adjust, and manage your expectations for communication. Most teens say their preferred form of contact is texting, so don't be surprised if they don't call back right away.
Everyone runs into problems when they live on their own for the first time. You had to do it once, and even though it was difficult, you got through and came out the other end a more capable and well-rounded adult. So let your college freshman struggle a little. You can't solve all of your young adult's problem, especially if they're going far away to study. If an issue doesn't present a serious threat, resist the urge to fix things. Emil Rodolfa, Ph.D., Professor at the California School of Psychology, explains that, "Sometimes kids just need to talk about what's going on. They may want someone to commiserate, not take over." Hear them out, help them talk through their choices and decisions, but know that they can -- and should -- work through their problems on their own.
Expect them to be homesick
For families, teens going off to college is a two-way street. The same way that you'll be missing them, they'll be missing you. If they say they're feeling homesick, don't rush to make a surprise visit or pack them up for a trip home. Consider sending a care package in the mail to give them a taste of home, as opposed to frequent phone calls, which can actually increase homesickness.
Find a new hobby
Don't forget about yourself in this whole process. If you'll be an empty nester once your freshman's settled in their dorm, find something you're excited about. Meeting new people, taking a class or learning a new skill will help you get in touch with yourself and evolve after putting a lot of focus on raising your kids. Gottsman reminds us, "Not keeping yourself busy may put unnecessary pressure on your young adult child to feel responsible for your happiness while they are trying to adjust to life on their own."