How to Move Your Kid to College Without Bawling Like a Baby

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Sending your kid off to college is exciting, stressful, and a little bit heartbreaking. But this new phase can take your relationship with your teen to a new level. Get this college adventure off to a great start with a successful, organized move. When you know what to do before, during, and after the first move away from home, both you and your college freshman will make the transition without a major breakdown.

Before the Move

  • Figure out exactly what your kid will need to settle into dorm life like a pro. Most colleges have a list of suggested supplies, and stores like Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond, and The Container Store usually publish lists as well.
  • Determine if there are items in your linen closet or pantry that you can pass down to your freshman. This alleviates the initial cost of getting them set to be on their own.
  • If you plan to buy most items, invite family to contribute. Help your student register for their college supplies at The Container Store or Bed, Bath and Beyond. These stores usually let you purchase items online or in your hometown store and pick them up at the store closest to the college, which saves time and money on shipping.
  • If you’re driving your teen to college, determine if everything will fit in the car. If not, you can rent a larger car, ship some items in advance, or help them select non-essential items to leave behind and take later when you visit.

moving-college-packing
Photo by ActiveSteve/Flickr

  • Check airline baggage requirements and fees if you’re flying to college. Shipping may be a better choice than paying to check additional luggage and boxes. Companies like Collegeboxes.com are set up to make shipping items to college easy. They supply all the boxes and shipping supplies, coordinate pick-up and drop-off, and will even store your kid’s stuff over the summer.
  • If you are flying, wait to buy toiletries, snacks, laundry, and cleaning supplies until you arrive.
  • Coordinate with roommates when it comes to items like TVs, refrigerators, and printers. Each dorm room realistically only needs one, so plan in advance to help avoid duplicates.
  • Let your college student be in charge of their own packing. This is a time for them to start taking charge of their own life. Resist the urge to control this process. They’ll thank you for it later.

Move-In Day

  • Follow the college’s move-in plan and schedule. Find out where you can park to unload boxes and suitcases.
  • Come armed with cleaning supplies. Give the room a thorough wipe-down before unpacking. Depending on your kid, this may be the only real cleaning the dorm will get all year.
  • Don’t take over unpacking or decorating. This is your student’s new home so let them exert their independence by running the show.
  • Leave the door propped open during unpacking. Your college student’s new fellow students will take it as an invitation to pop in and say hello. And you’ll rest easier knowing that your teen has already made some friends.
  • Now that you’ve seen the room, you’ll probably realize you forgot something. Keep a running list and be sure to pick up those items before you head back home.

moving-college-unpacking-dorm
Photo by Sienna College/Flickr

  • Help your freshman find important places both on and off campus. Locate the health center, a nearby 24-hour pharmacy, and the campus safety office. Point out emergency telephones and find the best-lit pathways for safe travel across campus after dark.
  • Resist the urge to hover. Let your kid make the first move when it comes to meeting other students and parents. Follow their lead, but suggest exchanging contact information with the roommate’s parents – for emergency use only.
  • Ask your teen how often they’d like you to check in. You want to stay in touch, but don’t want to bombard them with calls and texts. Set up some parameters that will help both of you feel better.
  • Leave a little surprise for them – a framed family photo or a book that holds special meaning. Your teen may act tough, but they’ll appreciate a little piece of home once you’re gone.

After the Move

moving-college-saying-goodbye
Photo by Elmira College/Flickr

  • Plan something fun for you and the remaining family members the day or two after you drop your college student off. It helps keep your mind off how they’re doing. If you’re doing something for yourself, you’re less likely to notice how quiet the house is.
  • Send your teen a care package two to four weeks after dropping them off. Include their favorite snacks, some helpful items like extra batteries or a spare toothbrush, and a heartfelt note that lets them know you miss them but are very proud of them as well.
  • If you haven’t already, make reservations at a nearby hotel for upcoming family weekends and other times you plan to visit your student’s campus.

It’s not easy to let your kid go, but you can make the most out of this new phase. Balance your desire to take care of your new college student with the respect to let them venture out on their own. They will make a few mistakes, but they’ll be OK. And when you give them a little space, you might be surprised how often they end up reaching out to you all on their own.

Featured photo by poeloq/Flickr

About the author

Jonathan packed his whole life into a backpack and two years later needed an entire moving truck for everything. He enjoys traveling, getting lost and laughing way too hard. Contact him at jonathan.deesing@imove.com.