7 Quick Tips for Parents of New College Students

Washington Statue, Fall 2009

August is here already! How did the time fly so quickly and those little toddlers on our knees suddenly turn into college students? Now that you’ve arrived at this life-changing moment, I wanted to offer a few practical tips to help make the transition easier for your family. I invite you to share your tips in the comments section. We are all in this together!

1. Amazon Prime Student

If you want to save money on textbooks and millions of other items, encourage your kids to sign up for Amazon Prime Student once they receive their college email address. The regular price for Amazon Prime is $79 per year, but for new students it’s FREE for the first six months and then half price after the intro period ($39/year). You get FREE 2-day shipping on virtually all products sold directly by Amazon and on many items sold by other vendors through Amazon. Sometimes even used products include Amazon Prime free 2-day shipping. In addition, members receive unlimited instant streaming of 40,000 movies & TV episodes and can borrow FREE Kindle e-books.


2. Purchase Textbooks Online

Have you checked out the price of textbooks yet? We are in the process of sending our second son off to college this year and just experienced major sticker shock. Our eldest son attends Hillsdale College and we are so thankful that his professors tend to stick to primary sources and old books that can often be purchased for less than the price of a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato. This semester I was able to find all of his required books (used) on Amazon for $48 — many with free Amazon Prime shipping. Forty-eight dollars for all of his books for all of his classes!! Win!

Most schools will send out a book list along with the class schedule (or you can find it by accessing the course information at the school’s website). Once you have the ISBN numbers for the books you can head over to Amazon or another used book site and paste the numbers into the search bar. You can often find the books you need — new or used — at a fraction of the cost the bookstore charges.

Make sure you purchase the right edition of the book and be sure that if an access code or CD is required it is included. Check shipping times and make sure the books will arrive (either to your home or the dorm) in time for school. Did I mention the Amazon Prime free 2-day shipping?

motel police tape

3. Plan Now for Parents’ Weekend

If your student attends college in a small town with limited lodging options, make arrangements now if you plan to attend parents’ weekend. Hillsdale, Michigan, is such a town with limited options and we learned the hard way not to procrastinate. We spent two nights in a sketchy hotel in Coldwater that had police tape across one of the doors — a suspected meth lab. The front desk clerk actually had to go around looking in rooms to see if they had a vacancy and once we had a room we discovered that the security lock on the inside of our door was broken, as if the door had been kicked in. And my nightgown mysteriously disappeared while we were gone for the day.

The moral of the story: While you are dropping your child off at college, ask around to find out what the lodging options are (resident assistants and admissions personnel are great sources) and make your reservations now. You’ll thank me when you see the groggy, nightgown-less parents stumbling into the early breakfast session on parents’ weekend after you had a great night of sleep at the nice, clean hotel in town.


4. Things You May Not Think to Pack for the Dorm

The college usually sends a packing list for students living in the dorm, but they don’t always include everything your student might need. For example, if she will be taking a car to school, you will want to send things like jumper cables (teach her how to use them), oil, and basic fluids (transmission, brake, windshield wiper). And make sure she knows how to change a flat tire!

Also send a basic medical/first aid kid. While the dorm will likely have basics available, if he wakes up with a headache in the middle of the night he’s not going to want to walk down the hall to wake up the dorm mom. So pack things like pain reliever, antacids, anti-diarrheal medication, bandages, antibiotic ointment, anti-itch cream, etc. Also, be sure to contact your family doctor before you leave to make sure you obtain necessary refills on prescriptions. If you can get a 90-day supply, it should last until Thanksgiving.


5. Pack for Fall and Winter Weather

Consider the college’s fall and winter climate when packing. If you live in an area with pleasant, temperate winters and you send your child off to a Siberian wasteland winter wonderland like Ohio or Michigan, it’s going to be an adjustment. “Boots” mean something more substantial than whatever is currently fashionable and a winter coat means something down-filled, often unattractive and parka-like. When the temperature is 10 degrees with a wind chill of -40 degrees and there is 14” of snow on the ground, fashion is a secondary consideration. Pack accordingly.


6. Research Church Options Ahead of Time

While many campuses offer a wide array of worship options catering to a variety of faiths (many of them ecumenical in nature), that may not be the best fit for your child. Sometimes an off-campus church that caters to families rather than college students offers a more home-like environment and provides a space for your student to escape from the pressures (and drama!) of school to worship without distractions. Most churches now have websites and many have Facebook pages so that you can check out their doctrine, worship style, and ministry focus. You can also check the site’s map to see the proximity to campus and find out if they have a relationship with the school. We helped our son find a church that was a perfect fit for him this way. It’s 25 minutes off campus and we likely would have never found it without researching ahead of time.


7. Expect Some Stress Leading Up to the Big Day

You are stressed and excited about the momentous event of a child leaving home. Whether or not he admits it, your child feels the same way to some extent. Though he may be projecting confidence and enthusiasm, he’s likely experiencing some fears and insecurities mixed with the knowledge that he is leaving his family for the first time. He’s also leaving friends, perhaps a job he enjoys, and trying to squeeze in as much fun as possible before he transitions to college life. His vision for the days leading up to the big departure may not be the same as yours. He may want to spend time with friends or just lounge around the house. This could very well be at odds with your big plans for special family time or accomplishing goals related to the big move.

Expect some conflicts. In some ways this is part of the normal process of letting go and of children separating from their parents. The kids often begin asserting their independence about a month sooner than the date the parents circled on their calendars. Remember that these are your last few weeks together for quite a while, so do whatever you can to make the time pleasant and enjoyable so that you have happy memories instead of conflict. If that means compromising a little (or a lot), you won’t regret the effort. Cherish your last few days together before the big day arrives.

Hopefully these tips will help relieve some of the stress and make the transition more pleasant (and less costly) for your family. If you have tips of your own to add, please share them in the comments section!