What to Expect When Dropping Off Your College Freshman

Having just arrived back home yesterday from dropping off our third college freshman, I'm wanting to share my pain, lol.  This one is a real toughie in the life of a parent, y'all! My husband asked, “Why didn't they tell us about this when we were having babies?”  It's probably a good thing they don't, actually.

Note: This post was originally published in August 2015.

There is a huge hole in my heart right now that will take awhile to feel normal… if it ever does, which I doubt. (After doing this three times I have to say that it doesn't get any easier… sorry!) And while I can't lessen the pain for anyone else, I thought it might be helpful to give college parents a heads-up about what they can expect when they take their beloved child to college for freshman year.

Forewarned is forearmed, after all.  Maybe knowing what will happen will at least decrease the confusion and tension arising during the drop-off process, so that parents and students can truly enjoy their last few hours together before going their separate ways. And you thought preparing for college was all about getting the teen ready — nope, here's some info that will help YOU, also!

Dropping off your college freshman can be an emotional and confusing task. Knowing what to expect can help everyone stay sane!

Obviously what I'm about to share is not an exhaustive list, because every college is different.  Some schools have an orientation process that lasts the entire weekend, others for just a few hours, for example. I think there are probably common themes and practices, though, that occur everywhere — they certainly did at the three different colleges at which we've experienced this process.

So here are some things to be prepared for when dropping off your college freshman:

1) A full orientation schedule — These schools know what you're going through, so they try to keep you and your child pretty busy the whole time, so you can't think about the impending separation too much.

This can lead to serious exhaustion for the parents, lol! After all, you may have driven awhile to get there, and now you have to shlep all over campus from one place to the next, possibly dragging bringing younger siblings along, too.

Coffee can be your friend, lol — but also just know that you don't have to do everything. You can send your student off to do some things by himself, while you sit in the shade of a tree or take a nap on the back seat of the car. Everything does NOT have to be a photo opp. Pace yourself. :-)

2) Multiple parent meetings (part of the aformentioned full schedule)  — I've got to be honest with you; once you've heard one of these, you've heard them all. Three colleges, three sets of parent meetings – and they all said basically the same thing. “We're glad to have you here, we're glad to have your child here, we're glad to take your money” – okay, maybe not the last part.  (Although it's true; they're just not saying it outright, lol.)

Seriously, though, they want to tell you about how wonderful they are as a school and give you more information about what resources they have to offer your child. You probably heard most of it while you were there taking a college tour there during the application process. And it is good information, so if you want to go, by all means do so. But don't feel bad if you'd rather take your child out for a meal one last time than go to yet another parent meeting.

3) Guess what? Your child now has legal privacy about their information! I was startled by this the first time around. Colleges see your freshman as a full-fledged adult. That means that there are privacy issues, and the college will literally refuse to share information with you unless your child has specifically told them they may. This includes financial information, grades, health information, etc.

You and I both know that the students we bring to school are still our children, and most likely we are footing the bill for this grand opportunity – but the college doesn't see it that way. Be sure to have your child sign a FERPA form (the form that gives the college permission to share information with you, the parent) at the earliest opportunity.

4) Meeting the roommate and extended family – This can be fun or awkward, but thankfully in either case it's quite temporary. Mostly it's just a matter of making small talk with total strangers for awhile, an hour or two at most. Asking questions about where they are from, what their child is majoring in, how long was their drive, etc.

There is no need to try to force anything between the roommates, though. We have never tried to get anyone to pose for pictures, for instance. The kids already feel enough pressure being away from home and having to sleep in the same room with someone they don't know from Adam.

After everyone leaves, the two roommates will sort out their relationship. Usually, since they are both new to the situation and don't know anyone else, they'll bond over the first few days.

5) Unloading your kid's stuff — This time we had two kids' worth of belongings to unload at two different buildings, because #2 transferred schools and will be going to the same college as #3 this year.  And this after a long drive — and now when already exhausted you're looking at having to work even harder, carting a bunch of boxes and other more oddly-shaped items up the stairs and down the hallway.

What is really fun is when you pull up to the dorm and there are a bunch of older students there to help carry! Don't refuse this offer!  :-) After you get the things to the room, however, do not expect to arrange the child's room right away.  Your effort will be wasted, because it will all get redone after you leave anyway, lol.  Just let the kid decorate for himself later — this is a great bonding activity with the roommate.

6) A trip to W-mart or other similar store —  There is ALWAYS something that got left at home; or after you get into the dorm room, you see that something you thought was provided is not. Or you just forgot to get a crucial school item.

This time our list included Lactaid (#3 forgot her supply at home), a desk lamp (not provided in the dorm), a power strip (ditto), bed pillows (couldn't fit them in the car, lol), and an umbrella. So plan for this, and keep looking for a good time during the orientation period to go get it done. Maybe during one of the aforementioned parent meetings…

Related: Our Recommended College Supply List – 25 Items You Will Actually Need and Use

7) Spending way more money than you expect — There's gas on the drive, then a possible hotel, and all those meals out, and the trip to the store (see #6).  Then there may be unexpected tuition/fees, or last-minute textbook purchases.  And of course, don't forget the trip to the college bookstore to get your parent merch with the college name on it! All of which adds up. So yea.

8) Feeling emotionally vulnerable the ENTIRE time – The emotions are always there under the surface, and EVERYONE is having them. This time we thought our child was confident, moving ahead through the orientation process like a duck in water, only to find out later that she was petrified the entire time.

It is important to make an extra effort to be nice to each other, remembering that everyone is feeling fragile. This is also true for your husband, though he may not be showing it as much. Mine tends to get very quiet; and if I'm being self-centered, I'll read that as not paying attention to me or not being considerate in conversation – but in reality he is suffering and having a hard time holding it together.

(The first time around, after dropping off the eldest, The Man and I ended up having a mondo fight in the car on the way home. I equated his silence with not caring about my sadness and got offended. Then, after we'd been home for a few hours, I discovered that he had been REALLY SAD about leaving her and was clamming up as a result. I felt SO BAD for picking a fight when he was down! So don't make assumptions, ladies.)

9) Goodbyes are difficult, but keep it light — Finally the time arrives to leave them there and get in the car and drive away. THIS IS TOUGH. But it must be done, and we as parents must set the example for keeping it light.  Sobbing and grasping at your child will not send the message that you are confident they will do well, lol.

It's okay to show that you will miss them and love them, but be an adult and restrain from large displays of emotion. I always want the last thing my kids see of me to be a smile on my face.

10) Calls home from your college freshman will decrease in frequency over time. The first few days you might talk a couple of times per day. As classes start and your child becomes comfortable, these calls will lessen. Pretty soon the student develops a routine, so things aren't as new any more, and there isn't as much exciting to talk about — so they don't feel the need to call.

This is all OK and perfectly normal.  There are different types of college students, and yours may be one that doesn't need that much guidance from home. Sometimes the parent has to take the initiative in communicating — but be sure to keep it light and supportive.  You want your child to enjoy talking to you. :-)

The main thing to keep in mind is that this is a grand adventure that your child is embarking on.  Be happy for all the neat things your student will get to learn and do. Broadcast excitement, and your child will be excited.

This IS what we've raised them for, after all — to jump out of the nest and try their wings.  Let's send them off with a wonderful farewell!  Hopefully this list of things to expect when dropping off your college freshman will prevent most of the difficulties that arise.

HUGS to all of us moms, no matter what the ages of our children!! If you don't have college kids, you'll be there soon enough — and besides, we all need lots of hugs throughout the whole mom process!! If you're looking for me in the next few weeks, I'll be reading my article on how to handle life after your kid goes to college to remind myself how to handle it… sniffle!

It's Not That Hard to Homeschool

6 thoughts on “What to Expect When Dropping Off Your College Freshman”

  1. Good advice for us, as our oldest is a senior in high school…so our day is approaching fast! #2, 4, and 8 were the most useful for us. Great post. Thanks!

  2. We are preparing for our last (4th) to enter college w/in the next few weeks. Lots of preparation goes a long way towards a smooth transition!! Your advise was spot on and thank you for sharing your experience and tips. I know the absolute hardest is going to be leaving and have been praying for strength and the right words to get me through.

  3. We went to college orientation yesterday and the move-in procedures are so exciting! You get a time to come to the dorm based on your last name – then you pull up to the dorm and let your child out. A move-in crew takes all of their things up to the room. You park your car and then come back to help your child get settled. This might just be the best reason to attend this particular college!!

    (Thanks for all these tips, too. We drop our first off on August 15!)

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