Preparing your first child to leave for college

With my first child leaving for college next month, what words of wisdom have you gleaned in your work as a college counselor?

There are so many things I have learned from clients and from personal experience that I wish I had known when I sent my first child off to college. For simplicitys sake, I will break this topic down into two general areas: practical considerations and health and well-being.

Many students and their parents spend the latter weeks of summer perusing bed and bath stores and stocking up on everything from linens to trash cans. Many students regret buying anything beyond extra long sheets and shower sandals until they meet their roommates and explore their new surroundings. Students often decide they will need far more lighting than is offered in the room and will wish they had a more comfortable desk chair than the one issued by the university. Often students will also find that they do not have storage space for everything they bring in the fall, and their parents may end up bringing half of their belongings home with them. A word of advice: Socks and underwear are not the place to skimp, as doing laundry in college is often expensive and time consuming. Anything to help your student go that extra week without doing laundry will be much appreciated.

One of the biggest purchasing decisions will be whether to buy a laptop or desktop computer. While many campus libraries offer laptops for loan, most students prefer the flexibility of a laptop, as they will want to use it in classrooms, study groups, libraries and cafeterias as they quickly learn how ineffective it can be to study in the dorms. As laptops can be easily stolen, you might want to invest in laptop locks. Shopping around for used textbooks is another way to lesson the financial burden that you will incur. Some of my favorite sites for buying used textbooks include eCampus.com, Half.com, eBay and Powells.com. If students have already registered for their classes, their textbooks may be available online at the campus bookstore. Be sure to check the ISBN number so you can be assured that you are buying the correct edition. If you order your books now, they can be shipped and available to your student as soon as classes start.

For many college-bound Islanders, financial concerns are a significant part of the transition from high school to college. Be sure your child is familiar with the basics of managing a checking account, and if necessary, a credit card before leaving home. Dont let your student fall prey to the various credit card companies that may try to recruit unsuspecting freshmen, while dispensing free nalgene bottles as they often offering less-than-stellar interest rates. You may want to also have a clear discussion with your student as to which expenses you will cover and which ones will be the responsibility of the student.

Many students and families get so preoccupied with the logistical aspects of starting college that they neglect discussing more serious issues that impact college freshmen. For many both male and female students the freshman fifteen is no myth. In fact obesity is endemic across college campuses as students make poor food choices when confronted with the plethora of options and the abundance of food and alcohol available at all hours. It is critical that you begin to have conversations now around healthy living habits and the necessity of incorporating exercise into their busy schedules.

College can also impact a students mental health, and indeed, counselors have noted a recent rise in depression among college-age youth. Parents need to be able to differentiate between healthy venting and early signs of depression. According to Laura Kastner, Ph.D, the author of The Launching Years, The four most important criteria for making the differentiation between normal adolescent venting and truly troubling disturbances are frequency, persistency, intensity, and impact on daily living. The more their turmoil limits daily functioning, the greater the possibility that it calls for clinical intervention. Make sure that your child is aware of the various counseling options and mental health resources available on campus, and encourage them to take advantage of these resources and to establish rapport with peer mentors.

As a further preventive measure, students should avoid biting off more than they can chew academically to allow time for adjusting to the social and emotional upheaval that may characterize the early months of freshman year. Students should be encouraged to reach out frequently to professors and teaching assistants and take advantage of office hours, tutoring services, study groups, and review sessions. They should be also seeking help for floundering grades well before finals roll around.

You and your child may have discussed the birds and the bees when your child entered puberty, but as he or she prepares to leave for college, it may be time to revisit these topics. Be sure your child is armed with advice, information, and resources on everything from date rape to safe sex. Recognizing the prevalence of alcohol on most college campuses, you may also want to discuss drug and alcohol-related issues with your college-bound student.

Many students on Mercer Island report intense homesickness, especially when they attend college out of state. For financial and emotional reasons, it may behoove you to purchase plane tickets now for Thanksgiving break. I have found that students fare better initially knowing they only need to be away for a few months before they get to back at home with their old friends and family.

No matter how much you and your student prepare for college, recognize that there are bound to be some bumps along the road. Let your student know that you are available to them for emotional, practical, and academic support throughout this important transition.

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