How to Survive & Thrive as a Parent When You Drop Your Student Off at College

By Stephen Mease, @smeasevt
Champlain College Director of Public Information and News

In just a couple weeks, a whole new flock of college students and their parents will arrive in Burlington, carried to campuses by minivans and SUVs piled high with gear to survive a semester away from home.

For first-time parents dropping off their fledglings in a new nest at college, there will certainly be some moments of angst and worry as Mom fusses to make the dorm bed with those new sheets for the first time and Dad carries in box after box of supplies.

Move-in day at Champlain College involves curbside drop off of items and plenty of help from the move-in crew of student helpers. Sometimes, there are even guest helpers, like President Donald Laackman!

As a parent of two successful college graduates – one who went to a nearby college 40 miles away from home and the other who just graduated in May from a small college in Washington state – I can offer some first-hand suggestions and insight.

Let that sense of accomplishment wash over you as your son or daughter finds their room, meets their roommate(s), begins to find their way around campus, buys books for class, checks out the cafeteria, and starts to establish routines in their new home-away-from-home.

First off, take a moment to revel in your accomplishment. You survived the college search process, campus visits, the complicated applications, FAFSA and the financial aid forms, making the final choice and then living through the summer leading up to today.

Secondly, expect to get a little choked up and shed a tear or two. Yes, even Dad. That little person you have been taking care of for 18 years is not going to be around the house. And that takes a little getting used to, but believe me it will happen.

StephenMease3355After the rush of move-in morning, there will usually be a family lunch, an official welcome from the college’s president, and then comes that moment when it’s time to say your goodbyes before they head off to the whirlwind of orientation weekend meetings and activities to help them settle into their new life. Be ready for that moment. Quick hugs, last-minute whispered advice and taking a selfie can come as surprise if you don’t mentally prepare for it in advance. Don’t think of it as “goodbye,” but rather a “see you soon,” moment.  

Some colleges wisely offer special sessions for parents to help them get through that separation and better understand how to help their students succeed from afar. That usually means being urged to allow students to figure out how to solve problems on their own without Mom or Dad intervening. Listen to their concerns and then ask them how they are going to solve it. It is all part of the learning process.     

There are plenty of articles and books out there offering extensive advice for students on how to survive and thrive in college – get involved in activities, get to know your professors, go to class, stay active, etc. Feel free to share those when appropriate.

But what about you, the parents? Suddenly you go from a car full of bags and an anxious, excited first-year student in the backseat to just the two of you with some serious alone time on your hands for maybe the first time in 18 years.

Parents, you should explore Church Street and the surrounding area once you have dropped off your student at college.

So use this time to explore the local restaurants; four-season outdoor recreation; the exciting music and arts scene; and experience first-hand the results of Burlington’s exceptional entrepreneurial spirit that nurtures start-up companies to grow into national and global companies. Take a drive up into the Green Mountains or to the Lake Champlain Islands.  Hopefully you have planned ahead to have some time to spend in Burlington. It is, after all, ranked as one of the most desirable “College Towns” in America thanks to the rich opportunities, diverse people and open lifestyles of the region that enrich the campus experience. It is one of the reasons your child decided to come to college here.

12-LCR_1849 (2StephenMease)Be sure to check out some of the places your student will spend much of their time outside of the classroom – the stunning Burlington lakefront bike path, the Burlington Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings in City Hall Park, and coffee shops on Church Street Marketplace. Be sure to watch a sunset or two over Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.

Now is the perfect time to do some scouting for Family Weekend when you return in a few weeks to see how things have been going for your student. Be sure to make a reservation at a local hotel or B&B soon – family weekends are often right around the same time as Vermont’s peak foliage season, so finding a room can be tricky if you wait too long. Family weekend is also a great time to bring along family members who couldn’t make the move-in trip.StephenMease8863.jpg

Here are a few other tips to consider before you leave town:

  • Resist the urge to call them right away – orientation and their new surroundings are hitting them like a firehose with information. They need some time to adjust and test out their independence. The sound of a helicopter parent hovering can be really distracting. Still, you can send a text or a photo of what you are doing.
  • If you need to drop off some additional supplies, don’t let it turn into another big prolonged goodbye. They have had a small taste of independence already and most are ready to stay in the moment of being a new student. Don’t be that parent who just can’t leave or makes your student feel bad about how bad you are feeling.    
  • Pick up a couple gift cards at a favorite local restaurants, bookstore or grocery stores like City Market or Trader Joe’s. You can send them during the semester as part of those care packages you know you will send.
  • Look into transportation options if your student is traveling home on their own for Thanksgiving. There are good options in Megabus and Amtrak, and you can save some cash by booking early. Burlington’s airport is one of the nicest in the country, but it is small and flights can fill up early, especially around holiday weekends and when colleges let out for winter break. Plan ahead to get the flight you want.
  • Buy a greeting card or postcard at one of the local shops and drop it in the mail before you leave town. Nothing is better for morale than getting mail that first week. It’s a chance to include some of that advice or encouragement you forgot to share in the rush of unloading, orientation, and goodbyes.
  • Head home knowing that there is a dedicated and trained staff at college to help your student succeed. Their job is to help students through academic challenges, solve roommate problems, health issues and getting a work study job.
  • Don’t forget to enjoy every minute of the experience and urge your student to do the same. It is amazing how quickly you will find yourself back for graduation wondering where those four years went.

All photos by Stephen Mease Photography

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