Move-in day is still a few weeks away, and let's be honest: Some of you may be trying to ignore the upcoming date. It's understandable. It's a real challenge (physical and emotional) sending your recent high school student off to college.
We get that. Better yet, we have tips on how you can plan and prep now to make that process easier — and help you relax and enjoy these last few weeks with your kid still at home.
Make a plan
When planning, lists are like friends — you can't have too many. And the earlier you make them, the more precious (and helpful) they are.
The specific way you set up your lists isn't important as long as the system you choose works for you. Grab your phone, a notebook, or the format of your choice and start jotting down the things you and your teen need to do between now and the Big Day. Everyone's list will be a little different, but some of the most common items include: go shopping; pack; update contact info with businesses, friends, etc.; tie up loose ends at home (give notice at your local job, return those library books, etc.); schedule any needed local medical appointments; make travel arrangements to school, and more.
Once you have that broad list, break them down into categories. (You can do it within this list, or use this as a "List of Lists" that you use to track overall progress. This is especially useful if you're delegating tasks among family members. Again, use whatever system works best for you. Regardless of how you structure it, the next step is to fill out details under each "major" section. For example, for shopping or packing, create your more detailed list of things that will be needed. By taking just a few minutes now, you can get a better sense of the project ahead of you and how much time you'll need to spend on each task. Chances are it will also show you and your student why you need to start chipping away at the list now and not the week before Labor Day.
Pro tip: No matter how thorough you are with your list now, chances are as you go about your day in the next week or so, you'll remember other stuff that needs to go on the list. Keep it handy, so you (or other people in your family) can add to it whenever they remember something new.
Below, we have some ideas to tackle each of the most common list categories so you can get everything done quickly and maximize your free time for the rest of the summer.
Shopping efficiently — and with an eye on your wallet
First step: With input from your college-bound freshman, figure out what they'll need at school. You can use your school's suggested packing list as a start, but be flexible about adding and removing things from that list depending on your kid's specific needs (and what they can get on campus. See below for more on this.) We've got a list of suggestions as well. If it's not clearly outlined in the info the school sent, contact the school's Housing or Residence Life department and get details on what's included in the room. No need to bring/buy things like a wastebasket or shower curtain if they're already in the room!
Once you've figured out what your student will need to bring, don't go right out and buy it — unless you've got money to burn. If you'd rather save money where you can start shopping your home first. Chances are you have a decent amount of the households goods (spare dishes, linens, etc.) your student will need for their dorm or apartment. (This is a nice opportunity to do some decluttering, too.)
Consider what other people can contribute as well. First, ask your student to coordinate with their soon-to-be roommates. If everyone is willing to share responsibility for shared-use items such as a TV, microwave, mini-fridge, etc., they all can save time and money. Also, check in with any older siblings/cousins/friends who've finished college to see if they have any no-longer-needed items they can give or sell to you. With a little luck, you can knock out most of your shopping list without setting foot in a store.
For anything still left on the list, start scanning your favorite stores for sales. The back-to-school promotions usually start in July and run to roughly Labor Day — but that doesn't mean everything will go on sale at once. Now, you'll have to decide if you prefer to save time or money. If you just want to get the task over with, find the best current deals and start shopping. You can be finished in an hour or two. More interested in saving cash? Make comparison shopping easier on yourself: Set up shopping carts or wishlists at your favorite retailers and check in every week to see if/when the prices drop on the items you need.
If your student is attending school at any distance (figure a two-hour drive or more away) chances are they won't be coming home all that often. Even if they're currently planning to come back every weekend, as they get wrapped up in their studies and social events it's likely some of those visits will be cut. While they're looking forward to all the fun stuff they have on the horizon, you might want to prod them to give some thought to all the other stuff they need to attend to before and during the fall semester.
Call this the "adulting" category of tasks. Namely, all the little errands that don't seem that important now but could cause big headaches if they aren't dealt with. For example:
returning library books, school- or club-loaned equipment, etc., before leaving for school
updating contact info with employers, voter registration, the post office, nondigital subscriptions, and anyone else who might need it
identifying a local pharmacy and/or medical provider near campus who also takes your student's insurance. (The college likely has a medical center that can handle routine needs, but not necessarily everything, especially for students who need ongoing medical care for a condition.)
getting a tune-up for the car if it's coming to college with your student
COVID-19 vaccination records and/or test results if required by the school.
You and your student will also want to spend a little time to make sure all the financial loose ends related to college have been attended to: scholarships confirmed and remittance info updated, student loans in place, payments made for the meal plan, parking permits, and the million other little fees that come with college. Especially at the beginning of the year, mistakes can happen. You don't want your student to spend their first week on campus trying to figure out why the bursar's office thinks they still owe $10k.
Whether the college is a one-hour drive away or a cross-country flight, the logistics of managing two or more mini-moves each year is daunting. To make it easier, sit down now with your student to figure out the best plan for your family so you aren't scrambling at the last minute.
Regardless of how you're getting there, make sure your student and anyone accompanying them have reviewed the school's move-in information so you know what to expect and what to do. (You may have an allotted parking area, move-in time, etc.) If the school is far enough away that you need to make it an overnight trip, book a room early — and consider hotels not too close to school. Especially in smaller college towns, rooms can fill up quickly during move-in week and if you wait too long, prices will rise — if you can even find a room available.
If you're driving...
Make sure you pack the most essential items separately so you can get them in the car first. It's not uncommon for a student to be only 75% (or 50%!) packed and realize the car is full. To avoid having to load, unload, and reload the car, put in items like current-season clothes, toiletries, computer, etc. first. Then, whatever room is left can be used for nonessential items and clothes for later in the year. If not everything will fit, those items can be brought to campus on a later trip.
Keep in mind too, that much of what your student needs can be purchased or picked up near school. If you're driving a distance and can't fit everything in the car, it might be worth it to either buy it when you arrive (you can even order in advance for local pick up) or ship it to campus.
If you're flying...
If the school is far enough away that you need to fly, packing is an entirely different ball game. You're only allowed so much baggage on the flight — and adding more will quickly get expensive. In this situation, your kid needs to go through their list and really give consideration to items that can be left behind and/or purchased locally.
The list of "have to have right away" stuff (clothes, medications, other personal items) is going to have to squeeze into whatever the baggage allowance is for the number of people flying out. (Note: If parents, guardians, and/or siblings are flying out on this first trip and can manage with only one bag, their "extra" bag can be used for the student's belongings without incurring any extra fees.) Depending on when the student is flying back home (or if another relative is planning to visit soon) another set of items (say, winter clothes) could be designated to be brought to school later.
For everything else, you'll need to either ship it or buy it locally. If shipping, check with the school to find out what their policy is. Some not only allow you to ship to them directly but will bring the boxes to your dorm building. In other cases, you may have to ship to your hotel or another location and then drive it over. The sooner you know the details, the better off you'll be. If you're shipping/buying things that will need to be assembled, make arrangements to have any needed tools handy as well.
Keep in mind the end-of-year trip home: Everything in that faraway dorm room is going to come back eventually. (Or be sold. Or donated.) So this might be a good time to encourage your student to explore minimalist living.
To save cash and frustration, try to book the flight and any needed hotel rooms far in advance. You want to lock in your plans and get the best rates before reservations get snapped up by other families also moving in their kids that week.
Leaving home for college is a logistical task, but there's also a lot of emotional "work" to be done too. It's probably going to be a while until your student is back home. And even if their school is near enough that they can and do visit every weekend, chances are many of their friends won't be able to. It's a good idea to encourage your student to make a list of people they want to spend time with and local things they want to do (a favorite hike, one last order of the state's best pizza, etc.) before they leave for school. That includes spending time with the rest of the family — whatever your household's rituals are (Friday movie nights, insanely competitive board games, or brunch after church) keep them up as much as possible in these busy weeks.
It may sound silly to add brunch and "see friends" to a to-do list, but these last few weeks before college starts are stressful, busy, and will go faster than any of you can believe. It's important to prioritize the meaningful stuff so it doesn't get lost among the errands. Because trust us: No matter how much they love school, and whether they admit it or not, your kid will miss those things once they're away from home.
Move-in day (and the weeks approaching it) are exciting and challenging for students and their loved ones. Hopefully, this article helps you all relax a bit so you can enjoy this time and minimize the stressful aspects.
Once your student is off to college, you'll still have mixed emotions. You'll miss them, sure, but some things at home may actually be better. And you'll need to navigate a changing relationship with your student. It's all part of the process. All those hard years of parenting — the difficult decisions, the tears and fights, and yes, the good times and long discussions — it's been leading to this day. So enjoy it as best you can.
Carol Katarsky is a contributing writer for Nitro. She is an award-winning journalist with extensive experience writing about both finance and education. Her corporate and non-profit clients include AIG, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Project Management Institute. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, son, and one cat more than she should. Read more by Carol Katarsky