All summer long, that big milestone looms for incoming college freshmen and their parents: Move-in day.
College move-in day is typically hot, hectic, and an emotional whirlwind. But there's good news: While it's easy to feel utterly unprepared, there are many steps you can take to make the day easier.
For starters, parents need to remember that this generation doesn't need everything at school like your generation did. The risk for most parents is sending their teen to college with too much stuff — not too little. If your college student needs anything, many major national retailers sell dorm room furnishings, and many offer free shipping.
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So rather than wasting money and time piling your car high with items that will never get used, pick and pack the basics, the items you are sure your teen will use, and then let them order online whatever they find they need later.
Here are a few more hints to make move-in day run a little more smoothly:
Limit who tags along.
Your entire extended family might want to tag along for the move. Discourage them. Moving into the dorms is chaos. The rooms are cramped and the halls piled high. While some schools offer programs for parents, others just have a short welcome talk and many encourage parents to leave before 5:00. Family weekend, only weeks away, is a much better way to enjoy the college and a more relaxed visit with your teen. Families are welcomed with open arms and new freshmen aren't so anxious to flee with their new friends.
Depending on the campus and location, parents might want to pack a few cold drinks and snacks — nothing like a "hangry" teen to make the day seem longer. After going up and down the same staircase a dozen times, a cooler full of cold drinks will look like heaven. Bonus: Parents and students who show up with doughnuts and iced coffee in abundance easily make new friends.
Forget about suitcases, unless you are flying.
For parents driving their students to campus, duffle bags, or even large black garbage bags, are ideal for packing. There is no place to leave luggage in a small dorm room and garbage bags allow you to easily organize ahead of time into bedroom, bathroom, winter clothing and items your student will need right away. White garbage bags make great garment bags and allow you to move clothing from closet to car to closet without taking items off their hangers or getting them dirty.
Check the college website for move-in policies and banned items.
College websites will often tell parents where to park, if older student volunteers are on hand to help, and if hand carts are made available by the school. Look at a campus map and figure out where your student will pick up their key and where cars can pull in for unloading and later for parking. The website may list if there is anything scheduled for parents (welcome speeches by the dean, campus tours, etc.) which you might want to fit into your schedule. It will also list any banned items such as coffeemakers, kettles, or extension cords. Items that are banned in the dorms differ widely from college to college.
Make the bed last.
While making up the bed is one of first things students think of, it should be the last thing you do. The bed is the easiest place to set items as they are moved into the room, and a freshly made bed will soon become filthy when it is used as a loading dock. Resist the temptation and save this task for last.
Plan time for any visits/meetings you need to make on campus.
Depending on your student's needs, parents may want to set aside some time to visit the offices of financial aid, disability services or even the freshman dean. Some parents may need to meet with professionals at either the student health services or counseling services. Plan ahead if you need to have any of these meetings. To avoid long lines, see if any of these offices will make appointments.
Pack with seasons in mind.
If you have bought under-bed storage containers, consider what your student will use these for, and then pack them with those items. Many students save plastic storage drawers for bulky winter items, extra toiletries, sheets, and towels, as well as first aid items and medications. Tape the storage container drawers shut before you load them in the car.
Do a little early reconnaissance.
Find out where there is a local drugstore, big box store, and lunch spot in case any of these things are needed. Some parents help their kids stock their mini fridge, as few freshmen have access to cars. If you have bought items you are not sure will be right, find the same retailer locally so exchanges can be made while your student still has you and your car at hand.
Bring cleaning supplies.
Bring cleaning wipes or paper towels and soap in case you discover the room is dirty, or the closets or drawers need wiping before they are filled. A small dustpan and brush can be useful as well. Pack these all last so they can be unpacked first.
Amid all the craziness... Relish the moment.
College move-in day is an important and memorable day for families. Many adults can remember back to the day our own parents dropped us at our dorms. While teens may be in a rush to meet new roommates and parents ready to get back on the road home, stop and take a minute to share with your teen a few final thoughts. This is a moment to tell them how proud you are of their accomplishment in getting to this point, offer them advice you hope they will heed, or just share your love and encouragement. For parents who fear that choking out those words will come amidst a flood of tears, consider writing a special note to leave with them for later.
Lisa Heffernan is a cofounder of Grown and Flown, a site for parents of 15 to 25-year-olds.