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Empty Nest Syndrome Is A Thing. How Do We Cope?Marybeth Bock, MPH
The moment has finally arrived. Your son or daughter has chosen their college! You’ve sent the deposit and your family is celebrating this wonderful moment.
Then things settle down a bit. You and your student look at each and say, “What’s next?”
I won't lie — it can be overwhelming. It was for me when my daughters were this age. Lots and lots of questions that you think you need to find answers for right away.
Take a breath. You don’t have to get everything done at once. But it doesn’t hurt to make a plan with your student for the coming months.
First, remember that preparing to start college is a big step into adulthood for your student. It’s time to put them in the driver’s seat. You may be thinking, “I’m not ready to let them go yet!” That’s how I felt almost a decade ago when my oldest was heading to college. I’d been at her side for 18 years — she still needed me!
I’m not suggesting you let them GO; I’m suggesting you let them GROW.
The college sent your student instructions on how to set up their account and email, and your student may already have done this. From here on, all correspondence from the school will go to your student’s college email address. Encourage them to check their email daily and log into their student account regularly. This is where they will view their account balance, financial aid details, and eventually their grades.
Rooms will go quickly, so your student should complete paperwork and pay the housing fee promptly in order to get a room in the residence hall of their choice. The school may assign roommates or your student may request one or find a roommate through social media. Once they have a room assignment, they can be in touch with their roommate(s) to discuss plans for the room (who’s bringing what, etc.). The college’s housing website will have information about what’s included in each room as well as “What to Bring" (and what not to bring) lists so you don’t purchase the wrong items.
Take a look at the choices and sign up for the plan that best fits your student's eating habits. Campus dining halls have changed a lot and now offer stations including pasta, burgers, stir fry, vegetarian and more. Food tends to be fresh and there’s a lot of variety. If your student has food allergies or other special dietary needs (gluten-free, kosher, halal, etc.), encourage them to be in touch with campus food services directly.
Every school has an orientation for incoming first-year and transfer students. Some offer online orientation, but many hold on-campus events over the summer or at move-in. At orientation your student will meet their advisor, register for classes, learn about campus resources and take care of other necessary business.
If there is an on-campus orientation program, I highly recommend you attend with your student. Many schools hold a family orientation alongside the student orientation, and they share a lot of information that you might not even know you need to know. During orientation, you and your student will be in some sessions together and some apart. The sooner you register the better as sessions do tend to fill up. Another benefit of orientation: it’s a great chance to bond with your student and see the process through their eyes.
If they’re not already doing their own, now’s the time to start. They need to know not to throw the maroon shirt in with the white shirt, and not to cram too much into the machine. Maybe you have a favorite detergent brand (the pods are convenient for students). You can find out if the machines in their residence hall still use quarters or a swipe of the cash-loaded student ID card. Some residence halls have laundry apps — students can check their phone to see if a machine is available, how many minutes are left in the wash or dry cycle, and to receive a notification when the wash is done. Nifty!
That’s right — most schools have an office dedicated to you. The Parent & Family Office is a wonderful resource! They share information on their website, send newsletters, host campus events for families (if there is a fall Family Weekend, put the date on your calendar and make travel plans now!). This is the office to call if you have questions, are having a hard time with the transition and need a friendly voice to talk to, or if your student is going through a difficult time and you want to know how best to support them.
Start these conversations as soon as possible and continue them throughout the college years. What are your expectations about grades? How about money management? How often will your student come home? (Note: Students should spend at least the first six weeks on campus so they can begin to feel comfortable and make their college a second home.) Do you expect them to have a job during the school year? Ask open-ended questions so you don’t get the “fine” and “good” answers.
These aren’t always comfortable conversations but they are essential. Your student is moving away from home and into an environment where they're free to make their own choices in every area of life and behavior. Talk about the dangers of various types of drugs, prescription and otherwise, that tend to be widely available on college campuses. Discuss the use of alcohol (including binge drinking) and how it can aversely affect one’s life and education. Review the school’s Student Code of Conduct together. Thinking through and talking about issues ahead of time will empower your student to make healthier choices during their first year and beyond.
Research the school’s health and wellness center to find out what services they offer, including mental health and counseling services. Over the summer, you will have to choose to pay for the college health insurance coverage or waive it if your student will remain on the family insurance plan. Give your student a copy of the family insurance card (if they will stay on your plan) and make a note of what nearby hospital accepts your insurance. Fill out any health forms required by the school ahead of time (you can usually download these from the school’s website).
Everything that needs to get done will get done, because you are doing it together. Have some fun, cook their favorite meals and let them know that you’re proud of them and confident that they will be successful.
When your college student starts their first semester, it’s not just a big deal for them. It’s a big deal for you, too. Get the First Semester Guide for College Parents now!