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Mom and daughter loading car for college move-in day

Parenting a College Student: Your Guide to Move-In Day & Beyond

College move-in day can be challenging for parents. You watched your teen grow and change throughout their K-12 years, but this is different. Now, they’re taking their first steps towards adulthood. While your teen learns the ropes to college life, you’ll have to balance experiencing an empty nest while parenting a college student—whether they move across town or across the country. To help you prepare to send your freshman to college, review advice for parents of college students and the ideal college packing list in this back-to-school guide.

What Should Your College Freshman Pack for Dorm Life?

Neatly designed girl's college dorm room. Photo by Instagram user @dormify

Photo via @dormify

Deciding what to bring to college depends on your teen’s needs and the dorm’s requirements. Some college dorms offer apartment-style living, where each student has their own room and may need to bring dorm furniture. Others may be fully furnished. Regardless of the dorm style, there are several dorm room necessities you should put on their packing list for college.

Bathroom

  • Bath and hand towels
  • Bathrobe
  • Cleaning supplies (including a toilet brush and plunger)
  • Makeup and self-care products
  • Shower caddy
  • Shower sandals for shared bathrooms
  • Toilet paper
  • Toiletries and hygiene products
  • Trash can

Bedroom

  • Containers for under-the-bed storage
  • Comforter or quilt
  • Extra blankets
  • Foam mattress pad for comfort
  • Mattress cover
  • Pillows and pillowcases
  • Two sets of bed sheets (Twin XL recommended)

Closet

  • Clothing (including professional outfits and workout attire)
  • Dryer sheets
  • Hangers
  • Laundry basket
  • Laundry detergent
  • Seasonal items (e.g., winter coat, umbrella, swimsuit)
  • Shoes and accessories
  • Suitcase or travel bag

Kitchen

  • Can opener
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Cups (eg., coffee mugs, water bottles)
  • Plastic, reusable dish set and silverware
  • Dish soap and sponge
  • Drying rack
  • Microwave and mini-fridge (if not already provided)
  • Food storage containers
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Paper towels

Living Room

  • Broom and vacuum
  • Decorations
  • Desk and desk chair (if not already provided)
  • Futon or guest seating (if not already provided)
  • Game console and controllers
  • Lamps or extra lighting
  • TV

Tech

  • Bluetooth speakers
  • Device chargers
  • Extension cords
  • Headphones
  • Laptop or tablet
  • Surge protector
  • USB drive or external hard drive

Emergency Items

  • First-aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • IDs and paperwork (including car registration, medical insurance cards, etc.)
  • List of emergency contacts
  • Over-the-counter medications (e.g., cold and flu meds, menstrual-relief products, cough drops, antacids, etc.)
  • Prescription medications and copies of prescriptions
  • Tool kit

How Can Parents Help on College Move-in Day?

Helping your child pack, unpack, and move into their college dorm is a great way to support your new freshman! It can also be a great bonding experience. Here are a few ways you can assist your college student with the moving process to keep them from feeling overwhelmed.

Prepare for Move-In Day

Reduce stress on move-in day at college by planning ahead. Before leaving home, help your new college student practice doing their laundry—maybe with their new bedsheets! You can also remove packaging from new items to save luggage space and time while unpacking at the dorm. And for cross-country moves, it’s extra important to prepare packing and reserve a hotel room near the university well in advance.

Unpack & Organize

A family of three moves a blue bin of college dorm items on the sidewalks of a campus. Photo via Instagram user @usciences

Photo via @usciences

On the day of the move, stay positive to help with the mixed emotions that come with college move-in day. Share your heartfelt goodbyes at home so you can leave more easily when the time comes. Dress practically and pack snacks and plenty of water bottles. Arrive on campus early to avoid the rush, and check your student in. Once there, inspect the dorm room for damage or potential issues, like if the lofted bed is missing a ladder. Use a doorstop to prop the door open and grab a fan to keep things cool in the late-summer heat. Then, deep clean while the room is still empty. Make the bed to get mattress pads, pillows, and blankets out of the way—plus, this will give you a space to lay items down as you continue unpacking. You can suggest unpacking items your kid will need first, but let them take the lead in organizing their space.

Help Them Settle In

Two containers of documents sit on a blue welcome table for freshman orientation at Penn State University. Photo via Instagram user @lindseewood

Photo via @lindseewood

Once you’re done helping your freshman move into their dorm room, tie up any loose ends. Head to a local retailer to grab freshman dorm room essentials that you might’ve overlooked or trendy dorm decor you want to add. It’s also a good idea to help familiarize your student with campus and nearby stores at this time. Which pharmacy can they visit late at night if they’re sick? Or where should they go for dental appointments and haircuts? Knowing their surroundings can help them adjust more quickly to their home away from home.

How Can Parents Cope with Empty Nest Syndrome?

There’s always a period of transition when children leave home, and assessing your own feelings will help you determine the best way to move into this next phase of life. For some, this is an exciting opportunity to reclaim time for themselves. For others, the question of how to cope with an empty nest is challenging. Everyone’s feelings are as unique as their situation, but there are plenty of ways to make the best of parenting a college student.

Send Them Off with College Goodbye Gifts

A father and college-aged daughter smile into the camera. Photo via Instagram user @beatsurgeon

Photo via @beatsurgeon

Leaving for university is an important milestone for college freshmen. So, celebrate your teen’s achievement! Revisit old photos and share memories of how they’ve grown. Pass down life advice and encouragement that you wish you’d heard at their age. Share what you hope they gain from college or what you wish for their future. If you can’t find the words in the moment, write a letter before freshman move-in day. Look up quotes and poems about going off to college to spark inspiration. Don’t worry too much about the details. What matters most is showing your child you care and are rooting for them through this transition.

Stay in Touch

You’re likely coping with missing your child, but try to give your college freshman space to adjust and make connections. Your place in their life is still important, but your relationship will likely evolve.

Plan calls or video chats around their new college routine, like when they’re walking home from the library or between classes. Text small, positive updates about your day—and hopefully receive some back! And if your college student is feeling homesick, put together a care package with their favorite products from home, along with letters from family and friends.

For more face-to-face time with your freshman, you can attend campus on big game days. Later on in the semester, see if there are parents’ weekend events. Or ask to treat your child and their friends to dinner—it’s hard to say no to free food!

Keep a Place for Your Child at Home

Throughout college, there will be plenty of opportunities for your freshman to visit—holidays, long weekends, summer breaks, and more. When they return, you’ll want them to feel at home despite the time spent away, so do your best to avoid moving belongings into their room. It can be tempting to treat that empty space like an extra closet, home office, or personal gym. But with so much change in their life, your new college student will likely crave their familiar, safe place in their home.

Embrace Change & Avoid Empty Nest Boredom

Household dynamics and routines will change once your first-year student heads to school, but change isn’t necessarily bad. Think about this time as a new beginning. Maybe you have a home renovation project you’ve been putting off. Or perhaps you and your spouse have been hoping to sneak in some date nights. Consider expanding your social life with an empty nest party and re-invest in relationships with family and friends by inviting them to celebrate the young adult you raised.

Utilize Resources for Parents

If you’re feeling empty nest anxiety or empty nest blues, you’re not alone. Join online parent support groups like Grown & Flown and UniversityParent, where you can talk through your struggles and read about other parents’ experiences of sending kids to college. You can also take advantage of the parent and family resources available at your child’s university, which will have information about family events, networking opportunities, and newsletters.

Be Prepared to Advise & Compromise

A college student cuddles with their dogs on their parent's couch while looking at their phone. Photo via Instagram user @dramamamabou

Photo via @dramamamabou

Parenting college students is a lot different than raising them. As legal adults, they now have the ultimate say in their lives, but you can still provide helpful advice for new college students. Some students will need practical study tips while others may need guidance in their social lives.

When your teenager comes home, there might be another adjusting period. They’ll be used to their new college schedule, which may include staying up late or going out on the weekends. Meanwhile, you still have rules, curfews, and family traditions that are important to you. Make sure to discuss these boundaries with your child openly and honestly to ensure everyone enjoys their time together.

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