Checklist for Parents of Incoming College Freshmen
At last, the arduous journey that is the college admissions process has reached its conclusion, and after all the stress, the results turned out beautifully—your son or daughter received an acceptance letter and has settled on their first choice school. Your deposit check is in the mail and it is now official: your teen has traded in the title of “applicant” for that of “incoming freshman.” After that initial sigh of relief, soon-to-be empty nesters (or at least owners of a less full nest) begin a new journey fraught with its own set of logistical concerns and unavoidable parental fretting. The following blog will cover steps you should take before August to ensure a smooth transition from the family home to the dorm room. Topics covered include:
- Picking your dorm
- Medical needs
- Finance and banking
- Transferring any AP credits
- Transferring responsibility (in a broad sense)
- Storage for valuables
- Picking courses
- Safety issues
- Planning ahead for visitation
We begin with one of the most important considerations—where your child will lay their head each night.
1) Pick the right dorm
Depending on your school, housing assignments are typically done on a first-come, first-served basis as soon as the May 1 enrollment deadline passes. Timely submission of your housing paperwork can help your offspring land a room in their top choice dorm. They should consider the following as they select their preferences:
- Which dorms are located near where most classes are held?
- Does your teen prefer a single, double, triple, or apartment-style quad experience?
- What amenities are housed within the dorm—does it have its own laundry room, dining hall, etc.?
- What do students say about each dorm in forums on college websites? (Take this all with a grain of salt, but anecdotal evidence can be useful here).
2) Medical care (including mental health)
Go over the location of the campus health center, the procedures for scheduling an appointment, and the range of services that are offered. Likewise for counseling services, particularly if your child has ever experienced anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness previously. However, given that 33% of first-year college students report suffering from “serious depression” at some point during freshman year, we recommend that all parents review this information with their teen. On a practical note, also ensure that they have a copy of their insurance card and understand the associated costs of a health center visit.
3) Take care of finances and banking
Investigate what banks are near campus or at least have ATMs conveniently on or very near school grounds. If the young adult in your life doesn’t already have a checking account, open one for them ASAP. This can be a joint account that you will easily be able to monitor and add funds to, when necessary. Of course you’ll also want to help your teen understand budgeting and how much per week/month they can spend on things like entertainment, toiletries, non-meals plan food, clothing, and any other expenses that naturally arise when living alone for the first time.
4) Make sure any Advanced Placement credit has been awarded
If you have earned passing scores on Advanced Placement Exams (or IB/CLEP tests), you’ll need to make sure that you are actually granted that credit by your university. It’s kind of like holding a winning lottery ticket; you still need to go about cashing it in. Colleges set their own rules with regard to the awarding of credit for particular scores on AP Exams. Pretty much every school posts a matrix online showing what scores are accepted for each exam and how much credit is awarded. Some universities will only award credit for a 4 or 5, while others will grant you advanced standing for earning a 3. If you didn’t originally submit an official score report from the College Board, have one sent now to your school’s Office of Admissions. You should then receive notice of the awarding of credits, typically from the Registrar’s Office.
5) Transferring responsibly
It’s hard to grasp, but in a matter of months your baby will be falling asleep somewhere other than in the family home. As such, it’s important to use these final moments to begin to transferring a number of everyday responsibilities and expectations to your teen. Acts of “adulting” (as the kids call it) can include things like:
- Setting their own alarm and waking themselves up every morning.
- Memorizing their social security number.
- Learning how to wash and dry their clothes without discoloring/shrinking them.
- Making their own dental appointments.
- Understanding budgeting and basic personal finance.
Of course, this list is anything comprehensive, but hopefully it gives you some ideas of the types of skills you can begin to build in your progeny, whether it’s a gradual series of escalating levels of responsibility beginning in elementary school, or a crash course as senior year winds down.
6) Buy a safe or some sort of lockable storage box
You only have to look at basic crime statistics to know that dorm theft is rampant as it presently accounts for 42% of all criminal incidents on U.S. campuses. Conservatively, there are more than 12,000 reported dorm robberies per year at American colleges and likely countless more unreported incidents. It is advisable for any student to have some type of safe/lock box for their most precious valuables, medicines (Adderall is a common item swiped), cash, and personal documents (passport, social security card, etc.). A decent lock box that may at least dissuade someone looking for an easy theft can be purchased for under $30 while a harder-to-swipe, 90-pound safe will run you upwards of $300.
7) Transportation arrangements
If your student will have a car on campus, there are so many considerations for you/your child to address:
- Updating your car insurance information.
- Where will they park?
- Do they know what to do if they get in a fender-bender?
If they won’t have a car, your teen should explore:
- What is public transportation system like?
- Does the university offer its own shuttles or busing?
- Will traveling home for the holidays involve planes, trains, or automobiles?
Attending college far away from home doesn’t always sound like a big deal when it is an abstract concept; the reality can be bit more overwhelming. Planning the logistics ahead of time can help alleviate some of that stress.
8) Register for classes and knock out placement tests
Some universities, particularly less-to-moderately selective public institutions, may require students to complete a placement test in subject areas like English, math, foreign language, or chemistry—if coming in as a science major. Many of these can be completed online and must be passed prior to course registration.
On the registration front, some colleges allow freshman to select their course schedule well before the semester officially starts; others make you wait until freshman orientation when you are actually on campus. Either way, there is no harm in checking out the Fall 2020 course catalog as soon as it is made available in the spring. While freshman year typically involves a ton of general education requirements, there will be some room for electives and picking the ones that will be highly engaging can be a great motivator as your son or daughter navigates through their first semester.
9) Talk about safety (and then talk about it some more)
Every year, there are roughly 9,000 reported incidents of sexual assault on campus, and, as research indicates, many more sexual crimes are never reported at all. Shockingly, roughly one-quarter of women will experience sexual assault during their undergraduate years. This horrific reality needs to be discussed openly with your daughters AND sons. All students need to understand issues of consent and how to stay safe when at social gatherings, particularly when alcohol or other substances are involved. It’s important to note that these types of crimes don’t just occur at “party schools” but also at the most academically elite schools in the country such as Dartmouth, Swarthmore, and Harvard.
Overall, there are approximately 1,800 alcohol-related deaths among the college-age population each year (including motor vehicle crashes). Additionally, in recent years, there have been fraternity-related hazing deaths at Penn State, Florida State, UC Irvine, Clemson, San Diego State, among others. If your student is considering rushing a Greek organization, make sure you talk about these cases with them. Your teen can roll their eyes at you all they like—we can’t stress enough how vitally important conversations like this are to have before young people ever set foot on a college campus.
10) Book accommodations for orientation weekend and parent’s weekend
If your kiddo is headed to school an hour or two away from home, you may not have to worry about this one, but, any parent who has ever tried to book a hotel room or rent a car (post plane ride) during freshman orientation or parents’/homecoming weekend will tell you—book these far in advance! If possible, it’s also not a bad idea to bring your own hand truck with you on move-in day. Even though colleges sometimes have them available, there often aren’t enough to accommodate the flood of freshman all arriving at the same time.
College Transitions’ Final Thoughts
As the journey of the college exploration and admissions process ends, another journey begins—that of actually readying oneself to be a real-life college student and independent young adult. We hope that these ten items have helped you begin planning for what will undoubtedly be an exciting and successful college transition for your child.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).