Lexi Caruso

Dropping your kid off at college—whether it’s 20 miles away or 2,000—is nerve-wracking, especially for the first time. There are so many questions and worries: How do I know the dorm is safe? What if she gets really homesick? How will he get healthy food? Will she shrink all her clothes?

I’ll never forget the summer before my freshman year. I was worried about what my first night sleeping in a dorm room with strangers would feel like. But once I got through a few anxious nights, I quickly became comfortable and settled in. Here are some tricks I learned during that first year. 

Let your expectations go.
Don’t assume or imagine what the first year for your teenager will be like. Although college tours give students and parents an inside look at college life, the tours might not accurately represent the vibe on campus. I’d highly suggest sending them off with an open mind because odds are, it’ll be different than what you expect for them.

Don’t let your kid overpack.
As I was packing, I went through every article of clothing that I owned and thought of some obscure reason that I’d need it. Rather than allowing tons of clothes to take over your dorm, think logically and pack like a minimalist. Ensure you have enough staple items such as jeans, tees and sweatshirts, but you don’t need an excessive amount. In college, people often wear the same things because no one cares what you’re wearing and everyone just wants to be comfortable. Realistically, I probably only wore a third of the clothes I brought to college.

With all that being said, encourage your kids to use packing time as an excuse to purge their closets, and donate any clothes they haven’t worn in the past year. Lastly, remember: Whatever you bring to college, you’ll have to lug all the way home. 

Send your kids care packages.
When I would get an email saying I had a package that I wasn’t expecting, I got so excited. My mom would send me packages for every holiday, even Saint Patrick’s Day. My roommate and I would always have the most festively decorated room for every season, which helped keep our spirits high in the midst of essays and exams. On the plus side, your kid will have a reason to call and say thanks!

Lexi Caruso

Encourage your kids to speak with an advisor before picking classes.
I joke that orientation was the worst day of my life because it was long and boring, but mainly because I was beyond stressed about making my schedule. I was unsure of what classes I needed to take to stay on track for graduation, and no one wants to waste their time taking unnecessary classes. I wish I’d emailed an advisor prior to orientation so I could’ve been better prepared for course selection. I spoke with an advisor before picking classes for second semester and I felt much more prepared and organized.

Check Rate My Professor before picking classes.
I’d highly suggest looking at ratemyprofessors.com to see honest reviews by students of any school’s professors. It makes all the difference if your child has a professor who’s passionate and well-respected.

If your kid can’t take their car to school, consider using Zipcar.
Since I went to school across the country, I couldn’t take my car with me. Every weekend I’d itch to get out of my dorm, but Ubers can get expensive. Thanks to Zipcar, students can pay a monthly fee of $6 and rent zipcars for $7 per hour. It’s an inexpensive way to explore their college area, especially when the cost is split between friends.

Lexi Caruso

Encourage them to use Quizlet to study.
In order to retain the information I’m studying, I need to interact with it. By making my own quizzes on Quizlet, I memorize information by creating online study guides. Quizlet also makes flashcards, games and even practice tests to help users study. I simplify my studying so I can get a grasp of the core concepts and not get hung up on specifics. Not to mention, when the final exam comes, your child will already have their study guides all in one place. Best part? It’s free.

Remind your kid not to be a dorm rat.
Tell your kid to go to the planned activities for the first few weeks of school, because every new freshman is in the same boat. Everyone’s alone and wants to make friends. In fact, most college campuses have awesome activities planned year-round, despite the possible feeling on their campus that it’s not cool to attend.

I hope this advice helps your teen get through this stressful but exciting transition. By giving your kids these tips, they’ll be better equipped for whatever college throws at them. 

Lexi Caruso just finished her freshman year as a journalism media studies major at San Diego State University. She went to high school at Trumbull High in Connecticut before moving more than 2,800 miles away for college.