How to Successfully Move Your Kid to College

By April Tisher

I know, you were so focused on senior year; buried under college choices, admissions, graduation announcements, photos, senior trips, and prom. Planning for college likely wasn’t at the top of your list. Now, you’re staring down the fact that your child is actually leaving home in a month. I’ve been there. Soak up every minute, but remember it’s time to start planning your child’s (now young adult’s) college move- in day so, hopefully, it’s smoother and a little easier on your wallet and psyche.

Plan for Success

The very first thing to consider are expectations — both yours and your student’s. Are you still in a ‘90s college mindset where you just picked up a few things, packed your trunk in your car and waved to your parents as you drove off? Or are you imagining a movie setting where you lovingly spend hours decorating your daughter’s dorm room with her roommate’s mom in coordinating themes and colors?

OK, now, what is your child expecting? Do their expectations align with yours? This is good to figure out beforehand. Don’t worry if they don’t seem into this too early. Remember, they have been living their best life as a senior and, while they may be excited to attend the school they have dreamed of, they aren’t quite ready to deal with those decisions yet.

My son was very nonchalant about it all and thought I was overdoing it. That is, until he got to college and realized he actually needed and used most of what we brought. He and I had different ideas of move-in day, though, so I’m glad we talked about who would make the trip with us to move him in and what his plans were. Most schools will caution you not to bring too may people. Dorm rooms aren’t known for being spacious, and remember there will be roommates or suitemates also moving in with their families.

Moving Day

We live in Florida, so no matter where you go, it’s hot in August. Doors are being propped open, and AC may or may not be optimal, so be sure to dress accordingly. You will likely be carrying boxes and furniture from the parking lot, putting things together and setting things up inside. Parking is often an issue, so try not to bring more vehicles than necessary. It’s good to pay attention to information regarding move-in day procedures sent out ahead of time. There will certainly be specific days and times for your student.

What do They REALLY Need?

What do you really need to bring with you? There are a ton of “must-have” lists all over the place that can make you and your college-bound kid feel overwhelmed when trying to pack. There are obvious things to consider right away, of course, to keep you from showing up with lots of things your kid doesn’t need or want. You may just find yourself stuck in Target on the big day with 1,000 other parents shelling out money you didn’t anticipate spending.

If you get the opportunity to know roommates ahead of time, connect with them on what items they will bring. This conversation can save a lot of time and money. I was fortunate to meet my son’s first roommate’s parents at a committed day event.

We worked out who was buying a microwave, TV, rug, and other shared items so we didn’t double up on items that can be shared. Space is always an issue so eliminating unnecessary duplicates can help. Also, everyone’s situation is different, but for this I’m focusing on college freshman who are leaving home to attend college.

Some things to consider before shopping are:

  •  Students may have different in the décor in mind.Girls may be very into a theme and coordinating with their roommates. This appears to be a much bigger deal at larger colleges in the south. My son, on the other hand, could have cared less. A flag on the wall and his Cowboys football comforter is all he cared about.
  • Traditional dorm room vs apartment or apartment style living will result in different lists and living situations. If your child is using a community bathroom, they will need shower shoes and a caddy. If they have their own bathroom, they will need cleaning supplies. If they have a shared kitchen available you need to consider kitchen supplies, food and how to share it.
  • Your list will also vary depending on how far away your child is moving, making location and travel top of mind. If its within driving distance, you will likely want to buy most things ahead of time and pack your car. If you will have to fly to move in, you will need to buy more once you are on site. You also need to consider what you will do with these items at the end of the year, perhaps a storage facility.
  • There are companies that specialize in outfitting dorm rooms, which can be a convenient option for those who are traveling from further distances. They can be almost one-stop shopping you can order from and have delivered to the dorm ahead of time.
  • I joined a few Facebook groups: College Dorm Must-Haves & Beyond, Class of ’22 Parent Group and the group specific to parents at my son’s university. These were awesome for getting good prices on dorm essentials and the university-specific page had parents who would post photos of dorm rooms, so you knew dimensions and configurations as well as the contents of what is included in the room. I bought a lot of things in the months prior to graduation when they were on sale. I got a mattress topper, sheets, a clip fan and more as other parents posted links of items on sale. This was a huge help, as I felt like the items were already vetted by others, and I saved time and money in the process. You can often find a student who is graduating or moving out of the dorms selling items on their university page that can really make it easy, like mini fridges or desk chairs.

Besides items on the list for your student, there are some other things to bring on move-in day to make your life easier:

  1. Tools, like a screwdriver, hammer, Allen wrench for putting things together and securing things, and a rubber mallet for lofting the bed)
  2. A hand truck, if you have one
  3. Zip ties for containing cords or securing things
  4. Cleaning supplies
  5. IKEA shopping bags
  6. Scissors
  7. Goo-Gone

Dorm room Extra’s to Consider: Depending on budget, space constraints these are also helpful:

  • Stick vacuum (1 per room)
  • Mini fridge (1 per room)
  • Microwave (1 per room)
  • Small coffee pot (1 per room)
  • TV and/or gaming system (1 per room)
  • Area rug for room
  • Desk lamp and chair if not provided
  • Desk/school supplies including a backpack
  • Bike or scooter to get around campus
  • Photos of family, friends, pets; I had a pillow made of a picture of my son’s beloved dogs
  • Water pitcher (think Brita)
  • Starter supply of snacks
  • Bowl/Cup/Utensil set
  • Mattress zip cover
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Storage ottoman

Lastly, it’s a Good Idea to Pack a First-Aid Kit.

There will be student health services and athletic trainers on campus, but it is a good idea for them to have some supplies on hand. Medications like Tylenol or Ibuprofen, Claritin or allergy medicine, bandages, antibiotic ointment, and hydrocortisone cream for itchy insect bites are all helpful to have on hand.

Of course, if your student takes any prescription medications, be sure they have a supply with them and the RX information so they can get refills. Don’t forget to pack Epi Pens if they carry one. I also sent my son with Narcan. Yes, I know it seems extreme, but accidental Fentanyl overdoses happen all too frequently, and they are deadly. In the state of Florida, Narcan is available without a prescription free of charge, so I explained to my son what it was for and sent a box for him to keep.

Your, and Their, New Reality

At the end of the day, remember this is a major life change not only for you but for your whole family. Be patient with each other and allow yourself some grace. You new college student may shed some tears when they say goodbye, or they may be too eager to run off to a campus event to show much emotion. You will likely cry. Maybe not for an hour like I did, but expect to feel some sense of pride and emptiness at the same time.

It might hit again when you get home and see their empty room. Anticipate that siblings still in the home will also face an adjustment period. They will feel the absence of their brother or sister too! Plan a last meal together before or after the actual move-in process and discuss when you will see each other again. Know important dates ahead of time, such as parent weekend, sporting events, etc., so you and your child have a date on the calendar to look forward to.

Last Minute To Do’s

Make sure you have information on mailboxes and how to send packages and give a general idea of what’s expected communication wise, like the frequency of texts, calls and letters. They probably won’t mind if you hit the campus store and buy yourself a school sticker for your car and a hoodie for them before you go, and throw them an extra $50 as you give your hug goodbye. Before you know it, these short years will be over as quickly as their high school years were!