Sending a child off to college

Sending a child off to college is very exciting. You might be both nervous and happy. It is a big change for the whole family. Find out how to prepare and help your child. Learn about student services, buying supplies, and staying connected.

A mother and her graduate daughter smiling at camera
Photo: iStock

Congratulations for having a child who is off to college! It is a big, positive change. But going to college can be confusing. Your child may be nervous about college.

Do not worry. There are things you can do to make it easier:

Visit the school

Make sure to visit the campus before the first day. Some colleges are very large, and your child may worry about getting lost. They may not know where to get food or study. Knowing where everything is will make them more confident. Colleges have special visiting days for new students. Your student will get information about visiting days when he or she enrolls.

Use the Student Services office

If you need help while you are there, you can visit the Student Services office. They can provide you with maps and answer questions.  Students can go to Student Services office anytime that they need help when they are at college. For example, they can go if they are not sure which classes to take, or if they lose their school identification card.

Find a place to live

Some colleges have dormitories (“dorms” for short).  A dorm is a building with many rooms where students live. Dorms are usually much cheaper than apartments. All of the living costs are included in one price. They are also safe because there are security cameras and guards there. Almost all students have roommates during their first year at college, no matter where they live.

If your child wants to live in a dorm, sign them up early. There are a limited amount of rooms.

Some students rent apartment or houses. They may share the apartment but usually they will have their own room.

To find an apartment or house, look online at websites such as,, or on the school’s website. Take time to look at several places. Ask if water and electricity are included in the rent. If your child has a pet, ask if the building allows pets. Think about safety and how close it is to school. Make sure to read the contract carefully before you sign. If you can’t, find a friend or relative that can help you.

Buy supplies for going off to college

Your child will need some things for school and their new living space:

  • Bedding (blankets, pillows, sheets and pillowcases)
  • Towels
  • Desk supplies: notepads, pens, and a desk lamp
  • Computer: it is important to have a laptop computer. If you cannot afford one, you might be able to request one through Student Services or an organization that helps low-income students. Your child can also use the computer lab at the library.
  • Laundry basket: if there is not a washing machine in the house, buy a basket with wheels. It will make it easier for your child to take laundry to the laundromat. A laundromat is where people pay to use a washing machine and dryer.
  • Toiletries: toothpaste and toothbrush, comb/brush, shampoo and soap, deodorant
  • Electronics: headphones and extension cords

Practice life skills before they go off to college

Your children will have to take care of themselves. If they do not know how to cook, show them how to make easy meals. Cooking will keep them from spending a lot of money at restaurants. Teach them where to shop for healthy and affordable food.

If your child does not know how to do laundry, show them. If they will have a car, teach them how to take care of it. Make sure they know when and how to check their oil, water, and tires.

The most important thing you can teach your child is how to take care of their money. Talk about expenses and how to make a budget so they don’t spend too much money. Explain how to pay bills and what happens if you do not. If you want your child to have a credit card, get one before they leave. Sometimes credit card companies try to cheat students with expensive credit card services. It is better to get a card from a bank you trust.

Stay connected

Your child will miss their home and parents. Take time to call and see how they are doing, even if they seem happy. You can also send them care packages. A care package is a box filled with things they like. You can send them food that won’t go bad or everyday things they use all the time like soap, shampoo, or dishwashing liquid.

Many parents visit their children at college if they can. This can be hard and expensive if they are far away. If you can, buy tickets in advance to save money. When you miss your child, it will make you happy to know that you will see each other soon. If you can’t visit, download Skype or other software that lets you talk through a camera. It is not the same but it will help you feel closer.

You may have other questions about how to help. In this video, an advisor talks about how to support your child.