Leaving Home for College

For many students, starting college is the first experience venturing away from home. It is an exciting, but equally terrifying time as if turning 18 and receiving a high school diploma automatically ensures maturity and independence. Whether staying in-state or travelling cross-country to embark on this new adventure, there are some key steps for preparing to leave home successfully.

Learning to Live Independently: College Basics

Tackle time management. You’ve successfully completed high school, and in doing so, you have hopefully learned how to manage your time to keep up with deadlines. However, this whole new level of independence might present some challenges to your previously good habits. Mom, Dad, nor the school attendance sheet are checking up on your schedule. Your time away at school will be divided between academics, athletics, social time, work, and self-care. Choose your course load realistically and choose your class schedule to match your needs as much as possible. Do you know you are not a morning person? A Monday/Wednesday/Friday class first thing in the morning might not lead to your best success. Was working out at home part of your daily routine? Schedule time for fitness and fun. Keep those things that led to your past success a part of your daily routine.

  • Use your phone to set reminders and keep your schedule.
  • Stick to a regular sleep cycle.
  • Keep your desk and personal areas organized.
  • Balance work and social life.
  • Ask for help if you’re struggling to meet deadlines.
  • Seek out student support services if you aren’t finding time to take adequate care of yourself.

Learn to do laundry. One perk of living at home is having others help with daily chores. For some, laundry is a whole new experience. In most cases, Mom or Dad would be happy to pass on their household wisdom in preparing you to clean your own clothes.

  • Investigate how to pay for laundry before you leave home. Some colleges use prepaid laundry cards, some charge your account, others still use coin fed quarter machines. Arrive prepared so that you avoid any roadblocks to the laundry time you’ve set aside.
  • Locate the laundry room in your dorm- it’s all new to everyone, don’t be afraid to ask!
  • Separate lights and darks to avoid dye bleeds that turn your loads grey or pink.
  • Don’t overstuff the load. Allow room for clothes to circulate in the washer.
  • Everyone has to do it, so consider setting up laundry time with friends.
  • Set a reminder to alert your phone when your load is done. Forgetting a load in the dryer has been known to happen!
  • If all else fails, find a local laundry service. Many universities are surrounded by dry cleaning stores that will launder clothes on a pay per pound basis.

Create a college budget. Hopefully, before leaving home, you have gained some understanding of how much money you will have to spend over the course of your time away. That may be made up of savings you brought with you, allowance from parents, or income from an on campus or part-time job. Discuss financial expectations with your parents; who will pay for what? Books, incidentals, eating out, toiletries, and social events are all ongoing expenses you should expect to incur while in college. Compare the actual dollar amount you have to spend to the expected expenses you will incur. Divide that number into weeks so that you are able to adequately cover your expenses, or lower your spending if need be. Managing your expenses now will have a significant impact on the sustainability of your financial future.

  • Create a written list of income sources and expenses.
  • Differentiate between needs and wants.
  • Carefully weigh dining plan options. Use the meals and dining dollars you have already paid for before considering spending additional dollars to eat out.
  • Consider buying used text books.
  • Don’t get sucked in to student credit card offers. High interest charges make debt compound quickly. Overspending on credit can lead to leaving college buried in debt.
  • Stick to the budget you’ve created to keep your finances in check.


Dealing with Homesickness in College

The majority of college freshman have periods of feeling lonely or homesick. Homesickness is less about leaving your actual home, and more a matter of missing the comfort and safety of a familiar environment. Setting up a new room and your own space will be exciting and will likely be the focus of the initial days of your new adventure. As the reality of living on your own settles in, the gravity of all of the changes you are experiencing might set off feelings of sadness. Know that with all times of change comes an adjustment period. As you work through adjusting to college life, you will adapt and your feelings will improve. Always remember that homesickness is temporary.

  • Talk to your parents or friends about your feelings; these emotions are not uncommon. Sharing your feelings with a supportive confidante lessens the burden of negative feelings.
  • Remember that in most cases, feeling homesick is short-lived. Adjusting may take time, but you will get through it.
  • Communicate with old friends, but not too much. The social media posts of others’ rarely display their difficult times. Don’t judge your adjustment to leaving home by the posts made by others.
  • Put yourself out there. Even if it means pushing the boundaries of your social comfort zone, make the effort to meet people. Everyone has arrived on campus looking to make new friends.
  • Get involved in clubs, activities, and events that get you outside of your dorm room.
  • If feelings of sadness persist or interfere with your daily functioning, seek out on-campus student support services.

Helping a Homesick College Student

Parents are the first point of contact for a student who is struggling. Use these 6 tips to support your college freshman when they are homesick.

  1. Promote independence. Homesickness may in part be fueled by a student becoming overwhelmed by their newfound independence. What might start out as a welcome time to spread their wings, may after a few weeks feel more like a lot of responsibility. Recognize this struggle by helping them find a solution instead of stepping in with the intent to “fix.” Help your student recognize they do have the capability of taking care of themselves by guiding with empathy. 
  2. Let them vent and rant. Allow your student to unload their emotional baggage in the safest way possible; on you. It may be gut-wrenching to hear your child struggle while there is distance between you but listening serves an important role. A large part of processing emotions is getting them out there instead of feeling like they need to be swept under the rug. Listening to their pain with a sympathetic ear is very reassuring. 
  3. Remind them homesickness passes. Commonly, students have already successfully navigated a period of time away from home, or some other time of strife. Remind them of the positive coping tools that they used to get through a difficult time in the past. Don’t be surprised if homesick feelings recur throughout the year. Challenging times often bring a longing for home no matter when they occur.  
  4. Remind them of their roots. There’s lots of “new” on campus, but that doesn’t mean your child should abandon their “old” selves. Remind them that they loved to run or relieved stress through music, dance, or exercise. Encourage them to return to those familiar interests. If there were especially important people in their lives, encourage them to reengage contact with them. Having a meaningful conversation with an old friend, aunt, uncle or mentor reconnects a relationship much more meaningfully than a quick check-in on social media.
  5. Encourage involvement. Parents can stay in the know regarding campus activities by joining parent groups on social media and reading materials sent by the student affairs office. Use what you know about what’s going on near campus to encourage your student to attend special events. Encourage them to join in anything that is even remotely interesting. Connecting with others is never easier than the beginning of freshman year when everyone is looking to expand their social circle. 
  6. Provide additional help. If your student’s homesickness does not seem to be lifting and their emotional struggle begins to interfere with daily activities, encourage them to reach out to their resident advisor or campus mental health services.

Legal Preparations

Legal Documents Every College Student Needs

On the practical side, there are some legal documents that families find to be of great comfort when a young adult leaves home. In the eyes of the law, an 18 year old student is granted all of the rights, privileges, and legal responsibilities of an adult. Having a few simple legal documents in place will allow a parent to intervene on a student’s behalf in case of injury, illness, or other incapacitation while away at school. Although precipitated by what may be an unsettling conversation, preparing these documents in advance could make the possibility of stressful situations in the future much easier.

FERPA: Once a student turns 18, rights to access academic records transfer to the student. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects student privacy, but may lock parents out of vital information. Most colleges have a waiver in place for students to decide who is able to access their academic and financial records. You may also draft a release to obtain educational or other privileged information. However, FERPA legislation makes it clear that the decision to release information is entirely up to the student. As a family you should decide how involved parents will be in accessing student records.

HIPAA: A signed HIPAA agreement gives medical professionals permission to share information about their patient. Having a signed HIPAA agreement in place indicating the parent as an authorized party allows parents to access a student’s health information if ill, injured, unconscious, or incapacitated while away at school. Note that this includes communication with the college health clinic. Regardless of who pays the bill, a parent’s access to student health information is restricted by federal law.

Medical POA: A medical power of attorney document allows the designated agent to make health care decisions when a person is incapable of doing it themselves. Parents with a valid Medical POA are able to view medical records and make informed medical decisions on behalf of the student.

Durable POA: A durable power of attorney document allows the designated agent to make financial decisions and manage financial and legal affairs such as bank accounts, tax returns, and lease agreements on behalf of a student. The document should include details as to what rights the agent (parent) will have, the circumstances under which the document acts, and for how long.

Keep signed original documents in a secure location, as well as a digital copy of each file. Additionally, make sure documents are valid in the state in which your student will school/reside.

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