Open Letter to Parents of College Freshmen

(from the wife of a residence life professional)

A new world of parents shall send their children to college for the first time in a few short days. Right now, they are checking lists of what to bring to the residence halls, scoping out their children’s future roommates, and probably stressing out a little bit. I know this because for years my husband has worked with campus housing at several universities and part of his job is getting students moved in and situated so they can begin their college life. I lived for years on those campuses and watched parents move in those students. And I have heard more stories than I can count from residential life professionals across several states about move-in-day-woes. So for all of those parents out there getting ready to move first-years onto campus this fall, here is my advice.

1. You did good! Moving your child into on-campus housing for his or her first year at college is a great idea. They are in a place where there is campus security as well as trained students and professional staff on call 24 hours a day to connect with your child and deal with emergencies. They are in a place with all the other first year students so they can more easily make friends, build community, and form study groups. They are closer to classes (which makes it easier to get to said classes on time). Yes, you did good signing them up for on-campus housing. Pat yourself on the back!

2. Roommates are not forever. Your child may have a roommate she loves. He may have a roommate from another planet. You might not get along with the roommate’s parents on move-in day. You might all go to dinner together when the day is done. Whatever the case, remember: your child is only signed up to share space with this person for one year. Dealing with a challenging roommate is actually an excellent life skill to have, and doing so in a place where your child has resident assistants (RAs) and mediation or conflict resolution assistance makes it even easier to learn how to do the roommate thing. Before you call in the director of housing and request a roommate change, take a deep breath and adopt a wait-and-see mentality. Don’t force your child into an awkward situation by leaving him or her with a roommate you’ve spent all day trying to move away from your child. Model kindness and hospitality from the beginning, and you will leave your fledgling adult child in a healthier place when you leave. If you are concerned about issues that might get your child into some type of legal trouble (such as you see a bag of pot or a bottle of rum stashed in the roommate’s closet corner), you can discreetly notify the RA or other authority figure on the way out.

3. Be a lamb. I realize this is your child and you are paying big bucks for him or her to live on campus and you want the room to be perfect and any issues with your child’s living space are simply not to be tolerated. I really, truly get that. But I also know I’ve heard more stories than I can count where a parent went into a, ummm, tizzy about a warm AC or a missing bed piece and really let the staff have it to the point that the parent fully and completely embarrassed his or her child. When you leave, you don’t want your child to feel the need to approach a staff member to apologize for your behavior. All the staff completely understand that this is an emotional day for you, possibly more so than for the student you leave behind. Please know this: The staff wants your child’s room to be perfect. They are also working to move in hundreds, if not thousands, of students simultaneously. While your child’s concern might not have an immediate fix, believe me that the collective staff will work hard to fix the problem as quickly as possible. It’s their job and they care about it and they are there because they, too, care about your child. That’s why they picked this job! Treating the staff with civility will go a long way in modeling for your own child how to deal with road bumps in life, and it will also save you from embarrassing your child when s/he is trying desperately to make good first impressions at his or her new home.

4. Follow the chain of command. In general, your main contact on move-in day will be with your child’s resident assistant (RA). Maybe your campus calls them community leaders (CLs) or something similar. These students are upper-classmen trained to deal with basic issues (maintenance problems, roommate conflicts, etc.) and build community among the residents on their halls. While they are hired staff, they are still students. Don’t abuse them! They want to build a great community for your child during the year, and they want to get to know your child, and they want to make the year great. Respect their knowledge and get to know them. Encourage them. Tell them if you think they are doing a great job because they’ve been working hard for this day. If you have a problem, remember that your RA is your first point of contact. The RA will know who to contact about an issue s/he can’t handle. They will know how and when to involve maintenance or a senior professional staff member. Trust their knowledge and their training. In other words: you do NOT need to call the vice-president’s office because something is wrong with your housing assignment or your child’s window gets stuck or the key card glitches or the hot water has stopped working. The vice-president will for sure end up hearing about any major glitches that happen on move-in day. But if you want a problem fixed quickly, follow the chain of command and the people who are already on the ground waiting to deal with any issue will be the quickest to respond to your needs.

5. Let your child take ownership. Do your best to treat your 18-year-old college student like an adult, because legally, they already are one. You are used to being the adult in every situation surrounding your child, but on college move-in day, let your child take ownership over the process of moving into his or her new home. If there is a maintenance issue, you can say, “Hey, why don’t you go find the RA and let them know that the faucet in the bathroom won’t turn off.” Or you could say, “Hey, I think I’ll run to the store for a shower curtain,” and give your child space to be alone with New Roommate making choices about the space they will call home for a year. Allowing your young adult to speak up about any imperfections empowers the student to believe that he can do this college thing. It is good for your student to know you trust her to manage her own space and speak up for herself. The days of having mom and dad fight their battles for them should be in the past once you all reach move-in day. Of course, parents are a child’s best advocate. And yes, it’s probably your money. But it is still your child’s education, your child’s home, and your child’s responsibility to manage these resources well. Show them you trust them.

6. Have some fun. Move-in day might be really hard on you, and you might cry a little. (I am the parent who will for sure cry a little.) Whether your tears are for joy or sorrow, take time to laugh with the young adult you are leaving in a new home. Have a sense of humor, crack a few jokes, make a few fun memories. It will be good for your heart and will help you leave a smile on your child’s face when you part.

My best wishes to all the parents delivering freshmen to college campuses this fall. A (non-alcoholic) cheers to a great year!


  1. Mama says:

    Well said. Leaving you on campus years ago was the first hardest day of my life and I am sure the first really exciting day of your life. O dear I am having flashback sadness. sniff. But so glad you went on and married your sweet husband and had those most splendid grand babies , all just for me I am thinking….and it would have never happened had I not let you go on that move-in day.


    1. Monica says:

      I love you, Mama.


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