Prepare for College — Finally, Off to College!

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One family’s story of getting their child into college

And now, after months of preparation, a university has one more eager first-year student on campus. The conclusion of the Prepare for College series…

Staff member Dan Edelen and his son, Ethan, a Class of 2019 high school graduate, wrap up their personal journey of preparing Ethan for university. Dan offers his view as a parent, while Ethan shares the student side of the experience. To see where we’ve been on the journey so far, check out prior entries in this series:

Before reading the conclusion of the Edelens’ story, check out admission expert Patrick O’Connor’s advice on college preparations: 9 Crucial Things to Do Before College.

The Quad also adds some to-do’s to your list with 10 Things to Do in the Summer Before College.

ETHAN: This is it, guys. As of this entry, I have moved into my college dorm. The entire summer was leading up to this moment, and now it has really happened. All the essays, the applications, the school visits, the paperwork, and the plans were completed and it brought me to this moment. My college prep journey has closed; the last days of summer are slipping away.

What You Accomplish

ETHAN: Looking back, I realize just how much I did over the year, and how much of it was new to me. The summer before, I started tackling the college application process. This meant filling out a steady stream of forms, writing several personal essays, and visiting the colleges I was interested in. Shortly after that, I began writing pieces for TheBestSchools.org, which challenged my writing ability and recollection. Once accustomed to school matters and writing, I spent my time post-graduation looking for a job, which meant tackling the job application process. Then, after I found a job, I had to begin managing a paycheck, bank account, and credit card, along with my work schedule. Finally, after everything else had been sorted out, I prepared for my impending college dorm move-in. That’s a lot to accomplish! In the beginning, all of that seemed daunting, for I had very little experience with any of it, but I persevered, chipped away at my workload, and eventually it worked out.

Now, with all that behind me, I feel relieved, energized, and ready for college. More importantly, I feel like going through all that work taught me something about myself. An epiphany like this isn’t something I go through every day, so pay close attention – you may learn from it too. Over the summer, I learned that I was letting my expectations hold me back. If I believed that something was going to be difficult for me, I would struggle with it more than if I believed in myself. These negative expectations didn’t work like a placebo – they couldn’t really make anything more difficult – but they could affect me. They could make me anxious, sap my will to work, and bring the quality of my work down. It was all in my head, but it affected the real world too. What was my solution? If something intimidated me, I resolved to focus on it until it wasn’t a problem anymore. I got things done quickly, so that I could get them off my mind. I held myself to certain standards and resolved to do better if my standards began to slip. How you feel in the moment is temporary. What is done, is done.

DAN: The opening piece of advice I have to offer in our finale is this: despite all the preparations you have made, you are human, and you will overlook or mess up something. It’s inevitable, so give yourself some grace from the start. This too shall pass.

Additional Preparation Thoughts

DAN: You always discover something after the fact. Here’s what we learned late in the process.

Money

College 529 plans often have wheels that grind slowly. It might take two or three weeks after initiating a withdrawal for payment before the money arrives, whether in your bank account or at the school’s bursar’s office. Account for that lag.

All Things Digital

Some colleges have a license deal with Microsoft and will provide a student with Microsoft Office 365, installed for no cost. Check with your school about special rates on commonly used software. One less piece of software to buy is always a good thing.

Housing

As soon as campus housing is decided, get the physical address. Doctors, insurance companies, and so on may want to know this.

Don’t underestimate the power of communication long in advance with future roommates. Coordinating who brings which major item (vacuum, microwave, coffee maker, TV) can save a lot of money and hassle. This didn’t happen until late in the process with Ethan, and we never did hear from some of the roommates.

More and more, the days of the tiny, featureless dorm are done. Many dorm rooms today feel like typical apartments, including full kitchens with ovens and refrigerators. The dorms at Ethan’s university are like this. Having some actual cooking equipment may become a need you must budget for. If that’s the case, avoid plastic and buy glass or ceramic bowls, plates, and cups that can withstand the heat and are microwave- and dishwasher-safe.

Move-in dates are not only firm dates but are often firm times too. Make sure you doublecheck if you have not only been assigned a date to arrive but also a time. Remember, we’re trying to have a society here. Colleges don’t want the campus gridlocked, and too many laggards showing up hours late ruin it for everyone.

Wherever we shopped for dorm and school supplies, the aisle packed with the most college students buying for dorm rooms was the aisle with throw pillows. Hey, incoming frosh, what’s with the throw pillow obsession? And why not just take with you the ones you must already have? We don’t get it.

Transportation

Check how your state handles car insurance, and don’t assume you know. If your student is taking a parent's car to a campus outside your home area, the student may go from being considered a shared driver to a primary driver, which will likely increase insurance costs. Also know that if a student is insured, that insurance is tied to the car. If your student drives a friend’s car, the friend’s insurance would cover your student, but only if your student has been given permission by that friend–or the friend’s parents, if they own the car. Again, don’t assume you know what the insurance rules are. Clarify them so your student doesn’t have a problem, especially should he or she get into an accident away at school while driving someone else’s car.

Move-In Day

Bring something to drink. Move-in days are inevitably hot. You may have many flights of stairs to climb. So, stay cool and hydrated.

After getting moved in, if you have not already, drive around the area and locate the best shopping options for everyday items. Find out if the school has any shuttles that run from campus to those shopping areas. If no shuttles run and public transportation is vapor, consider setting up an Uber or Lyft account, particularly if the best shopping is outside of walking distance. But be safe and be advised that rideshares are best done in groups and never alone.

Miscellany

Find out if there are any Amazon drop boxes on campus or Amazon stores nearby. This makes for more secure receipt of shipped items. Same for UPS or FedEx. See if the campus post office accepts packages from delivery services or whether they will be left at a physical address. As more dorms become apartment-like, this is worth knowing.

Mistakes Were Made

ETHAN: Of course, I wasn’t perfect. With so much to do over the summer and the college preparation process, I had many chances to make mistakes. If I could go back and change anything, I would make a better effort to be organized. I cut deadlines too close. I relied on my parents to remind me of what to do now and what to do next. I tended to misjudge when something needed to be done. Later in the process, I completely forgot about third-party scholarships. At one point, I even skipped a dentist appointment by accident because I was focused on something else at the time. Because of my lax organization, I was left with a lingering sense of urgency even when there was nothing left for me to do. In the end, nothing major was forgotten (I even rescheduled the dentist appointment), but the whole process would have been smoother and given me more freedom if I had taken proactive steps toward organization.

In addition to organization, if I could change things, I also would have focused less on scholarships. At the beginning of the college application process, scholarships were what was most commonly on my mind. I figured that, since college was expensive, accumulating scholarships from outside sources to pay for that expense should be priority number one. Whenever my parents talked to me about colleges, I would always bring up the topic of money. I had heard jokes about how horrible student loans were, and I took them too seriously.

Ironically, the scholarships I paid the most attention to at the start, the ones that weren’t affiliated with a school, did very little for me, and I eventually forgot about them. None of the demographic scholarships that I looked at applied to me, and when I did manage to find some that fit me, they were only being offered at colleges I would never go to. I did apply for several competitive scholarships, but to this date, I’ve never heard back from any of them. If it weren’t for the tuition scholarship that Shawnee offered me, my scholarship search would have been a total bust.

DAN: What we goofed, despite being the advice-givers:

Get your medical checkups (general, dental, vision) scheduled early in the summer rather than later. For us, a few cancallations on both sides led to a rush to squeeze them in at the last second. Not ideal. Remember that late July and the entirety of August are a busy time for doctors, who are dealing with student checkups, especially for student athletes. You may not get in if you dawdle.

Passports didn’t seem like an essential, but I mentioned them and then was surprised when every last one of the parents I know with first-year students encouraged them to get passports.

Obviously, international travel requires passports. Rules for travel for U.S. citizens both into and out of Mexico and Canada have gotten more restrictive, so check the U.S. Citizenship and U.S. Customs pages detailing the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and authorized travel documents pages for details. Not sure how often you would actually need this as a college student, but as we are the only family we know that did not pursue this path, this was an eye-opener.

Our worst goof: changes in the way I bought books as a student and how they are bought today caught us off-guard. Ethan was supposed to order his books online through the college app on a page that linked his book needs to his listed classes. Somehow we missed this. I was expecting Ethan to go to classes, get a syllabus, and then hit the college bookstore. Such 1990s thinking. Like the infamous cheese shop in the eponymous Monty Python sketch, the college bookstore had no books. Everything was done online through Barnes & Noble Textbooks. Yikes. So Ethan ended up ordering his books online the day he moved in, rather than weeks before when he first got his schedule. Of course, that meant they got there a couple days late. Boo on us, but live and learn.

ETHAN: If I had to name the greatest success of my college preparation process, I would probably point to my college acceptances. Of the nine colleges I applied for, seven accepted me. Even Dad admits I have better college acceptance numbers than he did. The only colleges that didn’t accept me were both Ivy League schools, but they were always a long shot. In the end, I did very well, and the acceptances benefited me in more ways than one. The essays I was required to write for my applications changed how I write for the better. I learned how to write for a specific audience, fine-tune my raw knowledge, streamline my writing, and write stronger. During the writing sessions for these essays, I first developed a writing philosophy I still follow to this day, one that defines me as a writer. My success with acceptance boosted my personal confidence. I look back on my acceptances with pride.

For the Parents

DAN: A student moving on to college presents an opportunity not just to clean out his or her bedroom and pitch leftover elementary school papers but to do a Marie Kondo for your whole home. A new beginning for your student can mean a new freedom in a decluttered domocile. That was the idea for us. While we didn’t attend to it during the summer, since dropping Ethan at school, every day has seen a little more junk go into the trash and recycling. It wasn't only Ethan's old, forgotten stuff but ours as well. In some ways, it’s a cathartic response, and it brings its own form of reminiscing as we purge old items to make way for new memories.

Maybe this is your first of several children going to college. Maybe it’s your last. For us, it was both first and last, and that means an empty nest. Truly it does feel…well, empty. That said, the pantry will also likely feel more full. Yes, that’s a dad talking.

Mothers and fathers may feel differently about their kids leaving home. I’m happy that Ethan is heading in a new direction. My wife is missing him already.

If you’re having a hard time with this new chapter in both yours and your student’s lives, communication is key. Talk it out as much as you need to with your spouse, partner, or friends. And don’t be afraid to ask for professional help should the sadness take root and seem insurmountable. All change brings with it trepidation, second-guessing, and loss. Dealing with it in a healthy way can be a gift to your student.

Another way to deal with a child moving away, especially if going to college does create that empty nest, is to consider those activities, hobbies, and fun experiences you temporarily laid aside to focus on family. Now can be your time to re-explore them or to start something new. Your college student need not be the only one connecting with new experiences. Find ways to plug back into social networks that are not online but in-person. Explore ways to give back to your community now that less time is focused on children. Take what you know and pour it into someone else who needs what you have to offer.

I keep thinking of all that awaits my son. I think plenty of people would love to go back to their college days and explore what might have been. That’s the opportunity our children have, but in the present. Helping them work toward a life of no regrets can energize—rather than enervate—us.

Final Thoughts

ETHAN: The final subject I would like to talk about is heavy, one that affects me personally in a multitude of ways. College is a wildly disparate environment compared to my life at home, so I’ll have to deal with situations that are completely unfamiliar to me. A lot of what I experienced over this summer was new, and college will bring even more new experiences. I’m excited for that! Growing up in a rural Ohio town, I had difficulty finding other people who shared my interests. That’s how I connect with people—the more I have in common with someone, the more likely I am to get along with them. At Shawnee State, I will be surrounded by people who share my major, people who understand me. I will be able to learn about a subject that truly interests me. Then, once my work at Shawnee is over, I will have the foundation needed to make my way in an industry that I’ve been following with a keen eye. Even the parts of college that would pose more of a challenge for me such as living with a roommate, managing my time carefully, finding opportunities to network, and socializing on a greater scale than before will provide me invaluable experience for my adult life. College will be different, and I have accepted that. College will be challenging, and I have accepted that. I have nothing to lose by going to college, and everything to gain.

This piece marks the official end of the part of my life that I spent in high school. Now that college is actually happening, I feel a little sad at what I’m leaving behind, and a little nervous at what I will face, but I’m mostly excited for what is to come. It’s been one hell of a journey, with its ups and downs, and I will remember it fondly, but I can’t resist the pull of what comes next. Thank you for following along with me as I've gone through every step of the college preparation process. I can only hope that you follow in the footprints I’m leaving behind.

Check out these helpful articles as you make the leap back into college:

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