A Letter to Parents of First-Year College Students (From Your Children)
Dear Mom and Dad,
Congratulations! One of your baby birds is flying the nest to college. While we relish in congrats of surviving thirteen years of general education, the celebration is also for you too. For the blustery winter mornings rushing us to school because we missed the bus (Our alarm didn’t go off!), running out to the store at 10 o’clock at night to pick up popsicle sticks (We forgot it was tomorrow! Sorry!), and for suffering through parent-teacher conferences in which teachers told you we needed Ritalin and / or electroshock (She doesn’t know what she’s talking about!), congratulations on making it.
Now that you’ve been buttered up, time for a dose of hard truth: your baby bird is flying the nest soon, and it’s a big change for everyone.
My parents were nervous and emotional, but still excited for me when I was getting ready for Central Michigan University three years ago. My brother is attending Michigan State in the fall, and they’re just excited (yet still financially petrified at having two kids in college at the same time). It’s different the second time around.
Here’s some advice for YOU, the parents; the advice that they DON’T show in cheesy television commercials.
DISCLAIMER: Before you continue, please keep in mind that I am no expert on college life on all campuses. I am just a humble intern passing on three years of wisdom from twenty-one years of having parents (Wonderful parents! – And not just because I know they’re reading this).
Move-In Day is Going to be Tough (Physically and Emotionally)
So you’ve arrived on campus, and you’ve found the right building. It’s a hot August day and it’s time to unload the car. You’ve got about 15 minutes to unload everything (including a TV and a roll of carpet), hike up however many flights of stairs (because the elevator is broken), and MY GOSH it is hot (with no air-conditioning!). Move-in Day is an incredibly stressful day for everyone. The two most important tools for moving in are PATIENCE and a HAND TRUCK. Those TV commercials with perfect nuclear families laughing in a perfectly matched dorm room courtesy of the perfect [insert product here]? It’s more like a sweat-fest reading instruction manuals through gritted teeth while nursing broken backs. PATIENCE.
I’ve survived three move-in days and the best mid-day break for my family is going to the store. Chances are I forgot something, and it’s a great time to load up on snacks and water. Once everything is all moved in, another suggestion I have is to go out to dinner. You’ll enjoy the extra peaceful moments with us, and we’ll enjoy one last meal we don’t have to pay for. Then when it’s time to leave, don’t overstay your welcome. It will be tough; you might cry and we might cry. But please don’t call us within five minutes telling us how much you miss us already. It’s tough for us to see you drive away too. We’ll call you when we’re ready (or when we forget something – See you next weekend!).
We Enjoy Surprises!!
The strangest things get us excited in college: free tee shirts, classes after 11am, and our own mailbox. Even though we have a mailbox back home, this is our OWN mailbox (yet we still share it with three other people – like I said, we’re strange). There’s a jittery anticipation when we reach our mailbox: did I get mail today? Did I get a package today? (Hint: care packages! Love them!) Nine times out of ten, the answer is no (minus the random coupon flyers – but those don’t count). Getting mail from home literally makes our entire day.
My first year, my mom would send me a greeting card for each holiday and I LOVED it (I still have some of the cards). And even though this may be a girl thing, I have caught my guy friends reading emails from their parents.
However, one thing we don’t like being surprised with? Surprise visits. We will gladly accept you into our dorm room, but please give us a heads up.
When my parents visit me, it’s our own personal Parents Day. I clean my room, prepare a bag of things that can go home, and clear my schedule for the day. Chances are, if Mom and Dad ever try to surprise me this year, they’ll encounter a messy apartment with an even messier daughter getting ready to film a basketball game.
It Isn’t (All) About the GPA
I thought college would be a breeze for me, because I didn’t struggle academically in high school. I was wrong. I struggled SO much my first semester at college and I got the lowest GPA I’ve ever had – ever. I thought my life was over and that I would never amount to anything because I barely passed College Algebra. But then something changed: even though I wasn’t doing great academically, I was thriving in the broadcasting department. I may not have been pulling the best grades, but I did get to call a CMU volleyball game my first semester. Even as I get ready to graduate, I may not have the highest GPA, but I’ve had two FANTASTIC internships in addition to holding executive positions with the television and radio stations. In high school, my priority was getting good grades in order to get into college. In college, my priority is getting experience so that I can get a job.
One thing it seems that my parents and other parents sometimes struggle to understand is that (and this only applies to some majors), it really isn’t ALL about the GPA (unless you’re in med school, in which case, please disregard because you are my hero).
However, there is a grave exception to this: if we are put on academic probation and are at risk of failing out of college, it’s time to threaten and throw down the hammer. Remind us about the tutoring resources on campus. But if our GPA isn’t as brag-worthy as it was in high school, please don’t freak out. A great GPA isn’t going to get us our first job, but great experience will.
We Really Do Miss You
We’ve flown the nest, survived Welcome Weekend (barely), and experienced our first day of classes. Although we may not say it, we do miss you and the comforts of home. We miss a quality washing machine and dryer (for free!), a good home cooked meal, and sleeping in a quiet house that doesn’t have doors slamming 24/7. But we won’t tell you any of this. We’re enjoying our independence and the last thing we want slipping is that we aren’t enjoying every second of it. So while we may never tell you, there will be signs. It may be the extra tight hug we give you on our first trip home, the tone in our voice when we hear you’re cooking pot roast this weekend, or it may be the moment when you meet our college friends and they say, “Oooooh! You must be THE parents! I’ve heard A LOT about you!”
So thanks, parents of college students. Continue to be supportive and loving, and enjoy having an empty house.
And please send more money.
Your Children (As dictated to Stephanie McClung)
Stephanie is one of the Community Affairs Interns of WWJ-TV and CW50. You can follow her on Twitter @InternStephanie