How to Prepare Your Child for College: A Checklist for Parents

Sending your child off to college is a sentimental time that’s filled with everything from difficult emotions to overwhelming to-do lists. Make sure you’re covering all the essentials in the weeks and months leading up to college, so your student is well-prepared for everything that the coming year will bring.

The right prep now can help you both avoid little pitfalls and major meltdowns later.

Brush Up on Life Skills Over the Summer

Use the summer before your child’s freshman year as a time to teach or review those essential life skills that will get him or her through college. If you haven’t gone over the basics of handling laundry in a laundromat or efficiently navigating public transportation, now is the time. You won’t be around to problem solve every disastrous stain, so you’ll need to cover the things you may typically take care of right now.

Many dorms have a public kitchen somewhere on the floor, so basic cooking skills will come in handy. Throw in a few creative ramen recipes for good measure. Give your child an overview of basic first aid if needed and help him or her prepare a small medicine chest of essentials, from antacids to painkillers to bandages. Pay close attention to your daily routine in those months leading up to college and let go of any basic tasks you’ve been handling for your soon-to-be college student to make sure he or she can handle them.

Clarify Money Matters

Sit down with your child and go over critical money matters for the coming school year. Make sure you’re both clear on things like:

  • Who will pay for room and board?
  • Is money available solely in a cafeteria account or are there funds for grocery trips or eating out?
  • Are credit cards available for your student? What are these cards meant for, and who will pay for them?
  • What emergency funds are available? What’s the agreement for dipping into these?
  • How much is available for tuition? Will your student be responsible for finding additional loans and scholarships to cover future semesters?

Be clear about all financial issues, so both you and your new student know what to expect.

Make Time for Honest Talks

Prioritize open and honest conversations before your child’s college departure. Discuss uncomfortable topics such as safe sex, responsible alcohol and drug use, and personal safety on campus. It’s crucial to equip your child with the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate these situations independently. From walking alone at night to seeking help for someone who has had too much to drink, provide your child with the information they need to make informed decisions.

Focus on Dorm Room Basics

It’s easy to get caught up in aesthetics and comfort items, such as pillows, posters, and rugs, but rest assured that your student will have no problem reminding you about these items for the new room. Keep your focus on the often-forgotten essentials as you’re packing up for college. This includes items such as:

  • Coins for the laundromat
  • Laundry detergent, fabric softener sheets, and stain sticks
  • Basic medications and regular prescriptions
  • Shower shoes and caddy
  • Cleaning supplies for the dorm room
  • A small tool kit with a hammer and screwdriver
  • A flashlight and spare batteries
  • Basic cooking tools, dishes, and cutlery

It’s everyday items like these that your child will appreciate much more than trendy lights or wall décor in the long run.

Clean Up Their Space at Home

Don’t let your new student rush off to college leaving a disaster zone behind. Though it’s generally best to avoid turning their empty bedroom into your new craft room or man cave, for the time being, you do want it to be neat and easily navigable. Have your child clean up and organize his or her room over the summer, so it’s easier to sort through what’s going off to college and what stays.

In a neat and orderly space, you’ll find it’s much easier to locate those forgotten items that get left behind. This way you can pack them up and ship them off when you get the frantic call for that important sweater or pair of sunglasses. If you plan to use your child’s room for other purposes, such as guests who stop by, discuss it early so there’s an opportunity for your child to clear out a guest drawer or put away private belongings if they’d like.

Cover Emergency Information

Go over all your child’s emergency information and make sure he or she is equipped with the essentials for a visit to the clinic or emergency room. Students should have their own insurance card in hand, know their medical history, and have a list of any medications they take or have taken.

Help students draft a list of emergency numbers, from their emergency contacts to the phone number for the nearest pharmacy or urgent care facility. Store this information in your child’s phone so that it’s always on hand.

Send Them Off Right

Though you’ll have many logistics to take care of in the weeks leading up to your student’s college departure, don’t forget to make time for fun, too. Plan a special family vacation this summer or put together a small going away party. Don’t overload the summer or expect to spend every minute of it with your soon-to-be college student, but do talk about setting aside a week or weekend.

Serve up your child’s favorite dinner for one of their last evenings home and send them off with warm memories. In the midst of all the essentials, including one special going-away present that will give your student a little something sentimental to hold on to during the coming year.


In conclusion, preparing your child for college is a significant undertaking, but with the right planning and open communication, it can be a smooth and exciting transition for both you and your student.

By focusing on practical life skills, financial matters, important conversations, dorm room essentials, tidying up at home, emergency information, and creating meaningful send-off moments, you can ensure your child is well-prepared for the exciting journey that lies ahead.

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