Photo credit: Boulder Daily Camera

College move-in day is around the corner.

Heart palpitations much? 

Facing college move-in day with my first-born child was a day that I’d been imagining with a weird combination of excitement and dread since she was born. As the day drew nearer, the excitement I felt for her turned into sheer panic for me.

Things were getting REAL.

Fortunately the amount of mental gymnastics involved in planning, packing, and navigating the parking/unloading schedule assigned by the residence hall gave me something to focus on instead of how my heart was feeling.

Until I got there. Then I was a hot mess. I was unprepared for some of the common logistical challenges that I hadn’t anticipated combined with my fragile emotional state. Little things became BIG DEALS, and looking back, here is what I wish someone had told me.

10 Best-Ever Tips for Surviving College Move-In Day

#10 Be flexible

If you’re planning for a special goodbye meal on College D-Day, keep in mind that this day is a chaotic mess of schedules, emotions, crowds and activity. It might take much longer than you think to unpack. You might discover the residence hall has a mandatory evening social gathering. Your student might ask you to leave earlier than you expected so they can have space to adjust. However the day presents itself, stay calm and flexible, and don’t grip too tightly to “plans” or it might open the floodgates of a full-blown mommy-meltdown.

#9  Bring snacks and drinks (heck, bring a cooler with a nice lunch!)

It’ll be HOT, and you’ll get HANGRY (hungry + angry, in case you didn’t know). You’ll likely discover that your assigned move-in time or last-minute errands makes a lunch outing impossible. Plus every restaurant is crowded with hangry parents and students. Plan ahead, bring your lunch, and make it a dorm picnic. (And bring extra waters and snacks to share with others—it’s a great way to make friends!)

#8  Bring a small tool kit (at least a screwdriver, Allen wrench, pliers and a hammer)

I actually got this right the first time! (It’s amazing how many people appreciate the helpful parent with the cordless drill.) Cheap, dorm-style furniture (or everything from Ikea) usually needs some assembly, and it’s handy to have a few tools readily available.

#7 If you forget something (which you will) plan for the longest line EVER at nearby stores

There’s no such thing as a “quick run” to Walmart if it’s located nearby on college move-in day. Find another store location at least 20 minutes away if possible, and you’ll avoid the lines and discover Command Hooks and fans that are actually still in stock!

#6 Bring a few giant trash bags

We were amazed at the mountain of boxes and left-over packaging that quickly accumulated during move-in. The tiny dorm wastebasket was useless, and the dumpster was not a quick walk. It’s much more convenient if you can gather up all the waste and haul it out with one bag.

#5 Resist the urge to unpack and organize EVERYTHING for them

This is where nesting-mama and ready-to-be-independent-freshman will throw down! Emotions are high as the clock is ticking toward the final goodbye, so it’s easy to find excuses to keep puttering around their room to avoid reality. Make their bed if it really helps your heart, but pay attention to their cues and remember that this is their new turf and first foot of independence. Giving them ownership of setting up their things will help them settle in better than if you do it for them.

#4  You probably won’t be able to form a cohesive sentence, so write a letter with everything you want to say to them and tuck it under their pillow

I knew I’d be a sobbing lunatic when I said goodbye to my daughter, and since I always failed miserably at being the tooth fairy, I planned a little “under-the-pillow surprise” effort in advance to soothe my maternal soul. I made her a simple care package, which included a few of her favorite tea bags, a cute mug, a special necklace, and a heartfelt letter that said all of the things I knew I’d want to say when we departed but would be unable to.

Three years later she confessed that she often curled up with a mug of tea to reread that letter every time she felt down and it reminded her how loved she was. (Parent-win!)  Related: Read my latest post, A Letter to My College Freshman…Truth Inspired by a Baby Blanket

#3  Know that it’s okay to cry. A lot. (And it’s also okay if you don’t.)

Some people are criers, some aren’t. It doesn’t mean you’re a helicopter parent if you’re sobbing, and it doesn’t mean you’re heartless if you don’t. If you ARE a crier, bring a lot of tissues, and plan your exit accordingly. Kids appreciate it if you wait to unleash the ugly-cry until you get to the car.

#2  Plan now for how you’ll stay connected

Having a plan for how to appropriately stay connected to your college student and remain a consistent influence in their life will give you something new to focus on instead of the loss of what was. They’ll need your encouragement, your advice, and your guidance now more than ever. But they’ll also need freedom and space to figure things out on their own. Have a conversation before D-Day to set up expectations about how often you’ll communicate, and understand that the boundaries of your interactions will be much different now.

Related: see how SoulFeed care packages offer a hassle-free way to help your student stay connected to what matters most!

#1 Last thing: let them go.

I know, Mama, I KNOW.

That last embrace—that last moment your son or daughter is in your arms before you say the last goodbye and release them to the future—is one of the most heart-wrenching moments of parenthood.

But remember that you’ve done your job well.

And remember it isn’t over—it’s just different.

And remember that they are God’s kids, too, and he’s not leaving their side.

That I know for sure.


About the Author

Written by Kami Gilmour, mom of five teen and young adult kids. (Saying goodbye to #4 at college move-in day in the photo.) She’s the author of a new best-selling devotional book for parents of college students that offers helpful encouragement and faith-filled perspectives for surviving and thriving in this season:  Release My Grip: Hope for a Parent’s Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly. Kami is also the co-creator of SoulFeed college care packagesthe faith-based care package that feeds college students what matters most. Join Kami and other parents of teens and young adults in our Facebook group for live weekly video chats where we’ll share encouragement, advice, prayers and friendship as we release our grip and lean on God. Click here to join!