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While there are plenty of detailed lists for use by first-year college-bound students about what to pack (from extra-long twin-size sheets to shower shoes and everything in between)...

…parents of soon-to-be college students could benefit from their own special kind of packing list to help navigate their child’s transition to college and the range of emotions involved.
Here are some suggestions of what parents should consider packing:
1. An Open Mind and Flexible Spirit

The college drop-off trip on which you are about to embark has been years in the making. So much has gone into getting your child to this important milestone. And as with the many journeys you have taken together, mapping out the specifics well in advance and envisioning how the experience will turn out can certainly set the tone for a smooth and enjoyable journey.

But be sure to pack an open mind and build in some flexibility. The reality is that some parts of the journey may wind up being less than picture-perfect. Despite the thoroughness of your family’s preparation, something will inevitably have been forgotten, or not turn out as envisioned. Rather than making more of a hiccup than need is, reframe the issue at hand in a positive light and tap on your family’s resourcefulness and creativity to find a solution. The alternative may turn out to be better than the original plan.

2. A Stress Release Strategy

Either on your own or in collaboration with a spouse, partner, and/or your child, decide in advance on one or more simple stress release strategies that you can utilize when stress levels start rising. For instance, you could decide in advance on a way to signal to each other that you need to take a break if a situation starts to feel overwhelming. Alternatively, you could decide you will share a favorite or funny memory with each other to lighten the mood, or quietly repeat to yourself a go-to phrase or mantra to redirect your thoughts and calm your mind if circumstances become too stressful. In the case of my son’s drop-off day, I quietly said to myself, “Foundation strong. Future bright.”

3. A Vision for Your Future

These past eighteen years have been largely focused on the precious cargo that you’ll soon be dropping off. Whether it’s your first child, your last, your only, or a child somewhere in between who is heading off to the future they’ve dreamed of, once drop-off is complete you’ll likely have more free time on your hands than in the past. This provides a wonderful opportunity to dust off one or more of your own dreams or dream up some new ones. No doubt you’ve likely left a bit of yourself on the back burner while parenting all these years. Bring along a list of dreams previously deferred and start envisioning the exciting possibilities that await you at this juncture.

4. Tissues and a Plan for Self-Care Upon Arriving Home

While you’ve prepared for so many aspects of the college experience (including saving for the expense over the years), nothing can prepare you for the range of emotions you may feel in connection in connection with drop-off day. In my own experience, a sense of pride, emptiness, and countless other emotions were our co-passengers on the return leg of the trip.

Know that tears will likely flow and have some tissues on hand to meet them. Honor your feelings and trust you will move through them. To help in this regard, be sure to line up some ways to nurture yourself with various forms of self-care once home. Whether you schedule a massage or a lunch with friends who are or have been in the same situation, identify a new series to begin to watch, or take a few days off to rest or head for a short getaway, have a go-to list of ways to comfort and care for yourself. I was surprised to realize that the exceptional caretaking skills that I’d leveraged so often in caring for others through the years could be re-directed and well-utilized in caring for myself at this time of transition. Give yourself grace and be extra kind to yourself.

5. Confidence That It Will All Work Out

While the path forward may seem unclear and possibly a bit concerning, recognize that a wonderful aspect of uncertainty is the limitless possibilities it creates. Additionally, have confidence in knowing that the most important things that your child is bringing to college are not on their packing list. These include the examples that you’ve set, the values you’ve instilled, the foundation you’ve helped build, and the bond you’ll continue to share. These, along with the roots and wings you’ve helped develop, will accompany your child through college and well beyond. And be comforted in knowing you both have everything you need to push through this time of adjustment and experience joy in the process and on the other side.


Patricia A. Roberts is a motivational speaker, writer, and veteran of the college savings industry. She has led college savings initiatives at premier financial services organizations like Merrill Lynch and AllianceBernstein, and has authored Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans. In her current role as COO at Gift of College, she promotes 529 plans as a financial wellness benefit in the workplace.