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A College Checklist for Parents

As I’m about to launch the youngest of my three children to college — all you parents of tinies and tweens, don’t blink — it occurred to me it might be just as beneficial to share insights for parents as to what they might need and/or need to do, as it is to share a comprehensive checklist for students. Preparing makes a difference.

Take time to recognize and celebrate the accomplishment.

Well done, Mama. Way to go, Dad. For 18 years you’ve been raising this child for such a time as this. Of course you’re proud of your baby for making the grades to get into college, but you should also acknowledge the time, intention, and sometimes blood, sweat and tears you’ve invested. This is a big deal for both of you, and it’s easy to forget your role in getting to this point.

Parenting demands sacrifice. For the most part, it’s thankless. But your child’s acceptance to tech school, university, or military service is a whopping paycheck. Put it in your love bank.

Let them bear their own weight (or at least some of it).

Unless your child is in the enviable position of a full-ride scholarship, college is expensive. Require them to earn at least a portion of their spending money. Don’t feel the responsibility of financing their wish lists (for clothes, electronics, etc.). Give them room to become more resourceful and self-reliant. Many states offer academic-based scholarships for students who maintain a certain GPA (renewed annually); it’s reasonable for college-minded students to set a minimum academic goal of qualifying for these scholarships.

It’s important to get your child to take ownership of his education, and one way is for him to understand its cost, and even share the financial responsibility, by working or maintaining a certain GPA for scholarship.


Parenting will look different when your child leaves home, but make no mistake: he still needs you to be his parent.  Children listen more than you realize and the college atmosphere can be tricky. Help them navigate. Don’t lecture, guilt, or threaten, but challenge them to consider carefully the consequences of their choices.

Invite conversation about moral issues they’re facing – sex, alcohol, and drugs are part of every college campus. (And don’t think a faith-based institution insulates your child from the pressure of moral decisions.)

Let go.

If you’ve parented with an open hand, this won’t be as hard as it will be for those who’ve helicopter parented (I always wonder if helicopter parents know they’re helicopter parents).

Resist the urge to call, text or email every day. Don’t take it personally if your child is slow to reply or doesn’t reply at all. More than likely, that is a good thing. Don’t put pressure on your child to come home for a weekend. If they’re wanting to return home every weekend, consider telling them they can’t.

Re-read the first point above and remember you’ve been raising your child to be an independent adult, and the college years are a fantastic bridge between living at home and being on your own.

Stay connected.

It sounds like I’m contradicting my last point, doesn’t it? Except I’m not. Make sure your child knows you’re available and haven’t forgotten her. Write letters or cards and send an occasional care package. Text encouraging messages, special Bible verses, or inspiring quotes.

Call occasionally but keep the conversation brief (unless circumstances dictate otherwise). It might seem unwanted, but a regular check-in feels like love.

Don’t take things personally.

When your child is home during holidays and school breaks, brace yourself for their interest in visiting friends more than being at home. It’s not you, it’s them. This doesn’t mean they don’t love you; connecting with their safe people, the high school friends they’ve grown up with, is an important way for them to process their world and this season.

Don’t be passive-aggressive, or make them feel bad about hanging out with friends. Be thankful they have friends to hang out with.

Live a little.

Now is not the time to become idle. If you’ve been an at-home mom, it might be a great time to step back into the workplace or volunteer your time outside a classroom. So often during our children’s formative years, “busy” characterizes our pace; it’s foreign to find yourself with time now available for hobbies. Take advantage of this season. Learn something new or rekindle an interest you put aside while you were actively parenting.

Give a little.

Your parenting experience is invaluable to those who come behind you. Find a younger mom (or a few) to pour into. Mentoring isn’t necessarily about formally structuring your time together; it’s about spending time together. Being able to talk through parenting challenges with someone who’s “been there, done that” makes all the difference in the world. Be available.

Love a lot.

Marriage is rarely (ever?) easy, and it’s important to be intentional with your spouse. Even when they’re mostly self-sufficient as teenagers, children demand attention, time, and energy. With one less child in the home, now is the perfect time to rediscover one another and to check priorities. A healthy, loving marriage is one of the best gifts you can give your children, even when they’re on their own or married themselves.

One last note: seek out other people in the same life stage as you. You need others to commiserate with and who understand what you’re feeling as you begin that walk toward an empty nest.

Reading Time:

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  1. Caroline Starr Rose

    My goodness, this is beautiful. We’re suddenly four years away from this moment. A blink.

    • Robin Dance


      Ah–your words made me smile and blush–thank you! Time, she starts a’ snow-balling right about now… 🙂

  2. Karen

    A.MEN….to all of these! We sent our 3rd and last off to college 3 years ago and everything you mentioned we nod our head in agreement over!!!!

    And…I have to say that empty nest has been very, very good to us! 🙂

    • Robin Dance

      Karen, I smile EVERY time I hear something like this :). I NEED to hear it (we all do). I do not want to see the loss of what was, but the gain of what IS.

  3. Michelle

    Love this. Our middle daughter, who is 11 years younger than the next oldest, starts college next month, while still taking 2 classes in the dual enrollment high school she has been attending. In the second semester and next year, it will be college all the way. Nothing like speeding things up even more. But so much that you have listed here Robin I’ve been pondering and seeking to implement. Especially over the last 3 summers I’ve been taking serious girl adventures with my 3 youngest daughters. Road trips and rustic camping, early morning hikes and bike rides. The days are passing so quickly and I’m hoping to pack in many memories, skills, shared stories and wise ideas for right living into everyone of them! As well as mornings like today, where most of them slept til 11, because taking a day of rest is very important too! Thank you for your wise encouragement Robin.

    • Robin Dance


      Gosh, YOU are the wise one! I love how you’ve been spending your summers, making incredible memories, an important investment in the ones you love most. Well done, Mama, and thank YOU for your encouragement back to me!!

  4. Kris

    Thank you!! Perfect timing! Sending my first off to college in one month. Your advice, and the freshman checklist, were very helpful!

    • Robin Dance

      How are you doing, Kris…had D day come yet? I SO hope these words gave you pause for thought and helpful ideas.

  5. Linda Sand

    Don’t assume holiday traditions will continue. Be encouraging when your child decides to go skiing with new friends over winter break. Try to see that as strengthening contacts she may need for her future.

    • Robin Dance

      Oh, man, Linda…I haven’t had to cross this bridge yet, but I’m sure I will :/. Yes, definitely, I KNOW I will this Thanksgiving when my daughter lives all the way across the country in a new job. GLAD you’ve given me a push to begin preparing now for THAT inevitability :).

      I recall the first time we didn’t spend Christmas eve with my inlaws; all the other siblings were there, but we had three children and decided we wanted to be HOME Christmas morning. Arriving there for lunch that day (they were an hour away), we met with a frosty reception (not my inlaws, but others). However, that broke the ice and the following years everyone was in their own home Christmas eve. Hadn’t thought about that in years, but I can begin to see “what goes around, comes around….”

  6. Clementine Isabella Sophie Florence Cecelia Marie Grace Emily Charlotte Smythe-Worthington

    My youngest daughter took classes at MIT and she was so excited about taking college and AP classes that she could not wait until college.

    All 5 kids are in college and since they are some time away they live in the dorms

    My youngest daughter has just started Harvard (both my husband and I met their) and she is moving to the dorms about 4 long hours away! The oldest is in his last year of obtaining his PhD at Yale which was only an hour and a bit and we always used to meet in the middle while travelling their. The middle kids (boy triplets) are in their last year and they are all go to different colleges (Princeton 1 hour and a half away , Yale which is the other side of us so the triplets meet in the middle which is NYC but one goes to Harvard where my daughter goes so it will be easier for her, the transition). The only thing is that the middle triplet has no-one with him but his girlfriend and it is quite saddening. The only thing that makes it easier with 5 kids is how 2 go to the same college and the other 2 go to the same college but alas the middle triplet (we doubled up and brought his girlfriend along for the journey and her parents).

    My advice is that if you have twins or triplets, that if they go to the same college let them be independent from one and another but still be close. An example being dorm mates, sometimes it may be a good idea to not have your twin as a dorm mate. Or in my case, where the colleges are 3 hours away is to keep talking and texting and skype. Since schools are a couple of hours (North or South), it makes NYC where we live an ideal middle meeting place for everyone (for long weekends etc.)

    And having all your kids out of the house is a upsetting, but when you see them open up their acceptance letters or buy stuff for college you’ll a proud smile on your face knowing that they are all grown up (virtual hugs and tissues for all!).

    • Jason McCarron

      Aww, I feel for you I just sent my oldest to Columbia and it sucked, my wife and I cried buckets but I have heard it gets easier. Congrats on your son on pursuing a PhD, you must be very proud of him!

      • Robin Dance

        BTW, Jason…it gets easier in some respects, but it ALWAYS is a heart-stirring process…. 🙂

    • Robin Dance

      Oh my word. YOUR perspective is one I’ve never considered! Great advice to parents of multiples… Thank you.

  7. Cornelia Becker Seigneur

    Awesome ideas- Have done this twice and now my twins are seniors and we are visiting colleges. My older daughter attended Torchbearers in Germany (Bodenseehof) and then studied in Germany so I loved visiting her! It is a wonderful time, it is a hard time, it is what we prepare for, what we dream of, what we help them dream of- what a gift, to see our kids fly with the wings we’ve tried to give them- What a joy to see them pray and discover their vocation and calling and meet friends and find their passions and pursue them. Staying close at home, letting them know you are there for them is huge- and Amen to having them pay part of their own way. Loans are okay too- to go to that dream college- we also discovered that we could get private schools at public school prices because there were more scholarships for private school students-…fun times- they still need lots and lots of support- take photos and visit them!

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