I have a teenager who is starting college. He is disorganized and doesn’t know what he can or should take with him for his dorm room, and how to manage his schedule, and do things like laundry and homework without help. What can you suggest? – Worried Mom
Dear Worried Mom,
I coach college students every day, and I hear this concern from parents often. Some students come to college not having a clue about taking care of their lives. It seems easy until they are left without their safety net of parents, teachers who actually know them, and familiar surroundings.
In addition, college is not as structured as high school. Projects and papers due with fast deadlines, and a schedule that changes daily – as well as quarterly or each semester – can be as challenging as the curriculum itself.
What’s a freshman to do? First, it is important to note that college dorms are small, have less storage than one might wish for, and aren’t the best places for really important, special, or new items. I just helped a friend’s daughter pack and plan for her dorm this week, and fortunately she was able to get closet space measurements from the dorm’s resident assistant (RA), as well as a virtual video of the storage spaces, so she knew what was realistic.
I advise parents to help their student to pack like they are going away to a summer camp. Keep in mind that there are stores for shampoo, band-aids, etc. wherever they are attending college so they don’t need to bring enough to supply a small army. Note that they will most likely be coming home for Thanksgiving and/or winter break , whether can bring unneeded things home and exchange them for other items, such as warmer clothing for the winter months. This means that they don’t need to bring everything they own. Girls tend to want to take much more, so since you have a son, some of these issues may not apply.
While many students are already past the preparing and packing time. For those still in the process, here are some ideas:
_Select shoes, clothes, and linens that will work for many situations and will keep you warm and comfortable. Much of a college student’s time is spent studying, so sweats and comfy shoes are a must. Towels don’t need to be new and beautiful, as they will be abused in the dorm anyway. Let them take something you have in the linen cabinet that you won’t mind never seeing again.
_Bring something to keep papers in. I recommend a tote caddy with a lid and hanging files for general college materials, plus class papers they may want in hard copy. (While most instructors have everything online, it is sometimes beneficial to print a hard copy of information to have handy versus always having to go on the computer to look up an exam date.)
_Your student should learn to use a smart phone and/or computer calendar system as soon as possible. I coach students via Skype to teach this and other time-management skills they may not have mastered yet. They need to know to put all their exams and project due dates into their calendar at the beginning of the term for each class so there are no surprises.
__They should decide and schedule what day will be “chore” day – laundry, food shopping (many like to have snacks and small meal items even when eating in the dorm cafeteria), room cleaning, etc.
Planning ahead as much as possible is an essential strategy for college success. Ultimately it is the student’s responsibility to make things happen. This is when a person grows up, and this realization is why. They will figure it all out in time, some sooner than others. Some have to get a wake-up call – running out of clean underwear, or having nothing but vending machine candy to eat, hopefully nothing more dire – but they all figure it out eventually.