College is a thrilling time in a young person’s life. There are so many wonderful experiences that lie ahead, from discovering a career path and exploring new interests to making friends that last a lifetime.

Read: Top 5 U.S. Colleges for the Military

For many Military children, adjusting to life in a new town is something they’ve experienced many times before. However, going off to college means living on your own, in the real world, with many newfound freedoms. So while this time in a child’s life is exhilarating, it can also seem daunting — and this is true for parents, too.

A lot is going to change when your child goes off to school, not just for your child, but for you as well. That’s why the summer before sending your teen off to college is so critical. It’s a time for you and your child to physically and emotionally prepare for the changes ahead — and it’s a time to celebrate the excitement of your child starting this new chapter in his or her life!

Here are some tips to help both of you prepare for college move-in:

Teach them the basics.

Use this summer to teach your child a few basic life skills. It’ll help you avoid many panic-induced phone calls later down the line. Key topics to cover include:


Most college students, especially freshmen, are required to enroll in some type of meal plan. However, knowing how to cook a few simple meals is a great skill to have in your back pocket.

Many dorms have communal kitchens, which can come in handy when your child is up late studying for finals and needs to eat real food, not just popcorn and energy drinks. Plus, knowing your way around the kitchen will be useful for students who end up living off campus.


Will your child have access to private washers and dryers, share communal machines in their dorm building, or rely on a public laundromat? Knowing how to do laundry is a must-have skill for teens going off to college.

If your child isn’t already responsible for doing their own laundry at home, treat this summer as a training period. Walk through the key takeaways — how to separate loads, which settings are required to effectively clean different garments, how to use an iron, when you should and should not use bleach, how to treat certain types of stains — and then have them learn by doing. They’ll be pros by the time they arrive at school in the fall!


Most college freshmen aren’t allowed to have cars on campus, so unless your child is attending college locally and will be commuting to class each day, they’ll have to learn how to efficiently navigate public transportation.

Many campuses provide their own bus or shuttle system for students. You and your child can review important transportation information like bus routes and schedules on their university’s website. Biking is another popular form of transportation on college campuses. Almost all dorms and lecture halls have bike racks located nearby for easy and safe storage. If your child is attending college within a major city, they’ll need to familiarize themselves with the city’s public transportation system.

Another important to-do when preparing your child for college is teaching them how to buy train and plane tickets for holidays, or in the event of an emergency. Many teenagers have never experienced solo travel before, which can seem intimidating. Walking through the process with them can help eliminate some of the fear or anxiety they may be feeling about traveling alone.

First Aid

Make sure your child is equipped to handle a common cold or indigestion without you there to hold their hand. You can help your child prepare for different scenarios and discuss care options — which medications to take, proper dosage, and when it’s time to see a doctor. Of course, they should feel they can come to you when they need help or advice. But you probably don’t want your child calling you every time he or she gets a headache or cramps.

Set them up for financial freedom.

Going away to college is your child’s first taste of living in the real world. They won’t be supervised 24/7 and will have to learn to be responsible — particularly with money. When preparing your child for college, having an open and honest discussion about finances is critical.

Read: Paying for a Child’s College Expenses

Help them open a bank account and, if possible, sign up for a credit card. It’s also key to review simple budgeting techniques, as well as tactical skills like how to write a check. If your child requires financial aid or student loans to pay for their education, show them how to set up payment plans for tuition and loans so they don’t miss any important due dates.  

Load up on dorm room essentials.

Planning for college move-in is both exciting and stressful. While your teen may be laser-focused on determining their “aesthetic,” the list of items they’ll need goes far beyond throw pillows and wall art — but don’t panic! There are many resources available that outline all the essential items your student will need to survive dorm life. Many colleges even provide a recommended list in their orientation packets for incoming freshmen.

Here are some of the most important — and most likely to be forgotten — items to add to your college move-in checklist:

  • Coins for laundry
  • A tool box with the essentials (hammer, screwdriver, Allen wrench, etc.)
  • Shower shoes and a toiletries caddy
  • Flashlight (don’t forget about spare batteries!)
  • Cleaning supplies and paper towels
  • Basic kitchenware

Discuss emergency information.

Preparing your child for college means preparing them to navigate tricky situations on their own. While the thought of your child taking a trip to the ER or getting into a fender-bender is frightening, you’ll sleep better at night knowing you’ve given them the tools they need to handle an emergency.

Make sure your child is equipped with a copy of their medical records and your family’s medical history, their health insurance card, a list of emergency contacts and important phone numbers, any form of license or identification they may need, their car insurance information and AAA.

Spend quality time together.

The summer before starting college is busy and hectic for both new students and their parents, but don’t forget to dedicate time to spend together before college move-in.

Depending on how far away your child is attending school, you may not get the chance to visit your child, or vice versa, until Thanksgiving rolls around, so be sure to take advantage of every opportunity to spend quality time together as a family!

More Back-to-School Basics for Your MilFam:

Financial Solutions for Your Military Family:

Life Insurance, Wealth Management, Home Mortgages, Survivor Services, and more. Learn more about AAFMAA.

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