Patti Rasmussen

Advice for college-bound students and their parents

Patti Rasmussen · July 19, 1997

Some of us are sending our children off to college next month. Once we get over the initial shock of the first tuition installment, we face the fear of watching our sons or daughters set out to a place that we really don't have much control over.

We're not alone. Our children are facing those same fears, whether they admit to it or not. So in order to make sense of this tradition, I've found some reading material for both the parents and the students, courtesy of College Preparation Assistance, a local individual college counselling service.

Jennifer Trussell, the author of "College Knowledge: What You Need to Know Before You Go!" advises students: "High school is history. The proms, the pettiness and your exalted position have all been left behind. You've suddenly shifted from the top of the heap to the bottom of the totem pole. You're about to enter the most exciting and challenging time of your life."

"Put high school behind you," she says. "Teach your parents to program the VCR and then get ready to get the most from the next four years."

Trussell's book was written to help the student make the transition to college as smoothly as possible. She gives practical, yet tongue-in-cheek, advice to college freshmen, with everything from what to pack for the dorm to what to avoid in the dining hall ("Food fights are great fun; just don't get caught as the instigator and always pass up the 'Chef's Surprise'").

Trussell also gives students practical advise on parents. "Appreciate them," she says. "They've sacrificed to get you where you are. Call home often, especially on holidays and birthdays. But if your mom or dad has to get a third job to pay the phone bill, you're calling too often."

On moving into your dorm, she advises to try not to put everything in place immediately. "It's much easier to do things your parents' way while they're there, then rearrange after they leave. (They're just trying to be helpful! Moms love to arrange underwear and sock drawers, so let her. It's a chromosome they have!)"

Martin Nemko of Career and Education Consultants recommends students learn to manage their time. "You're going to be free," he states. "Your own boss! You'll decide how you'll spend every minute of every day -- whether you like it or not. Time is your most valuable commodity." So, just for the first few weeks at college until you get into the habit, Nemko urges students to work at learning how to make the most of their time.

Nemko has a list of ways to find time for everything. "Follow Ben Franklin's advise," he says. "Early to bed, early to rise. Use a week-at-glance pocket calendar and enter everything."

Nemko offers practical advise for making friends ("Leave your dorm room door open during the day and have music playing"); cures for procrastination ("Set a timer. If you don't make progress, move on"); and how to prevent blowups with your roommate ("Decide on quiet time, study hours").

Here are some ideas I learned from sending my oldest off last year. There are never enough wall plugs in a dorm room. You would be wise to invest in a couple of power strips and extension cords. I was amazed to see how many were strung around my son's dorm room.

If you want to give them a nice going away gift, I recommend putting together a tool box. It should include a small hammer and nails, duct tape and poster putty. They'll need a desk lamp and a fan. Don't wait to buy these items when you get to their school. I was surprised that the local Target store was completely sold out of fans. Buy them a day planner and write important phone numbers in it. If they are paying for anything with a checking account, make sure they open one before they leave town and show them how to balance a check book.

Finally, the most important item you can give them is a roll of quarters. Send them to school with them, mail them sporadically throughout the year. Quarters are hard to come by in the dorm laundry room, and your child will be eternally grateful.

So students, do good and call home often. There will be a lot of choices to make, and your parents are trusting you to grow up and make good ones.

Parents, kiss them goodbye, be supportive, be confident. It's time to put your parenting skills to a major test. It's a great time in your child's life and before you know it, Christmas vacation will be here.

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Patti Rasmussen's commentaries appear in The Signal on Saturdays.

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