anne_mikolay_2012_120Are you a first-time college parent? Is your child heading off to campus life? Are you nervous, worried? Think you know what to expect?

Throw away pre-conceived notions about college life. Television sitcoms are unrealistic; dorm rooms are not as expansive or attractive as they appear on the old boob tube (ooops…gave away my age with that one!)  Retail advertisements for “college essentials” are misleading at best. Your little Einstein does not need color coordinated storage baskets (a dorm room has no extra space for such things), giant bed pillows in his/her school colors (dorm beds are not luxurious), or artwork and mirrors for the walls (hanging items with nails is forbidden). The only college essential required is practicality.

While prospective students fret about roommate compatibility and class schedules, their moms attempt to think of everything that might be needed during the upcoming semesters – from printer paper to Q-tips. Nervous parental newbies, take a tip from us veterans. Throw your check-list away. You can’t prepare for all the bumps on the road to college.   

The first little surprise you will encounter on campus involves the most important paper in the world. Apparently, the astronomical tuition of a college education does not include toilet paper! That’s right. There’s no toilet paper in suite-style bathrooms. A lot of toilet paper will be needed! The average dorm bathroom services four students; suites sometimes house six. Pack plenty! Also pack cleaning supplies (but don’t expect the kids to use them). Bring a router, Ethernet cable, light bulbs (the lamps in my son’s suite were sans bulbs), and air freshener (not all roommates change their sheets or, worse yet, their socks). Also outfit Einstein with a key chain for his/her dorm room key. Be forewarned: college administrators know exactly what newbies tend to forget; consequently, last minute items (like key chains) purchased in the student center have hefty price tags. If your child’s college is within driving distance, and he/she will be visiting home frequently, don’t pack a huge bottle of laundry detergent; your son or daughter isn’t going to use it. Instead, provide a giant laundry bag cuz their dirty clothes will be visiting home with them. The more clothing your child takes to campus, the more they will bring home to launder. In fact, the “what goes around, comes around” rule applies when packing for college. Everything college students squeeze into their cars for the mass exodus must be repacked and re-squeezed for the year-end return trip. Pack lightly, pack wisely, and you’ll keep the squeezing (and the aggravation) to a minimum.

My son’s freshmen move-in day was an eye-opener. I watched, baffled, as several parents stuffed carpeting and fancy floor lamps, neither of which is needed, into the dorm elevators, and nearly laughed aloud as one freshman young lady arrived with two Sterlite bins overflowing with shoes, including glittering, pink stilettos. She must have been planning to party all semester; surely she didn’t intend to walk across campus on those stilts.

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Bottom line for new students: dorm rooms are small. Space is at a premium. Bring only what is needed. Leave your junk at home and focus instead on the challenge of time management and independence. Bottom line for parents: you will be equally challenged. Einstein is not your “child” anymore. He/she is an adult, albeit an inexperienced one, and no longer needs or wants your help quite as much as before.

College freshmen and parents, welcome to this brave, new world.

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Anne Mikolay

Anne M. Mikolay joined The Atlantic Highlands Herald as a columnist in 2008. Prior to penning “The Armchair Critic,” Anne wrote feature articles for The Monmouth Journal. Her work has appeared in national...