Next Monday, I’ll be driving 18 hours over 2 days, deep into the Canadian prairies, taking our son to university for the first time. We’ve made the lists and bought the stuff (seriously, not sure how the 3 of us and his stuff are going to fit in our vehicle) to get him settled into residence before making the long drive home.

Honestly, that feels hard to write as the days count down and the reality sinks in. I can feel the tears in my throat.

My emotional mom brain is wondering how my 5lb ginger baby who loved to snuggle got to be 6ft tall and heading to university? The rational part is like, “Um, we’ve been waiting for this day since he stopped eating veggies at 6 months and refused to nap at 18 months! Do you remember the tantrums??!!”

It’s all a blur of memories and mixed emotions now.

I remember when I moved away to live in residence and attend college. It was the most exciting, empowering and freeing time in 18 years 4 months of life. Ok, I was 10% nervous about finding my classes on campus and managing a shared living space with people I’d never met.

Although I’ve had my own experience as a college student, I’ve never done this as a parent. I decided to ask young adults who’ve recently crossed this threshold and their top tips and things they wished they’d known to support my son and share with you.

Watch the full video here ⬇️

Going to University:

  • This isn’t high school; there’s no babysitting and you’ll be treated like an adult. If your assignments are late, your professor won’t check in or ask about it. If you’re late every class, you won’t get a chance to explain after being sent to the office. And if you skip classes, you risk failing if class participation is part of your grade.
  • Go to Office Hours in the beginning of the semester to connect with your professor and build a relationship before the term starts. Let your professor know about any mental or physical health challenges, family illnesses or concerns that might pull you away from class, etc. If anything comes up during the term, your professor is more likely to have a compassionate ear because you took the time upfront to let them know.
  • Go to syllabus day and take notes. Is this class content what you thought and is it delivered in a way that works for your learning style – slides, notes, lecture, online, etc.? Ask questions to understand how each class will be graded – presentations, attendance, participation, exams, etc. If that professor’s style isn’t for you, is there another professor offering this class you can transfer in to?
  • Keep all your class syllabi in case you transfer universities and need to prove what you learned for credits.
  • There’s no shame in withdrawing because of anticipated workload or the course wasn’t what you thought.
  • Some classes (and semesters) will feel overwhelming, and you won’t have the option to change a course. Make peace with it and do your best.
  • Although some classes will be smaller with more interaction with your professor, many are large lecture halls with 200-400 people where it’s impossible to connect. It’s easier to blend in and feel lost so pick a place to sit and be consistent. The students around you become friends and people you can lean into for notes and questions.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Some students study 24/7 yet struggle with exams. Some students rarely study and cram for exams managing decent grades. You do you, and set boundaries to support what works.
  • Create a time management tool to keep track of all assignments and exams so you can plan your workload accordingly over the semester – a color coded calendar on your wall, reminders or calendar app in your phone, etc. Larger assignments and projects can sneak up on you when your workload feels heavy.
  • Take breaks to build sustainability. Set aside one night or day each week for free time so you get the necessary mental break and do your best work. Burnout is real and by the time you hit it, recovery may take longer than you wanted.
  • Sleep matters. Pulling all-nighters might be your style but it does impact your brain, specifically your academic performance. Getting sleep between 2am and 5am is critical for your brain to benefit from important hormone releases and regulation.
  • Get connected! Find ways to participate in clubs, sports, intramurals, volunteering, etc. so you make the most of your time away and build connections for better mental health. Whether those students are in your program or not, they can become your circle who check in on and lean into each other (because your roommate isn’t your bestie and having the expectation will doom the relationship).
  • Find your crying corner. When you live in residence, or have a shared room, it can feel scary or embarrassing to have a good cry. Whether you miss home, feel overwhelmed or are just having a down day, having a private place on campus you to feel safe to express emotions is key. Emotions are human and normal. When you feel them and let them out, they have less power over you.
  • Secure your study space. Maybe you like your residence room best or the quiet floor in the library in the corner with the west windows and comfy chairs. Finding your best to study will support you to do your best work and stay on track to avoid overwhelm.

Living in residence:

I got my hands on a roommate agreement from a large university that I think EVERY student residence should use. Click here to see it.

I know this transition will feel harder for me than it will for my son, and I’m going to want to text or call him often. That might feel suffocating for him so negotiating times is more respectful and knowing his schedule may change with workload and sports. We plan to FaceTime over a few dinners and see how it goes from there.

When he’s having the time of his life and doesn’t reach out, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me. It means he’s creating his own life which is the point. I’ll try to remember that in a few weeks.

If you’re walking this path too, please know you’re not alone.

PS. This is your last chance to get a seat in my Adolescent Substance Use webinar tomorrow! Click below to register for lifetime access ⬇️

I want current information and strategies from an expert!

Aly Pain

Growing up, I was the smart, fun girl on the outside and a frantic, anxious mess on the inside. I spent years healing the pain of dysfunctional family relationships, including eating disorders and a suicide attempt, to break the cycle raising my own teen boys.

Today, I’ve been happily married to my husband for over 23 years, and we have 2 incredible teen boys. My passion is empowering parents to build healthy, respectful relationships with their teens without giving up or giving up, even if they've tried everything and are at their wits end.

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