Off to College

  • 01 of 05

    Starting College: Paperwork, Orientation and the Big Move

    Students settle in at McGill University. Courtesy of Thomas Campbell, Stock.Xchng Photos

    If you're like most parents of graduating high school seniors, you've spent the last year proofreading college applications, fretting over SAT scores and repeating the anti-senioritis mantra, "Go to class! Go to class!"

    Now, the end is in sight. You've celebrated the college acceptance letter and ordered the cap and gown, and all that remains is ... voluminous paperwork, check-writing and the rounding up of necessary supplies to transform junior into a college freshman.

    So,...MORE here's a step-by-step guide to take you from high school graduation to dorm move-in day, from transcripts and AP scores to extra-long sheets.

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  • 02 of 05

    Transcripts, Paperwork and More

    Graduation Day. Jackie Burrell

    The period between high school and college really ought to be called the Season of Paperwork, not "summer." So here's what to expect:

    • High School Transcripts: Don't get so caught up in the excitement of graduation that your teen forgets to order his final high school transcripts before the counseling office closes for the summer. If your teen dropped a class senior year, make sure he alerted the college admissions department and explained his reasons. Do not wait for the...MORE admissions office to discover the news on the transcript. Colleges have been known to rescind acceptances when grades drop or high-level courses go missing without explanation.
       
    • Advanced Placement Scores: Your teen's college will also want to see any Advanced Placement exam scores. Send those scores online via the College Board website or by calling 888-308-0013. Your teen should have his social security number and a credit card handy to pay the $15 fee.
       
    • Docs and Shots: Make an appointment for your teen to visit his doctor and get all his immunizations updated in May or June of senior year. The meningitis vaccine is particularly recommended for students who will be living in dorms or other group living situations. Your child may also need a tetanus booster and a TB test. Have your doctor print out and sign a copy of the immunization record and all the other necessary health forms because there's ...
       
    • More Paperwork: Make sure your teen checks both the snail mailbox and his email account frequently throughout the summer. He should be getting requests for his medical background, immunization history, health insurance verification, orientation information, housing forms, roommate questionnaires, student loan promissory notes and tuition bills. Set aside a basket to corral the paperwork, and save copies of everything you submit.
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  • 03 of 05

    College Orientation

    USC Campus
    Tommy the Trojan overlooks the University of Southern California campus. Jackie Burrell

    Even if your family visited the campus earlier and took the obligatory tour, college orientation is an invaluable experience for new freshmen. It gives them a chance to meet fellow incoming students, enroll in fall quarter classes and get the lay of the land. Parent sessions give mom and dad a chance to get all their questions answered, and it allows them to meet other anxious parents going through the same transition.

    If you attend orientation during the summer, pack a tape measure. Many...MORE universities use their residence halls as orientation housing, which gives you a chance to scope out the dorms, not just the ambiance but, more importantly, the options for underbed storage, closet space, bathroom cupboards and mattress comfort. (And after sleeping on a dorm bed yourself, you'll have a whole new appreciation for memory foam mattress pads.)

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  • 04 of 05

    Dining Halls, Meal Plans and the Freshman 15

    Cafeteria
    Dining hall. Photo courtesy of Keith Syvinski, Stock.Xchng Photos

    Unless your child is attending a commuter college, chances are he'll be living in the dorms and eating in the dining hall. Fortunately, these days it's an odd college whose dining hall doesn't boast salad bars, vegetarian entrees, sushi nights and similar interesting options. Even so, it's not home cooking and anything can grow monotonous over time. Here are tips on navigating and surviving dorm cuisine:

    • Meal Plans: Most colleges offer a variety of meal plans ranging from 10 to 19...MORE meals a week (three meals Monday-Friday, plus brunch and dinner on Saturdays and Sundays). Your teen can always buy extra meals using his "Triton Bucks," "Pacific Cash" or similar campus debit card, and we have yet to come across a college student who ate 19 dorm meals a week. Unless your teen is planning to come home every weekend, opt for a mid-range package, such as 14 meals a week. (Need more help? This quiz will help you pick an appropriate meal plan, not too big and not too skimpy.
       
    • Rent a Mini-fridge: A dorm room mini-fridge will keep milk, juice, fruit, cheese, yogurt and other perishable snacks and breakfast items fresh. Suggest that he keep a stash of cereal, granola bars, peanut butter, etc. on hand.
       
    • Get Creative: Some dining halls offer the mom-option - the chefs at the University of Redlands, for example, will make your teen's favorite meal, if he brings in the recipe. Some college students swear by club meetings and music department recitals. The events are often interesting, they say, and there are always hors d'oeuvres.
       
    • And Hit the Gym: Encourage your teen to avoid the Freshman 15 by building gym time or intramural sports into his day - innertube water polo, anyone? It's a healthy, sociable, de-stressing activity, and the health club's free. Well, it's $40,000 a year, but you get the point.
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  • 05 of 05

    Outfitting the Dorm Room

    Mixed race woman moving into college dorm room
    Eric Raptosh Photography Getty

    Forget all those glossy magazines with their fabulous dorm layouts, complete with comfy couches, quirky floor lamps, and framed prints on the walls. Your teen's home away from home will likely be a shared 10x10 cube crammed with two extra-long twin size beds, two chests of drawers, a pair of desks and basic built-in closets. Tight quarters indeed, but serviceable. So here's what you bring:

    • Comfy Bedding: X-L twin sheets, pillows, and a cozy duvet or blankets. In our wildest parental...MORE fantasies, children do laundry. In the real world, they'll change the sheets at least once if you include a second set.
       
    • Bathroom Needs: Several bath towels, flip flops for the shower, plus soap, shampoo, toiletries and a basket to tote it all unless this dorm's bathrooms have individual cupboards or lockers.
       
    • Laundry: Detergent, fabric softener, a laundry hamper and a jar of quarters, unless the school uses debit cards in the laundromat. Plus, a rudimentary understanding of what happens when red T-shirts are washed with white underwear. (Although Shout Color Catchers actually work. Mostly.)
       
    • School Tools: A desk lamp, school supplies, extension cords and power strips with surge protectors, a laptop, and thumb drive. (Your freshman may not need a printer. Some schools want papers turned in electronically, others offer printing privileges at the library. Wi-Fi hookups vary by school.)
       
    • Storage and Supplies: Hangers, a hanging divider for shoes, storage bins for under the bed, a trash bin, paper towels, tissues, a first aid kit, snacks, a cereal bowl, spoon, and mug.
       
    • Decor: Posters, family photos, and a teddy bear.
       
    • Lovely to Have: A soft, colorful area rug, mini-fridge, collapsible seating or floor pillows for guests, and noise-cancelling headphones are non-essentials but lovely to have.