You've set up the dorm room and said "goodbye," what could possibly go wrong?
Ideally, you'd like to imagine your child attending classes, studying in the library, joining campus organizations, socializing, and getting adequate sleep. And occasionally dropping you a note to say how much he or she appreciates you and loves college.
Unfortunately, if you and your family don't give some thought in advance to the problems that can arise, it may be an even more difficult adjustment than you can imagine.
Health Issues or "Does this sound contagious?"
Of course, the combination of little sleep, poor eating habits, and close quarters with other students leads inevitably to illness. It could be a simple cold or virus, or it could be mononucleosis. You may have set your child up with a "mini pharmacy" of over-the-counter medicines in the dorm room, but that doesn't mean your child knows what to take, or when.
You can give your child a short description of the medication and proper usage information, but it is more important that your child understands how the campus health service works--preferably explained BEFORE the symptoms make it hard for your child to understand your instructions. Schools typically include information on student health during orientation, but the specifics may get lost in the barrage of things to remember. You may also find a link to the school's student health center in the below school resource list.
Try to take a tour of the health center either during orientation or sometime during move-in, or at least help your child map out the route to get there, and post the contact number someplace handy in the dorm room.
Being Excluded Or "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
Maybe high school was amazing for your child. She was class president, head cheerleader, first violin, and she had tons of friends. He was captain of the volleyball team, president of Mock Trial, the lead in the school musical, and was out with friends every weekend. Or, maybe your child didn't feel as confident in high school, but plans to reinvent himself or herself in college by getting involved with some of the numerous clubs and activities vividly described in the college info session.
What happens when this child doesn't win the student government election, or doesn't get a bid to join a Greek organization? Didn't the brochure make it seem like he or she could do anything? This can be a terrible shock, and the child may feel like all hope is lost. Every child and every reaction may be different, based upon many factors. But unfortunately, it may be a huge disappointment for your child--and you aren't there to provide comfort.
Clearly, you can't contact the Dean of Students, or the Rush chairperson. Of course, yes, you can look up their information online and track them down. But you shouldn't! Not only would it embarrass your child, but you would not be helping him or her in the long run.
Rather, be there as a shoulder to lean (or cry) on, and encourage your child to channel energy elsewhere. It may be a really rough patch. If necessary, your child can reach out to a Resident Advisor or perhaps a mental health counselor. Most often, after time your child will bounce back and find alternate opportunities. Although it may not seem like it at the time, very often the change in course may end up being the best transformation during college.
Roommates: Learning to live with others
Sometimes your child is lucky enough to make lifelong friendships out of Freshman year roommates. Sometimes the end of the year can't come fast enough (if the arrangement can even survive that long). Either way, it is not easy to adjust to living with another person in a room the size of an oversized closet. Students should both practice and demand respect from their roommates, and if problems arise hopefully there is a Resident Advisor nearby to help work out issues. As any other relationship, communication is key.
Mental Health Issues: Sometimes you can't go it alone
This is a difficult topic. Medical literature has documented that adolescence is a time of many changes.
Now this child is then placed in a new environment, possibly away from home for the first time, learning how to make friends, figuring out how to manage time and make it to class, and starting to think about things by himself for the first time. The stress from these experiences can be difficult to manage on its own, and then if there is any underlying issue this new situation can bring out any number of issues. It is critical for you to have conversations with your child BEFORE he or she leaves for school. Make sure your child knows that you are always reachable if a problem arises.
Additionally, look into what mental health services are provided on campus, and reassure your child that using such services is supporting healthy attitudes--not an admission of weakness. Encourage your child to speak with a Resident Advisor or other assigned personnel, because they have undergone training on how to handle many issues faced by college students -- and they also have further contacts and resources if the issue is more than they can handle.
Legal Issues: Behaviors have real consequences
This is not a topic you often see discussed on college-related websites. Every college maintains an honor code of some kind, and all students are required in some format or another to acknowledge that they will abide by this code. This is in addition to local, state and federal laws applicable to the jurisdiction in which the college is located.
You've set rules in your home, and hopefully raised your child to understand consequences for breaking these rules. Maybe you even believe that YOUR child would never engage in illegal or inappropriate behavior. However, the campus environment allows for a great deal of independence, and even the most responsible, level-headed child may get caught up in illegal or inappropriate activities when surrounded by friends or people likely to end up as friends.
Therefore, it is most important to keep the lines of communication open with your child. Clearly you do not WANT to get a phone call or text that starts "I think I'm in trouble" but you also don't want your child left to "figure it out" with the help of equally clueless friends.
One suggestion is to have a contact number of an attorney located in the vicinity of campus that you or your child could contact. Although no particular attorneys are being recommended here, you may get referrals from the bar association of the state or county in which the school is located. For a partial list, see the particular school resources: