A Letter to Parents Whose Kids Just Got Into College (read: on Staying Sane)

Dear Moms & Dads,

Congratulations! Your baby just got into college, or is about to. You’re probably feeling a flood of conflicting emotions. Relief comes alongside anxiety, joy can collide with a feeling of impending loss, and excitement crashes into “Wait, this is real?!?” The arrival of any college acceptance, whether a dream school or a safety, should be a day of celebration, but for a huge number of parents, it is equally, or even more, terrifying.

The number one question we get asked by parents after their kid is accepted into college is, “What do I do now?” The second most common question is “Does my kid still need me?” The second question has an easy answer: YES. Your kid still needs you. You’re not done being parents. They will need help figuring out how to do their laundry.

But that comes later. As for what you need to do now, the number one thing is to be supportive.

Your kid is scared. Most won't say it, and many won't admit it even if asked, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t more than a little terrified at the prospect of leaving home. Even if they’ve been to sleep-away camp or went to boarding school, college is a totally different experience. There won’t be counselors guiding them around, or adults looking over their shoulder. Mom and dad won’t be next door. They’ll need to advocate for themselves, and learning how to do that can come with some rough patches. So, while they are definitely excited and are wearing the sweatshirt, they are still scared of this weird far-off thing that is suddenly real, impending, and terrifying.

So support them, be there for them, but don’t shelter them. Don’t exclude them from conversations about the metrics of college (yes, we mean the money), just because they’re uncomfortable conversations to have. Include your kids because they need to understand money, and include your kids because them knowing what is going into their education will help them in taking full advantage of the opportunity.

While you’re helping your kid take on the responsibilities of an adult, know that they may revert to child-like behaviors. No one really talks about this, but they are in a weird limbo, trapped between adulthood and independence and the reality that they are still in high school—and that’s an uncomfortable place to be. They may become nostalgic because they feel like their childhood is ending (don’t be surprised if there’s an uptick in hugs and the childhood albums come out). And they may act out as a way of triggering the parental attention they think they may lose come fall (also don’t be surprised if they break rules they’d dutifully followed before those acceptances came).

Don’t let yourself be a punching bag and don’t let your kid become a victim to the senior spring slide, but remember to act out of a place of support. The brain your kid ends their senior year with is the brain they’ll start college with. If they are focused in May, they’ll be focused in September, so keep doing what you’re doing because it clearly worked.

Take deep breaths. Take time for yourself. And, no, you’re not old.

With love and respect,

Caroline Koppelman

P.S. Bonus tip from a parent who’s sent three kids to college: Consider taking a video of your kid right after they get accepted, or when they are particularly happy about going to college. Save it and then send it to them two months into their freshman year when they are struggling because things aren’t coming as easily as they expected. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll both get a laugh.