Down to the College Wire

Down to the college wire.

It’s April 1. College admissions decisions are out there for most schools, and now it’s time for lots of high school seniors to make their final choice. My daughter decided long ago, so we were happy to step off that hamster wheel, but she has friends who are still deciding. God bless them. Some of them are having a difficult time for lots of different reasons. Some didn’t get into their top choice. Some got into none of their top choices. Some got into every school they applied to and can’t decide which one is best. It’s just not easy. It’s an adult decision…the first adult decision lots of them have ever made. They feel alone. They know they are embarking on a new experience, but it can be scary, and they are afraid of making the wrong choice. You see that guy in the feature photo for this piece? He’s sitting there alone…that’s how lots of them feel right now… like they are alone. They need support from the folks who love them.

I’m no college counselor. I’m simply a parent of a high school senior, but there is one thing I wish all kids would consider: they need to find the best choice for themselves.

I hear lots of seniors saying their parents want them to go to one college, but they want to go somewhere else. I hear lots of them say they don’t want to disappoint their teachers/college counselors. I hear lots of them say they want to pick a school by how it’s ranked in US News and World Report. Who am I to say they’re wrong with their methods of decision-making? So no, I’m not going to say they are “wrong.”

I do, however, want to remind them they are the ones going to the school. Their parents won’t be attending. (If their parents are paying, affordability might come into play.) Their college counselors and classmates won’t be sitting in their desks in the classrooms, living in the dorm, or going to athletic events. Each senior needs to make his/her decision based on his/her preferences, because guess what? US News and World Report isn’t going to college either. What US News and World Report thinks is most important might not be what you think is most important. Different people like different things!

And as these kids (yes, they are still kids) make their final decisions, we need to offer them support instead of shaming them for their choices. I know lots of kids who get into “highly ranked institutions,” but they choose a school with a “lower ranking” because it offers other things they want. My own daughter would never get into an Ivy League school, but that’s OK, because that’s not where she wants to be anyway. And there are other kids who do get into Ivy League schools but opt for something else where they will have a different experience. Big sports are important to our daughter, and she would laugh at Ivy League football games. No offense to the Ivy League people of the world, of course, but she likes to watch more competitive football. I have lots of Ivy League friends I love, but even they admit SEC football is awesome.

Some kids want to go to schools that are more outdoorsy. In North Carolina, one school that is “outdoorsy” is Appalachian State University. I know lots of very successful people who went to school there and loved it. Is it a Top 50 school, according to US News and World Report? No. But it’s number one to those people who love it. All kinds of people go there, though…not just the “outdoorsy” people. I went to the University of Alabama. Again, not a Top 50 school by US News and World Report’s rankings, but I think it’s number one! It’s fun! It’s absolutely gorgeous…looks like a movie set. It has a wide array of majors and lots of opportunities in different areas. And it’s geographically diverse. I made some of my best life memories there and certainly made lifelong friends from all over the country. Over 65% of the student body is from out of state. The weather during tornado season is iffy, but most winters are pretty mild, and the sun shines a lot. Some people (like me and my daughter!) don’t want cold climates. And come on…football season is crazy fun there. Also, BarstoolU just ranked it as the number one party school in the country. Lots of people likely think that’s shallow. I think it’s important to have lots of options for fun, and so does my daughter.

Some of these kids might get into “highly ranked” big colleges/universities, but some of those same kids might think a smaller, liberal arts college would be a better fit for their personality. Don’t look down on them for choosing what is best for them. Applaud them for knowing themselves! You can’t put a square peg into a round hole. Or maybe you can, but the square peg likely won’t be happy there. And ultimately, don’t we want our kids to be happy in college? We want them to be happy there so they will stay there. We want them to be successful in college and beyond.

On the flip side, I was talking with a woman a few days ago who was in distress that her daughter wanted to go to a college far away. She wants her daughter to be happy, but said they don’t have any idea how they will pay for transportation costs. Yes, these kids are still kids, but they are pretty reasonable too, and they often understand that affordability counts too. Guess who is not paying your child’s college tuition? The college counselors at your school aren’t paying it. Their friends’ parents aren’t paying it. And their friends are not paying it. Some of them truly need to go to the “highest bidder,” meaning they need to go to the school that offers them the most money/financial aid.

And I recently spoke with another parent of a high school senior who was trying to make the decision for her daughter, saying, “She wants to go to XXXX University, but I just think she would love XXXXX University. I wanted to go there, but my parents wouldn’t pay the out of state tuition.” She’s trying to push her daughter into going where she wanted to go. Ick. We can’t live vicariously. We, the parents, aren’t going to college. We need to remember that too.

Here’s the skinny: each kid who is deciding on a college right now has different factors to consider. They have different priorities and different interests. Let’s applaud them for their decisions; this is one of the first tough decisions they will make in life.

We’re getting down to the college wire. Again, I’m not a college counselor, but I know it’s a tough time for lots of teens. Celebrate their decisions.

First College Friends

First college friends.

With my daughter preparing to graduate from high school, I’m looking back at my own college experience in anticipation of hers. One thing I often find myself telling people about? The first friends I made in college. The year was 1985…

I moved into my dorm at The University of Alabama on a hot August day. My parents took the trip with me. We took two cars, both loaded with my worldly…one for me to keep there, and one for my parents to return home in. I don’t remember the “check-in” process at the dorm. I feel sure I had to go in, get a key, and sign some forms before we could start hauling stuff up to the room.

I was one of the first ones on my floor that day. My room the first one on the left when we got off the elevator. My roommate, Fannie, had not arrived yet, so I walked into an empty room. We started unpacking things…compared to what girls take to college today, I took very little, so the unpacking didn’t take long. While we were unpacking, a cute, friendly blonde girl approached my doorway and introduced herself as Dianne from Delaware. She was absolutely adorable, and if I remember correctly, she had been attending summer classes before the start of her official freshman year.

Dianne was one of those people who made the college adjustment a lot easier for me, and she always knew how to pull an outfit together. I remember her tying a red sash on one of my dresses for a football game…and she did it perfectly. She was fun and outgoing…and still is. Back then, we liked to have dates for football games, and I remember one date of hers who drove up in front of the dorm and honked his horn for her. We were on the third floor, so we could hear the horn clearly. I can still hear Dianne screaming out her window for him to “get out of the car and come in to get me like a gentleman”!

The influx of girls started picking up throughout the day. Susan, a girl who lived down the street from me at home, was just down the hall…a nice, familiar face who became a closer friend in college! We had been friends in high school, but we became real friends in college.And Fannie arrived in the afternoon with her mother and her older sister there to help her move in. I was lucky. Fannie was outgoing and adorable. Thank the Lord!

We all rushed and pledged different places. Back then, Bid Day was on a Saturday, and Squeal Night was one big party. Fraternities had parties, and we all got “set up” on dates. Thankfully, it’s not done that way anymore…now Bid Day is on a Sunday, and the girls go on a “retreat” with their new pledge sisters immediately…undoubtedly a good thing. But back in 1985, a sophomore sorority member set me up with a pledge at her boyfriend’s (her boyfriend was a senior) fraternity house, and the fun began!

Here’s what we didn’t know when we started college: we didn’t know which friendships would last. There are some people I have been in constant contact with, and there are others I haven’t, but there are some who are never strangers. That sophomore girl’s senior boyfriend? His name is Richard, and he’s one of those people who, despite going years with no contact, has never been a stranger…we just pick right back up where we left off. Way back in 1985 and 1986, when he was a senior, and I was a lowly freshman, I thought of him as a father figure. Funny, I know. He was all of 22. But when you’re a naive freshman, it’s nice to have an older guy who has your back. And he did. I often referred to him as my campus “Dad” back then.

I’m still friends with Dianne, Susan, and Fannie. When Dianne is in Charlotte for work, we meet for dinner. I hear from Fannie and Susan occasionally. We don’t all see each other often or even talk often, but I definitely count them among my friends. And that “Dad”? Well, as luck would have it, he lives in Charlotte too! We reconnected through Facebook years ago, and in 2012, when we were both at the Alabama-Georgia SEC Championship Game in the old Georgia Dome (Alabama won the game!), we met up at halftime, and it was like time had never passed! We have gone to dinner with our spouses. We have met up at football games. My daughter has given his daughter some “hand-me-downs,” which means clothes she probably wore once. And just like my freshman year in college, I always know he’s there! I don’t know what I brought to the friendship, but I’m glad to know he has found me worthy of friendship for all these years. Does he know he was the first guy I met in college? I don’t know if he knew it before, but he knows it now! A treasured friendship, indeed.

I hope my daughter will find the same kind of friends I found in college. I was lucky to make these first college friends and lots of other great college friends in my four years there. College is an experience you can’t repeat, so I’m glad I got the friendships right the first time! Saying a prayer my daughter will have the same great luck I had!

And yes, those friends are some of my favorite things. I need to schedule a dinner with Richard and his wife…texting him now.

Emergency Numbers for Dorm Rooms

Emergency numbers for dorm rooms.

Like so many other parents, I’m getting emotionally and mentally prepared to send my daughter off to college. She is going about 500 miles away, to a big university in another state, and I am excited for her. However, I also know she needs to be prepared…not just academically and emotionally…she needs to also be prepared for emergency situations. Sure, she’s not leaving for several months, but it makes me feel better to talk with her and get ready in advance. Because of that, I sat down with her and thought of different situations that could happen and reviewed how to handle them. We got some ideas from the parents’ Facebook page too. We are making a list of essential places along with phone numbers and websites. We will laminate it, so she can hang it in her room. To make life a little easier for other students who are going off to college far, far away, I’m sharing the info here:

  • Resident Advisor Contact. This should be at the top of the list. If anything happens in the dorm, and your student needs a housing contact, their Resident Advisor is the first person to contact. They are trained to create a welcoming environment and assist with any situations that arise pertaining to dorm life. Roommate smoking in the room? Talk to the RA. Someone making too much noise during quiet hours? Talk to the RA. It’s always good to have their phone number and email address handy.
  • Parents’ Contacts. Recently, my daughter received a call from a college roommate of a friend of hers. The roommate said, “XXXX has had too much to drink and needs to go to the hospital. I can’t get into her phone to get her mom’s number. Does your mom have her mom’s number?” Indeed, I did. I gave the number to the roommate, and she was able to contact the girl’s mom. Therefore, I cannot express strongly enough that roommates need to have phone numbers of each other’s parents in their own phones, and it’s a great idea to have parents’ numbers posted on a list of emergency numbers hanging in their dorm room.
  • Nearby adult family/friends. My brother lives two hours from the university my daughter will be attending. I have college friends who live in the same town as the university, and I have friends whose children are students at the university. I will add their names and numbers to the list, because you never know when your child will need some moral support, a health advocate, or help with something else. It’s always good to know there’s someone who has your back nearby.
  • Urgent Care/Doctor/Student Health Center. The names, addresses, and contact info for all of these need to be included on the list. If a student gets sick with the flu, they need to be able to see a doctor. Or maybe they have a stomach bug? Of course, with telemedicine, they can often “see” a doctor online, thank God. But if they need to actually see a doctor in person, you don’t want them to waste time trying to find them online. They can just look at the list, call the office, and go!
  • Emergency Room. Obviously, there are some situations that require a call to 911…broken leg, possible back or neck injuries, lots of blood, bad falls, etc. But sometimes, there are situations in which a roommate can get your child to the emergency room. Maybe it’s a kidney stone or a bad case of the flu. They need to know where several emergency rooms are, because the first one they go to could have a long wait. We found two nearby emergency rooms for our daughter’s list and one that’s a little farther away but usually less chaotic (according to the parents’ page).
  • Emergency Dentist. No one expects to fall and break a tooth, but it happens. You don’t want your child to waste time trying to find the info for an emergency dentist. Find one now. We found two near the university she will be attending, and we added them to the list.
  • Mechanic. If your child is taking a car to college, you should know things happen. I took a car to college, and during that time, I had two flat tires that had to be repaired. I also had an issue in which my brake lights were staying on. It was an easy fix (a button was sticking under the brake pedal), but I wouldn’t have known how to fix it on my own. Find a reliable auto service place to help your student. Add that information to the list. It’s also a good idea to have a AAA membership for your student, and they should have the emergency roadside service number if their car has it.
  • Pharmacy. It is essential to find a pharmacy near your child’s college or university. I have written about this before. We use a local CVS in Charlotte, so we will pick a CVS near her university. I’ve been in a jam in another city before, and I was thankful I could have a CVS in the area access my prescription and fill what I needed. To me, a good, reliable pharmacy is every bit as important as a good, reliable doctor or dentist. The phone number definitely needs to be on the list, but especially if you have a child who takes life/death medication.
  • Food Delivery. I know…you might not think it’s important, but I do. They will definitely figure this out on their own, but it’s cool for them to have a list of a few places on the front end, for those nights they just don’t want to eat in the dining hall. Don’t get me wrong. I hope my child will opt to eat on campus as often as possible, but I know what it’s like to want food from somewhere else. My friend, Angela, and I used to order from Wings & Things every Sunday night in college. At $7.49 for each of us in 1985 (about $17 in today’s money), it was too expensive to eat all the time, but we could order once a week!
  • Other not-so-urgent things to know: there are other places that can be essential for life in college. A lot depends on the type of person your child is and what they enjoy. I feel sure mine will need to know about all the local boutiques…not an emergency, but essential. She will need to know where a local laundry drop-off service is located. She’ll need to know where the safest gas stations are located.

I’m sure I have forgotten some, so feel free to send me additions, and I will edit/add. All these numbers also need to be in your child’s phone. I will have mine add them as EMERGENCY DENTIST (name). If I know she is prepared for unexpected situations, I can rest more easily.

College Hiccups

College hiccups can be deciding factors in the admissions process.

Our daughter is a high school senior who plans to matriculate to my college alma mater in the fall. We have paid the enrollment fee. I know lots of people are still deciding. I am on a college parents’ page, and several of my friends are too. We see red flags in some of the posts, so I’m going to share a few here as “cautionary tales.” Every parent/student needs to do their homework beforehand, because stuff happens. There are often things we don’t consider beyond tuition/dorms and usual college stuff, but here are some surprising posts from different college parent pages:

  • “We live across the country. My son is having mental health issues. Can we get a tuition refund?” What the what?!?! I wasn’t the only person who saw red flags on this. The first response was, “You need to stop worrying about a tuition refund and go help your child.” The original poster’s response? “I can’t afford to fly there.” If I could not afford to get to my child in an emergency situation, I would have to reconsider her college. She would need to go closer to home. My daughter needs an advocate in emergencies. Our daughter is going 500 miles away, but we have family and close friends in the area, and we can afford to get there. What to consider: whether the unexpected cost of a last-minute airline ticket would break the bank for you. And please, if your child is having mental health issues (it can happen to anyone), get there as fast as you can.
  • “My daughter joined a sorority, and we thought the dues/fees were all-inclusive. It’s costing way more than we expected.” Anyone considering joining the Greek community needs to know dues/fees don’t include everything. There are hidden costs…t-shirts for every event, tickets for formals, dresses for formals, gifts for bigs/littles, costumes for parties, lettered gear, sorority/fraternity pins…it adds up. If you’re strapped for cash, you want to know the fees/dues before entering the process. At some big southern universities, Greek dues can be $5000/semester for people who don’t live in the house and $10k per semester for those who do. Whereas, at other colleges with smaller or no houses, they can be much lower. For a US News article from November 2021 about this, click here. What to consider: Be sure it isn’t cost prohibitive. It is unfair to a chapter to accept a bid knowing you can’t afford it.
  • “My son forgot to get his necessary prescription refilled. Can someone tell me the name of a pharmacy that makes same-day deliveries?” I get it. I have forgotten to get meds refilled in a timely manner. If your child has a prescription that he/she needs regularly, it is a good idea to check out pharmacies/delivery services on the front end instead of waiting till the “forget” happens. When you visit the college or university, take time to find a pharmacy that would work with him/her…if there is one. It could be a lifesaver…literally. If there isn’t a pharmacy nearby that can help your child on the fly with deliveries of a life/death medication, you might want to think about another school. What to consider: the health of your child.
  • “My child needs a ride to the airport/city, etc. If you have a child driving that way, maybe you can help him out? We are sending our daughter with a car, but if we weren’t, I would do my homework on this. I wouldn’t want her to be dependent on other students for transportation. Sometimes, students need rides. I would research public transportation for rides near campus. For the airport, which is an hour from her college, I would research shuttles/hired cars and expect to pay. I could not expect another student to be my child’s personal airport shuttle; that’s a lot of time/gas/wear and tear. Carpooling is nice for those who have outbound flights at about the same time, but what happens when your child’s return flight is delayed for hours? Expect the other student to wait five or six hours? No. If you’re not sending your child with a car, check college/university web pages for travel information. They often list airport shuttles/car services/taxi companies. What to consider: Make sure transportation is reliable and not cost prohibitive. To read about some of those costs, click here.
  • “I thought there would be nonstop flights between College Town and our city, but there aren’t…” Hmmmm…find out about the flight situation before you enroll your child in a college or university. If your child isn’t going to college in a hub city (Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Chicago, Miami, etc.) and you don’t live in a hub city, chances are there won’t be nonstop flights. Lots of people have trouble with this concept. Sure, Southwest Airlines doesn’t have a spoke-and-hub system for their flights, but most major carriers do. Connecting flights add travel time (making weekend visits shorter) and increase the odds of cancellations/delays, so do your homework beforehand. Check different airline sites or Orbitz/Expedia/Trivago. And get an idea about the costs of those flights. For lots of people, this can be a deciding factor. What to consider: Travel time, and again, if cost is a factor, this needs to be considered. For even more info about travel costs for students, click here. And always remember the costs listed in the article are “average.” For example, I know my daughter’s travel costs will be more than average. If your child is flying to/from college, the costs likely will be higher than a child who is driving to/from college.
  • “I loved the university when I was there, but my child has not made friends and wants to transfer to a smaller school. What to do?” Maybe it’s going to take time, or maybe they need to transfer. The school that was perfect for you might not be perfect for your child. Or maybe you didn’t go there but wanted to; it might not be the place for your child. Maybe you thrived, or would have thrived, in that environment, but your child won’t. I have friends who went to big schools, but their children need to go to smaller colleges…and vice versa. One friend who went to college with me said her daughter is intimidated by the school. She said her “less-than-fashionable” daughter (her words, not mine) fears she won’t “find her people” in the big setting. She even went so far as to say her child is afraid she would feel like “the poor kid” (again, her words). Yikes. If she’s concerned about it, it’s a real concern. I spoke with a friend this morning whose daughter has been accepted to her southern alma mater that’s mostly in-state students, but they live in Ohio. My friend said, “I was southern, but she’s not. We are taking that into consideration.” Make sure your child spends some time at the colleges he/she is considering. What to consider: They need to feel comfortable. You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. Are you pushing your child to do what you did/wanted to do? Same with this next post…
  • “I always wanted my child to attend Prestigious University, but he wanted to go to Big State University. Anyone else have trouble reconciling that?” This one bothers me. Your child is going to college; you aren’t. Instead of saying anything further, I’m going to recommend you read a piece from Grown and Flown here. What to consider: where your child goes to school is not who he/she is.
  • “We want to visit our son during a football game weekend, but I’m having trouble finding inexpensive lodging. Suggestions?” Depending on where your child goes to school, it’s important to consider lodging costs. If you want to visit your child on a “big football” weekend at some schools (especially SEC schools), it’s not going to be cheap. And if it is cheap, you probably don’t want to stay there. Factor in lodging costs if you are going to need to stay overnight when you visit your child. You can’t stay in the dorm! Where our daughter is going, I know hotels are not inexpensive, and the price goes up during football weekends (supply and demand!), and on some other weekends too. You want to be able to visit without breaking the family budget. What to consider: will you be able to visit when you want? To read an article from 2018 that offers some examples of the cost of attending college football games…without inflation, click here.
  • “We live out of state, and my daughter only wants to to to College Z, but being out of state, we are going to have to get loans for everything. I’m worried about the debt. Anyone else?” I feel so badly for this mom. She clearly cares about her child’s happiness. But I worry about their taking on unnecessary debt. I know lots of people who tell their children they can’t go out-of-state, because of cost. I have a friend who went out of state for a specific major; when she changed her major, her parents told her, “Then you’re coming back to our state. We aren’t paying out of state tuition if you can get the same degree in-state.” And she did. I feel like, in the 1980s, when I was a teenager, lots of parents told their kids they had to stay in-state. The person who created the post in question is sending her child to a school that is going to cost her $50-$55K per year…all in loans. She could likely send her to an in-state public university for $30k or less per year. Big difference: $200k vs $120k. If you can afford the out-of-state tuition, it’s one thing, but she would be taking on all that as debt when her child can likely find an acceptable, fun in-state school. Remember what the Rolling Stones said: You can’t always get what you want. What to consider: Are you or your child going to be in debt forever for an educational experience they could get closer to home for less?

Here’s my official disclaimer: I am not a college counselor. I am not a professional anything. I am a parent of a high school senior, and the posts above are from parent pages of different colleges. Trust me when I say these are tame examples. Some of them are real doozies.

My thoughts? Do your own homework about the school, all possible hidden costs, and as many different situations as you can conjure up in your brain. It seems like a lot of the posts I see are about money and mental health. Do your homework. It can make a big difference in whether your child will be happy and healthy or not…and whether you’ll be able to visit each other during the school year or not.

And good luck with the process. One day, we will look back on this with fond memories.

***If you are on a college parents’ page and have seen some submissions to share, please send them to me in a private message! Maybe we will have a Part 2!***

A Holiday Village

A holiday village.

Today started as a a standard Saturday morning. I got up at about 8:30 and prepared breakfast. OK, so I don’t do that every Saturday, but I should. Our daughter had a 10am lacrosse game, so I wanted to make sure she had plenty of energy…scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, and “special” toast. (I’ll post info about that later.)

After breakfast, she got dressed quickly and left for the field. After loading the dishwasher, I slapped on a little makeup and threw on some comfy yoga pants and a sweatshirt before going to the field with my husband. The girls won their game, and we all headed home.

As soon as our daughter got home at about 11:25, she told me she needed to get cleaned up before going to a Secret Santa party, but she had to stop and purchase a gift on the way. I felt my pulse quicken and my blood pressure rising, because I knew she would have to drive 20 minutes to the party. There was no way she could pull it all off.

I asked her, “Do you want me to run to a boutique and get a gift? You could stop by there on your way to the party and get it from me.” She agreed that was a good plan, and I was off to the boutique…showerless and in the same yoga pants/hoodie I had worn to the lacrosse game…clothes I shouldn’t have even worn to a Saturday morning sporting event, and I definitely shouldn’t have worn them to a boutique. But there was no time to change. I had planned to take a shower after the game, but that could wait.

I arrived at the boutique and immediately found a gift. Just as I was taking it up to pay for it and get it wrapped, a friend of my daughter’s walked in. I knew she was shopping for the same party, and she knew why I was there. She then very graciously offered to take the gift to the party so my daughter wouldn’t have to make an extra stop. Wow! Things were coming together!

When I got back to my car, I called my daughter and told her she could go straight to the party, because her friend was taking her gift.

My morning had not gone as planned, but disaster had been averted! It had taken a village, but it had all worked out. Of course, as a mom, I was the only one who still needed a shower.

I posted about it on Facebook, and one friend said, “Kinda makes you worry that she’ll be fine on her own at college next year, doesn’t it?” Indeed, it does. But I can’t get too crazy about it, because I was the same person at 18. And I went off to college, and somehow, things worked out.

I was lucky I found a supportive village in college pretty quickly. I made great lifelong friends, and I’m sure they can all tell stories of rescuing me in different situations, just like I can tell stories of rescuing them in different situations. That’s how bonds form, right? And it’s how memories are made in college. Every time I spend time with friends from colleges, we talk about shared experiences…and often the stories involve disasters we averted!

It made me realize that next year at this time, our daughter will be having Secret Santa parties at her university. And I find myself hoping she finds a good village there…a holiday village that helps her…and a village in which she will help others. When she needs that last-minute gift and can’t get it, I hope someone will jump into action for her. And when a member of her village needs help carrying lots of boxes from the parking lot to her dorm room, my daughter will help her. It’s what makes friendships.

We all need villages to help us raise our kids. I thank the Lord every day for the village that helped me get our daughter to 18. I talk often about how I don’t know how I would have survived without my friends in our toddler playgroup. They have been a part of my village for a long time. We all need villages to help us with those last-minute items. We need villages when we’re sick. And yes, we especially need villages during the holidays…like the one my daughter had today.

I hope when she gets to college hundreds of miles away from me, she finds her village.

Holiday Gifting 2021 (Part 3): College Students

Gifting for college students.

This is on my brain for a reason…our daughter is off to college next fall. This holiday season, we plan to start getting her prepared for dorm life. Yes, dorm life! I know all college students don’t live in dorms, so this list has lots of ideas for the college student who lives in a dorm and for the college student who doesn’t. I did a lot of research and gave it a lot of thought, and here are my gift suggestions:

  • She’s Birdie Personal Alarm. I saw this on Shark Tank, and it immediately made me think of my younger years. I remember being in college and having to park in a dark area in the parking lot at night…then jumping out of the car and running as fast as I could to my dorm. Even after college, I remember going out in Buckhead (Atlanta) with friends and walking to my car alone. It was scary. I wish I’d had a She’s Birdie Personal Alarm then. It’s a small keychain alarm that is equipped with a loud alarm and strobe lights. Walking from the library to the dorm at night? Hold the She’s Birdie alarm in your hand and simply press the button if you need the alarm. Priced at $29.99 on Amazon, it’s a bargain for some peace of mind. Our daughter will receive one of these for Christmas this year. And frankly, I will probably get one for myself too! To purchase, click here.
She’s Birdie personal alarm
  • Crunch Cup XL. I love this idea, and I think it’s perfect for the busy college student. It’s advertised as a portable cereal cup…no spoon, no bowl. “It’s cereal on the go.” Honestly, I think my daughter could use this right now, her senior year of high school. She will definitely find one of these under the tree this year. I don’t know that she will use it “on the go” in college, but I do think she will use it in her dorm room. Priced at $24.95 on Amazon, it comes in several different colors. See it here.
Crunch Cup XL
  • Games. Sure, college students need to study, but they need downtime too. When I was in college, we went out a lot at night, but on nights we stayed in, during study breaks, we enjoyed playing games. Our favorite then was Yahtzee, and we played it all the time! Now, there are lots of fun “card” games college students love to play, and they make great gifts. There’s one called Cards Against Humanity that’s especially popular. And there are others: For the Girls, We’re Not Really Strangers, Never Have I Ever, That’s What She Said…and more. You can find all of these on Amazon or in your local Target or Walmart in the games aisle. You can purchase Cards Against Humanity from Amazon for $25 here.
Cards Against Humanity
  • Giant Hoodie. This is a great gift for a college student…or anyone else on your list. I discovered the Giant Hoodie company a year or two ago, and I had to have some for myself. Now I give them as gifts all the time. My daughter loves hers. They’re big hoodies that are one size fits all, so you don’t have to worry about insulting someone by getting the wrong size. And for students living in dorms, they can just throw it on with some PJ pants or sweatpants for some cozy comfort that’s OK to wear out of the dorm too. You can purchase directly from the company or order through Amazon for $60. On Amazon, they offer the bleach dyed version, which is my favorite. The ones that aren’t bleach dyed are softer, but the bleach died ones have more body, in my opinion, so I prefer those. To purchase on Amazon, click here.
Giant Hoodie Bleach Dye Hoodie
  • Portable Charger. I know I put this on every list, but I believe everyone should have a good portable charger. Our family uses them all the time…when we’re traveling, at sporting events…any time we find ourselves running low on battery power with our cell phones. Many times, my daughter’s friends have had to borrow one. They’re handy when you don’t have access to a plug-in power cord (in class or in the library, maybe?). The Anker Power Core 10000 gets great reviews. It charges fast (full phone charge in about an hour!) and it lasts a long time. Prices start at $24.99 on Amazon for the black version, and it’s $31.99 for different colors. See it here.
Power Core 10000
  • Storage Ottoman. Don’t we all remember those tiny dorm rooms? Everyone needs more storage, and these cute ottomans serve several purposes, because they also have side pockets for your phone, tablet, or book. Even better, these are collapsible and fold away for easy storage when not in use. Priced at $24.95, they’re a bargain, and they come in two colors: purple (shown below) and khaki. See them at Amazon here.
Storage Ottoman
  • Inflatable Chair. OK, so it’s not necessarily practical for home use, but this can be great in a tiny dorm room, because they can be inflated when someone needs a chair and deflated when you don’t need it. I remember having friends visit in my dorm room, and I didn’t want them to have to sit on the floor, but I didn’t want them sitting on my bed either. This would have been perfect for me back in 1985! Priced at $41.95 on Amazon here. You might consider purchasing an electric air pump as well.
Inflatable Chair
  • Weighted Blanket. I’ve sung the praises of the weighted blanket before, and I continue…because they’re awesome. I often sleep with mine on my feet and legs, because somehow, it relaxes me. College students know a little something about stress, so why not help them with that by providing a weighted blanket? The most popular, highly rated brand (by Good Housekeeping) seems to be the Gravity Blanket. You can find them on Amazon here, priced from $79 to $199.
Gravity Blanket
  • Bedside Caddy. Lots of college students who live in dorms tend to raise their beds, so they have more room underneath. For those students, a bedside caddy can help keep frequently used items handy, so they don’t have to keep climbing (literally) in and out of bed. I spoke with a couple of current college students, and they both like the Zafit caddy from Amazon. Priced at just $7.99, it’s a steal! And students will definitely use it! See it here.
Zafit Bedside Caddy
  • Noise-Cancelling Headphones. Studying in a group-living situation can be difficult. There are distractions everywhere…lots of opportunities to abandon studying. And there is noise. Anyone who has ever lived in a dorm knows sometimes the noise is out of hand. That’s where noise-cancelling headphones can come in handy. They make a great gift. There are lots of different brands, but Anker SoundCore has them starting at $49 on Amazon…and they get great reviews! See them here.
Anker SoundCore Noise Cancelling Headphones
  • First Aid Kit. Every college student needs a good first aid kit, and according to Business Insider, the best one is the First Aid Only All-Purpose Essentials Soft-Sided First Aid Kit, which is available on Amazon right now for $20.01. It contains 298 pieces and includes Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen tablets, which are not included in many. Personally, I would add more analgesics, a Flonase, allergy meds, and some Neosporin to make it complete. Get it at Amazon here.
First Aid Only Kit
  • Nightlight and Alarm Clock. There’s nothing worse than getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and stubbing a toe, and it can happen easily in a tiny dorm room. We know students need alarm clocks, so why not get a cute one with a built-in night light and a bluetooth speaker, to boot?! The one that keeps showing up when I’m looking is made by WamGra and is available on Amazon for $38.99 here.

Nightlight Alarm Clock/Bluetooth speaker
  • Kanga Kase Mate. This is a late addition. I found this when I was researching gifts for men, and it occurred to me I needed to come back and add this to the list of gifts for college students. It’s not secret lots of students like to drink beer. Those same students need a cooler, and if they aren’t old enough to drink beer, they need a cooler for their soft drinks. This Kanga Kase Mate is iceless! It’s an insulated cooler that keeps your cold beer, well, cold. With prices starting at $39.99, it’s a deal. See the offerings at Kanga here.
  • Away Luggage and Baboon to the Moon. I’ve mentioned both of these in other holiday gift posts, but they need to be mentioned here too, since college students like to stay on the go. I see college students visiting their friends at different colleges all the time, and they need easy luggage. Away has well-built rollable luggage that carry a lifetime warranty. I have the original carry-on size, and it holds way more than I ever imagined it would. Add a mini go-bag from Baboon to the Moon (a crazy name for a really well-constructed, waterproof bag) and I can pack enough for five or even six days in just those two bags. See Away Luggage here, and Baboon to the Moon here.
  • Gift Cards. If you don’t know anything else about college students, you should know they love gift cards. They love gift cards from lots of different places, but here are the ones I recommend: Uber (for late-night rides home), Amazon (they also love Prime Memberships), ChickFilA, Starbucks, Domino’s Pizza, Best Buy, PostMates, GrubHub, Target, Walmart, Netflix, Hulu, Whole Foods, Publix, The Container Store, H&M, and any local eateries. You can buy different company gift cards in Target and probably in your local grocery store. Or purchase online from each company. Students will definitely use gift cards, and be generous if you can!
Gift cards
  • Cash. I know lots of people don’t like to give cash, but students love cold hard cash. Give a college student some cash, and watch a face light up! Or you can even send money via Venmo. I often give cash as gifts with a card that labels it as “walking around money,” or “WAM,” as my daddy used to call it. Everybody needs a little money in their pockets, and while etiquette might tell you cash is not the way to go, I can guarantee most college students are going to appreciate it.

So get busy shopping now for those current or future college students! Our daughter will be getting several of the gifts listed above. All the gifts listed above are pretty easy to get right away, but I can’t promise they’ll be available as the holidays get closer!

Moms Stick Together

Moms stick together.

My daughter, a senior in high school, was just accepted to my alma mater, and we have paid the enrollment deposit. Next fall, she will be attending a university that is 450 miles away from home…450 miles away from us! But thinking about it doesn’t cause me great stress, for a number of reasons. One reason is that we live in Charlotte, a hub city for American Airlines. We can hop on one of five or six daily flights and be by her side pretty quickly. Another reason? I’m familiar with the surroundings there; there is some comfort in familiarity. The main reason? I know lots of people who live pretty close to the university who can act quickly to help her if needed. There is a lot of comfort in that.

Last Friday, at a high school football game, I was chatting with the mother of another senior, and she told me her son is interested in the same school, but they are hesitant for him to go there, because it’s so far away! A six or seven hour drive! I reminded her that we can be there quickly on American Airlines. And then I told her what every mom really wants to hear: I have lots of friends in the area who can be there to help with just one phone call, and I’m happy to make introductions. Moms like to know their college-age kids have someone to help them if they need it. Sure, they’ll be eighteen years old, but people need support systems…even at my age, I need a support system. When I told my friend that I know other moms and dads there who will be happy to help, I could see her relax. “Really? That makes me feel so much better,” she said.

One thing I’ve learned from being a mother for the last almost-18-years is that moms have to support each other. We have to stick together. We have to help each other.

Three years ago, my friend, Wendy, passed away after a long battle with various forms of cancer. I had met Wendy through a toddler playgroup right after my daughter turned one. Today is her 50th birthday, so I’ve had her on my mind. I posted something on Instagram and on Facebook about her birthday, and all our playgroup moms commented. One of them sent a text saying, “Thinking of Wendy today and that always makes me think of you all and the playgroup that saved my life and enriched my girls’ childhood. Love you all.” And she wasn’t exaggerating. We were all first-time moms when we met, and we truly saved each other. We started as a weekly playgroup but went on to become best friends, support systems, confidantes…we saved each other, for sure. With toddlers, life can be lonely, but our weekly playgroup turned into friendship so strong that we gathered almost daily. It saved our sanity and gave our kids a support group too!

All our kids went on to different preschools, kindergartens, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. They’ll probably all go to different colleges. But along the way, they’ve always known that core playgroup was rooting for them. They might not get together regularly, but they’re still friends. They know who they really are. They know their childhood would not have been the same without each other. And along the way, the playgroup moms have added other support systems, but we still know we have each other…no matter what.

I know our kids have learned a lot from us (and vice versa), but I hope that, along the way, they learned the importance of finding and maintaining a good support system. They saw their moms supporting each other, propping each other up when it was needed. I like to think they know that, no matter where they are in college, if they need someone to call, they can always call one of the playgroup moms. They can even call one of the playgroup kids…the ones who are almost adults now. And I hope they share that support system with other people who need it.

Don’t we all feel like that mom who is concerned about her son being 450 miles away without a support system? Don’t we all like to know there is someone we can call or someone our children can call in an emergency, or if they just need to talk with someone?

Two weeks ago, a college friend I haven’t seen in years texted me, telling me she was afraid her teenage son might be stranded in the Charlotte Airport and asking me about hotels near the airport. There is no way I would have let her teenage son go to a hotel, and I’m sure she knew that, but she didn’t want to impose. I texted her back, saying, “I don’t live too far from the airport. If he is stranded, call me, and I will bring him to our house for the night.” Another friend in Ohio had called me two weeks before that, asking if I could pick up an Ohio friend’s daughter at the airport and keep her for the night if she missed her connection. Of course I could! I was flattered to be asked! And you know why?!?! Because I want to be part of someone’s support system. I certainly would have called on those friends to help my daughter if needed!

So yes, we moms have to stick together…especially the moms of high school seniors who are preparing to go off to college. I’m putting it out there now: if your child is going to college in or near Charlotte, put me on your list of people to call in an emergency. I’ll always help.

Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be…

Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be…

Songwriters Ed and Patsy Bruce wrote a country song titled Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys back in the 1970s, and Mr. Bruce released it on his album in 1975. (For the record, I prefer to spell it as “mamas” instead of “mammas,” but that’s how it’s spelled in the song.) The version I’m more familiar with was recorded and released by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson in 1978. I’m not a big country music fan, but for some reason, I’m familiar with that song. The song lists a whole host of reasons mammas shouldn’t let their babies grow up to be cowboys. You can hear it here.

I don’t recall anyone telling me, when I was growing up, that they wanted to grow up to be a cowboy. I remember my daddy saying that when he was little, he wanted to be a cowboy when he grew up. Western movies were all the rage then. But one day it occurred to him that his daddy was a cowboy…running a farm…and as soon as he realized it, he knew he didn’t want to be a cowboy. He didn’t want to do what his daddy did when he grew up. I’m sure he had mad respect for his hardworking daddy, but he didn’t want to follow in his footsteps that way.

Recently, I flew home from Miami on American Airlines, and I found myself seated next to a lady who works for a department within the federal government. I didn’t get her whole name, and I don’t even know her official position, but she told me she majored in Criminal Justice. My own daughter had expressed an interest in that at one time, and I said to her, “What are you going to do?” I don’t even remember what her response was, but I forgot about the conversation and moved on, thinking that was probably just something she said on a whim. But in talking with the lady on the plane, I began to second-guess myself. She had majored in Criminal Justice and loves what she does! I shouldn’t have been so dismissive of my daughter’s desire to major in Criminal Justice. It’s her life! She gets to decide what she wants to do with it, and maybe she knows something I don’t!

When I got home, I went to my daughter and apologized for poo-pooing her idea. We had a long conversation about her future, and I told her I had just gotten a reminder that it is her future, after all. She can major in whatever she wants, but we need to discuss, so we can make sure she gets all the information she needs before deciding on a major. She needs to understand what kinds of careers she can have with what kinds of majors. She needs to make an informed decision. And I was reminded of that once more just two days later, when we met with the assistant dean of a division of a university we visited. He talked with her about who she is and what she enjoys, and he suggested some majors she probably didn’t even know existed…and the careers that go with them.

It’s a big world out there with lots of opportunities. For me, I think I have realized it’s important that I help our daughter decide what she wants to do, but I don’t tell her what she can and can’t do. That’s for her to decide. It’s her life.

That being said, if she comes to me and says she wants to be a cowgirl when she grows up, I won’t tell her she can’t, but I might discourage her for any number of reasons. She has ridden horses but doesn’t have a whole lot of experience in that department. And there aren’t a whole lot of cowgirls in cities. I just don’t see her living in a rural area, so the cowgirl life could be tough for her in, say, the greater metropolitan Los Angeles area…or New York…or Chicago…or even Charlotte, for that matter.

She’ll be off to college next year, and who knows what she will major in or how many times she will change her major? I just want her to do something that helps her become a contributing member of society while being able to take care of herself.

College for Your Teen

College for your teen…

Where do you want your teen to go to college?

Someone asked me that question recently. It didn’t take me long to answer, because I know exactly where I want her to go.

I have always thought she would love a big state university. I went to a big state university and loved every minute, so I have always thought she might like the “full college experience,” just like I did.

And then sometimes, she will tell me about some smaller schools that interest her…different ones all over the country. It’s then that I think, “Maybe one of those will be best for her.” Maybe she would like being on a small campus in a cute little town somewhere.

There are so many colleges and universities all over the country to choose from. Almost anyone who wants to go to college can likely find a place that work for them. Interested in big time sports? Check out state universities. Interested in the arts? Check out liberal arts schools near you. Interested in a smaller school setting? Looking for a school that has a high commuter population? You want a school that doesn’t have a high commuter population? You can likely find something that works.

But with so many options, the decision can be difficult. I peruse brochures that come in the mail. I take virtual tours online of different campuses. I talk to friends about where they went to college and listen to their college stories. And honestly, if you talk to the right person, almost every college experience sounds great. I always encourage my daughter to talk to people about their experiences.

It can be difficult to choose.

But here’s the thing: the decision isn’t mine to make. It’s my daughter’s.

My husband and I decided a long time ago that we want her to go to the college of her choice. We want her to find her people. We want her to go into the college experience knowing she picked exactly what she wanted. We want her to be excited. When she has tough days adjusting to college life, we don’t want her to think, “If my parents had let me go where I wanted to go, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Sure, I can listen to her and help her make the decision, but she will make the decision. This is a teenager who, as a toddler, wanted to make her own decisions. She’s got this.

We have made “unofficial” visits to colleges all over the country, just so she could get a feel for the campuses. She has narrowed it down to five or six that she likes. But she’s just entering her junior year of high school. She could find new places of interest over the next two years. She will likely learn about colleges she doesn’t even know exist, and it’s possible some of them could look interesting to her.

So when someone asks me where I want her to go to college, I will give them the same answer I gave my friend a few days ago:

I want her to go where she wants to go.

For the next two years, I will be an innocent bystander in the college search process…simply a facilitator. I will make sure she has access to information about lots of different types of schools. If there is a college she wants to visit, we will do it. If there’s a college she wants to mark off the list…by all means, mark it off the list. Because, when it comes right down to it, it’s her life. She gets to live it. She is quickly approaching adulthood, and she needs to know how to make decisions. I firmly believe a child/teen who isn’t ever allowed to make decisions will become an adult who doesn’t know how to make decisions. I’m going to trust that my daughter will make the right decision for herself, and I’m excited for her to do it.

She has two years to decide.

Let’s get this party started!

An Accidental Reunion

An accidental reunion.

Earlier this week, I told my teenage daughter to pack a bag, because we were making an impromptu trip to a college in another state for an “unofficial” visit. She’s a rising high school junior, so it’s time to start getting an idea about where she might like to continue her education. Most admissions offices at colleges are not open now because of COVID, so “official” visits aren’t happening, but what was to stop us from going to a campus and checking things out on our own? Since it seems all we have done is go to the beach this summer, I was ready to roll to almost anywhere that wasn’t the beach. So we quickly packed our bags with a single change of clothes and the essentials, and we hit the road.

When I say we packed “essentials,” I mean we absolutely packed bare bones. I took a change of clothes, something to sleep in, any medications we might need, and toiletries…hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant. That’s it. I didn’t take makeup, because we were just going to be staying for one night and weren’t going to spend any time socializing. On the way out of town, we did a swing through the ChickFilA drive-thru for some lunch, and my daughter made a hotel reservation for us while I drove.

We had 3 1/2 hours to talk while we were on our way there, and because we took the scenic route, we had lots of cute little towns to see and some beautiful scenery too!

We arrived on the college campus at about 4:30 in the afternoon and went straight to the campus bookstore. I learned a long time ago that the campus bookstore is a good place to start. It’s usually easy to find, and shopping is always fun! We purchased a few items before the store closed at 5pm, and we set out driving around, trying to get a feel for the university. We looked at dorms…all from the outside of course…and we also got a feel for the campus by looking for different areas…the science buildings, education buildings, athletic facilities, sorority and fraternity housing…and of course, the always important football stadium, which was impressive, for sure.

We then checked into our hotel and walked to dinner at a nearby restaurant to discuss everything we had seen. While we were at dinner, I posted a few pictures, and then…bam! Two of my friends from college who live nearby commented, reminding me that they live there! How had I forgotten they lived there?!?! I have seen one of them a few times over the last couple of years, when she visited Charlotte, and I last saw the other one nine years ago when we had a planned reunion at the Virginia Creeper bike trail. After hearing from them, we scheduled a lunch for the next day…an accidental reunion! What an amazing surprise in the middle of this road trip!

The next morning, my daughter and I checked out a few more things on the college campus before meeting my “old” friends for lunch! Here’s the great thing about being 53 and getting together with friends from college…it’s always comfortable! It’s always easy! There was absolutely no awkwardness about it as we reminisced about old times but laughed and talked about what’s going on in our lives now too. The three of us met when we were 18 and 19 years old, and here we are…more than 30 years later…still able to fall right back in where we left off…without missing a beat! We talked about funny memories…it was the 80s when we were in college, after all! And they weren’t appalled by and didn’t make fun of my makeup-free, t-shirt clad look!

We’re all 30+ years older and wiser. I’d be willing to bet we’re even 30 years more fun…which would be quite an accomplishment, since we were a lot of fun in college! Next time I’m there, we’ll make time for some fun! One friend has a grown daughter in her 20s, and the other has two boys…both college age. I’m behind the curve with a 16-yr-old, but I loved that my daughter was there to meet these lovely ladies I’ve known for more than half my life. She enjoyed meeting them, and afterward, she told me she had decided, after meeting them, that maybe I was cool when I was younger after all! I’m not sure what she thought I was like before, but apparently, she wasn’t sure I was “cool.”

Over lunch, we also talked about actually planning a reunion…maybe another trip to the Virginia Creeper Trail, since it’s fun, super easy, and in a cute town. Last time, we stayed at the lovely Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon (for info, click here) and took in a show at the Barter Theater, the State Theater of Virginia. The Barter is even staging shows during COVID at a local closed drive-in theater! (For info on The Barter Theater, click here.) Maybe next time, we can stay at the Martha Washington Inn again and look for some ghosts while we’re there. I’ve heard the place is haunted, but we didn’t encounter any spooky visitors while we were there. And the restaurant at the hotel, called Sisters, was fabulous.

Even more exciting to me is the possibility that I could see these ladies more often if my daughter opts to go to college in the town where they live! Wow! I could visit my daughter and hang out with my old friends too! Plus, she would have a couple of surrogate moms nearby.

I’m so glad we had our accidental reunion! It was a bright spot in the middle of all this COVID madness…a much needed visit with some dear friends.