College Drop Off: 18 Important Lessons

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but college drop off is as heartbreaking as you imagined. It’s so cliché, but I blinked and poof… there we were trolling the isles of Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond looking for perfect college dorm essentials.  Mind you, I do feel as though I drew the long straw, since according to my friends with daughters heading to college, their world has been filled with Pinterest boards, etsy shops and color coding research for the past 6 months.  Each question I posed to my son about bedding colors, towels etc. were all met with, “I don’t care mom, you pick one”. Sigh. Men are from Mars and Women really are from Venus.
college drop off with my son
So there we were in Target. This is my ‘mom-mode’ element. We bought laundry products, rugs, coffee pods and everything in between. I even threw a box of condoms into the shopping cart. To be clear, I’m not promoting college sex, or even condoning it. We’ve had many talks about our family values and expectations regarding sex, however I’m not completely clueless. I think we all remember our college years (hello saran wrap party), and I told him the only things I want him leaving college with are a fantastic education, and friends for life.
college dorm set up with my son
This is his roommate and soccer team mate!
target college drop off dorm shopping
Dad looks particularly thrilled during our all day shopping extravaganza! 😉

We headed back to his dorm and began the transformation from the prison-esque room into a home.  In the spirit of honestly, the room and storage space were much larger than I anticipated. This was the fun part of college drop off. We hung clothes, installed hooks, set up his desk, bed, and created a kitchen.  It was perfect. The grand finale was hanging his personal belongings on the wall to remind him of home.  

At some point during dorm set up I needed the rest room. Good news is his bathroom is across the hall, bad news is one toilet, one shower, two sinks, and four 18-year-old men. I had to stop myself from throwing up in my mouth a little as I flashed forward 20 days….then I realized, NOT MY PROBLEM!

college dorm life

He moved into his dorm on Monday, and we were flying out Wednesday morning. In my mind when we booked airline tickets, I thought we’d spend one last day as a family doing something cool in the area. But nope, that wasn’t to be. Turns out he wanted to ‘hang with the guys’, ‘wasn’t sure what time they’d want to eat’ and ‘might be in a team mates room’. I’m not going to lie, my feelings were hurt. I had the ideal scenario planned out and this was not it. I was in tears. Driving away from campus.  BUT, he was doing exactly what he should be doing… connecting, making new friends and starting to settle in. And it now doesn’t involve me. Turns out we were there a day too long and I felt like the lingering parent.

moving into a college dorm

We let him be, went back to our hotel, poured a big glass of wine, and waited patiently for him to text regarding dinner.  It was torture not texting for an update on timing, but I didn’t.  I waited (not so patiently) for him to make contact with me. I was beginning to realize this is how it works now whether I like it or not. When I received the text saying they were ready for dinner, my heart almost jumped out of my chest. This was it. The ‘Last Supper’ so to speak. His roommate joined us (who is lovely by the way), and we ate Thai food.  I could barely eat, and had a thumping head ache and began to feel dizzy. The whole meal I heard myself blathering about things they should remember, clubs that look exciting and their new soccer team. 

At one point I looked across the table at his handsome face and wanted to squeeze him so hard it hurt. My stomach started to ache. And just as quickly, I saw a slight look of apprehension cross his face and quickly shifted from my own pity party to being his cheerleader. Because he needed me to be his champion at that moment. The rest of dinner passed in a haze, until we found ourselves standing outside his dorm. This was it. I gave his roommate a big hug then he disappeared to give us space to say goodbye.

saying goodbye to college student

This is where I deserve an Oscar. I had a speech I’d rehearsed with points I wanted to hit that I’d found in the hundreds of articles I’d read leading up to this moment. But when he looked down at me and pulled me into those big manly arms, I almost lost it. He held onto me, and kissed the top of my head, and told me that he loves me so much and will miss me. I wasn’t expecting him to get the first word in. My throat felt swollen, tears were silently running down my cheeks and I was willing myself to keep it together. I took huge breaths, looked up at his beautiful face and said; you have the tools you need to do this, you are fully prepared for this (at this point my alter ego was screaming LIAR LIAR please don’t leave me), and I want you to take every opportunity that comes your way (well, back to those condoms… not every opportunity). That’s pretty much all I could get out without my voice cracking and snot bubbles flying from my nose. I held tightly for a little longer and told him I loved him, I’m proud of him, then walked away with fake confidence

college drop off - saying goodbye

I cried all the way home. It was ugly and I’m pretty sure the flight attendants thought someone had died.  I wasn’t crying because I was sad. I was crying because I was happy for him. I did it. He was happy and going to thrive in his new home. I was also crying because the daily chemistry in my home was now going to be different, and I really enjoyed the way things were the past 18 years.

As we’re all trying to figure out our new normal, I’m realizing a mother’s work is never done and the sadness I feel is all about me. Here are some important lessons I learned at college drop off.

College Drop-Off: 18 Important Lessons 

  1. Hooks, hooks and more hooks.  Over the door hooks, command hooks… you can’t have enough
  2. Explain again what “no” means. Like, for real.  This is so important
  3. Remind him to call mom
  4. Don’t linger.  It’s super hard for your kid to make new friends with mom standing right there
  5. Place those hooks we talked about earlier by the door on the wall to keep wet towels off the bed, and also to avoid mold. I’m pretty sure they won’t be washed with the same frequency as home
  6. Take lots of pictures… your child will complain, but this is a moment in history for your family and you’ll want to document.  Heck, bribe him with food if you have to, but take lots of pictures
  7. Remind him of the value of a firm handshake and remembering people’s names
  8. Remind him he can never say “please” and “thank you” too often
  9. Exchange numbers with the room-mate and his parents if possible… back up emergency plans are essential
  10. Remind him to be the type of friend he wants to have.
  11. If he gets that tattoo he’s been talking about for 2 years, strongly suggest the word “Mom” inside a heart.
  12. Remind him he can always charge the taxi/Uber to your account if he needs to get home safely and there is even a question about driving safely
  13. Tell him to not let friends drive drunk.  I’ll pay for their taxi/Uber too.
  14. Discuss communication expectations. I’m not trying to annoy you, I just miss you and want to know how you’re doing. So please give me detailed updates
  15. If you’ve been drinking, drink a big glass of water before you go to sleep
  16. Let him know if he fails to respond to calls/texts for more than a day, I’ll assume he’s dead or stuck under something heavy. It’s a mom thing.
  17. Remind him to brush his teeth every morning… aside from cavities, morning breath does not attract friends
  18. Did I mention call your mom?

I made it through college drop off and an era has officially ended. I can’t sugar coat this… it sucks and it sucks hard. However I’m now ready to take a step back and watch his life unfold, knowing that even when we’re not together, our family is forever bonded. 

Do you have any other tips to help college drop off go smoothly?

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About The Author


I’m a travel and health writer, digital brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising an active family, life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.


  1. Terri Lee | 25th Jan 20

    You’re killing me! I have twin boys both going off to college this Fall and I am so not ready. It’s going to hurt so much to lose them both at the same time. This house will be so quiet and I will miss hugging them the most.

    • Samantha | 28th Jan 20

      ahhh twins! I couldn’t even imagine! The good news is that I’m 6 months into his first semester and it’s actually not as sad as I expected it to be. It’s lovely to see him thriving, growing, forging his way and I’m sure you’ll feel the same. It’s just getting through that initial ripping off of the bandaid. Hang in there momma! XX

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