Set Your Alarm
August 14, 2018 12:55 PM   Subscribe

What can parents do to better prepare a highschool senior for college?

My oldest son is in his last year of highschool. My husband and I are hardly helicopter parents but we have been there to remind, make lunches, do laundry, and even make sure our kids are up in the morning when they sleep through alarms. I know— we should let them sleep through the alarm. Easier said than done.

Highschool senior son makes good grades, has a fast food job, has a gym membership that he uses regularly, has his group of friends, and drives. He loves fast food and eats a lot of Taco Bell and Wendy’s. He plans on attending a state university.

While away at college I’m afraid he’s not going to clean his toilet, live in filth, eat fast food for every meal, and sleep all day. I know he will live and learn but I’m looking for grow-up-fast strategies and ways to help him this year so he’ll cope well and succeed in his college years. Kind of like “you’re an adult now” bootcamp.

Most of the time he doesn’t want or need our help. I know we were supposed to be preparing him since birth to leave the nest but what if we only have a year?

Any advice appreciated— financial, emotional, practical. Thank you.
posted by loveandhappiness to Grab Bag (48 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend the dorms - the ones where you have a roommate, a shared bathroom with an entire hall, and some type of food service. That way he's not responsible for his own dinner or cleaning, sleeping in will be less because there is someone X feet away, and someone to tell him his clothes stink.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:03 PM on August 14, 2018 [21 favorites]

I think the most important thing is some knowledge about finances and budgeting. It's good that he has a job already. Does he have his own checking account? Have you talked to him about your household finances? Does he know about credit card interest? Credit cards heavily market to clueless college students who don't understand the consequence of instant gratification.

What chores does he do now? I knew how to do my own laundry and dishes and clean the bathroom because I did those chores myself. A senior in high school should be doing their own laundry IMO. That being said, he will probably not clean his toilet. He will probably eat fast food and live in filth and he will probably sleep through some 8am classes (I know I did, and I was punished for it by nearly failing a class!). All of this is part of learning to be an adult that he will do when he lives alone for the first time, no matter the circumstance.
posted by muddgirl at 1:04 PM on August 14, 2018 [18 favorites]

Start with laundry right now--he can do his own. Is he managing his own finances? That's another thing he should have a good understanding of (checking accounts, what it means to have a credit card, etc.) before he leaves the nest.
posted by msbubbaclees at 1:05 PM on August 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also I got around missing 8:00am classes by never scheduling one. That's also good advice. Find a schedule that works for him.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:05 PM on August 14, 2018 [19 favorites]

Not sure if he has any experience drinking booze, but it can be a recipe for disaster to send a kid to college without any understanding of what it is like to be intoxicated.
posted by bigplugin at 1:06 PM on August 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

Seconding that a freshman should live in a dorm and have a meal plan (some schools even require that freshmen live in a dorm). This is a good way to transition from home to college life.

Does he already do chores and such at home - i.e. does he know how to do his own laundry, clean a toilet, sew on the odd lost button, make or buy ingredients of a decent meal (lunch or dinner), does he grocery shop with you all sometimes, and so have a sense of prices and how to buy reasonable and basically healthy stuff, does he help with meal prep at home, and can/does he cook something basic for you all sometimes (I'm thinking spaghetti and such) .... If yes, then you have probably done as much as you can. If not, now would be the time to work on this stuff. (I'm the one who taught my freshman year boyfriend how to do laundry, and I did it because his clothes stank. This ... was not good.)
posted by gudrun at 1:09 PM on August 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

Honestly, it sounds like he's going to be just fine. Having a job and going to the gym regularly are great, and put him ahead of a lot of first year college students. Dorm is a good idea for socializing with a range of people (and having them as comparisons for his own lifestyle).

Yes to making him do his own laundry and pack his own lunch starting now. But also, the internet exists, he can figure out how to do his laundry / clean things / feed himself - this is mostly about him becoming more independent vs. gaining skills.
posted by momus_window at 1:14 PM on August 14, 2018 [8 favorites]

I’m afraid he’s not going to clean his toilet, live in filth, eat fast food for every meal, and sleep all day

Almost everyone I know did this in college for a while. Then eventually you get sick of it and experience consequences and stop. They're mostly successful, happy, professional adults now. So maybe don't think of this as a terrible thing to avoid but as a developmental stage that has to be moved through.

The best thing you can do is let him start managing his time now while you're there to catch him if he drives over the cliff.
posted by bq at 1:20 PM on August 14, 2018 [36 favorites]

Some great websites to introduce him to:

Unfuck your Habitat (assuming you are not Amish and have said these kinds of grown-up words around him.) This has lists of cleaning things and how frequently they should be done. Also, FWIW my boys have been doing their own laundry since they were 10. They can operate video game controllers with 57 buttons...they can easily learn how to work the washer and dryer.

For basic financial literacy, I'm a fan of Mr. Money Mustache and Cash Course. Make sure to teach him how to monitor his spending categories in Excel, Quicken, etc. Read the Mr. Money Mustache blog post about how "A Millionaire is Made $10 at a Time" and show him the miracle of compound interest with spreadsheet calculators!

Good luck! We have one in his second year and one starting next year. It's an adventure...
posted by SinAesthetic at 1:21 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Make him learn a few quick recipes, like grilled sandwiches or fried rice.
posted by typify at 1:21 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

So my kid sounds very much like yours, except mine is now in his last year of college and he's 21 (!!). Anyway, I worried and worried and tried to prepare him and made him do his laundry and he had a regular list of chores that included cleaning the bathroom, all since he was barely in double digits, let alone a high school senior.

And then he went off to college and when he came home the first time (Thanksgiving; he goes to college a long way away), he literally stuffed his suitcase and backpack with ALL of his dirty laundry (which, let's face it, was ALL of his clothing) because he procrastinated so long before break. And when he got a single room with a sink the next year, the first time we visited (in October), it was DISGUSTING.

Has he grown out of a lot of it? Yes and no. Every guy I dated in college pretty much lived in filth. I'm pretty sure the reason they and all their friends had girlfriends was so someone would clean.* My kid gets good grades, he works, he goes out with friends. Honestly, that's all I want anymore. I don't care how he keeps his room. That's on him, not me. I gave him the tools, it's up to him to use them. I figure someday he'll want his space to be clean, maybe. If not? Oh well. As long as he's a productive member of society (votes, pays his bills, gives something to charity, is kind to small children and animals and the elderly), I'm good.

*my husband did not fit that mold and i'm sure if i hadn't fallen in love with him i would have married him anyway because DAMN that man CLEANS. ALL THE TIME.
posted by cooker girl at 1:22 PM on August 14, 2018 [15 favorites]

Tell him he can use the family washer for his clothes, towels, and bedding for the first half of the year but for the final six months before school, he'll need to take them to the laundromat and wash them himself with his very own money. Let him figure out the manymanymany pitfalls of the common laundry now so that it doesn't break his spirit the first week he's in school. (If he's smart he'll figure out that he can pay the laundromat to do it for him, but don't TELL him that, obviously--once he's in school and paying tuition and room and board, he won't have discretionary cash for luxuries like that, so he should begin now to harden himself against the horrors of the laundromat.)

Tell him if he schedules any classes before 10 a.m. and then proceeds to flunk those classes, you will have no sympathy, and no cash to bail him out.

Tell him if at any time he feels scared or desperate about any dumb mistake he's made (other than scheduling classes before ten in the morning--that's on him), he must not ever feel like he's grown, now, so he can't call you. He can always, always call you.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:24 PM on August 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

So my son left two years ago and my daughter is leaving in about a week so I guess I should know what to do here.

Per others, your kid is going to change a ton while at college so don't sweat it too much. I would make sure they know how to do chores even if they don't actually bother to do them very often. Have they ever cleaned a bathroom and had you inspect it? (note: you must inspect it. Kids are amazing at simply ignoring stuff) Can they cook a basic meal? Have they ever done laundry? Can they make a basic schedule? Can they access their bank balance and do basic financial projections? If so, they are prepared.

Even if they never regularly do these things now, if they know how to do it they'll be mostly ok.

I’m looking for grow-up-fast strategies and ways to help him this year so he’ll cope well and succeed in his college years. Kind of like “you’re an adult now” bootcamp.

This is called the first year of college. Many kids will literally never even attempt to flap their wings until pushed from the nest.

Per others, most college cafeterias are pretty good food these days, so a residence first year with a meal plan will make life easier. Funny enough the cafe was both a boon and bane for my son - he got a lot more organized in first year so it was helpful he could get food when he wasn't well planned but he didn't like the food much so was really motivated to cook better when he had his own place the following year.
posted by GuyZero at 1:37 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Honestly, he's probably young and resilient enough that (assuming he's otherwise pretty healthy emotionally and physically) he can probably get away with eating lots of fast food and sleeping all day and living in standard-college-student levels of filth. Particularly if he's already reasonably good about going to the gym and able to maintain a regular schedule / hold down a job / do well in school. This is a normal part of the college student life cycle. As a (sometime) professor who mostly teaches 18 and 19 year old first-year college students, the most important advice to give him, from my perspective, is as follows:

Know your limits going in. As stated above: if you are not a morning person, don't sign up for 8am classes -- especially not in your first semester of college. Remember that college coursework will have different expectations, and don't take too many credits in one go, or try to get all of the difficult coursework out of the way in one whack.

If you are living off-campus, be realistic about your commute times when renting a place, and have contingency plans for sleeping in / traffic jams / problems with public transit. Dorms are usually a better option for first-years, unless there's a compelling reason (compromised immune system, mental wellbeing) for private accommodations. Whether you're on- or off-campus, make sure you know how to keep yourself reasonably well-fed -- some of your classmates will be absolute disasters who do not know how to operate coffeemakers or who start a fire in the common kitchen while trying to boil water. Every class of freshmen has That One Guy everyone tells stories about. Don't be That One Guy. (According to my students, Buzzfeed is a surprisingly good source for college student living hacks; a wealth of good recipes and meal-prep and small-useful-gadget advice available there.) Keep a stock of simple cleaning supplies (that you know how to use) and simple cooking supplies (that you know how to use). Just a Swiffer and some antibacterial cleaning wipes will go a long way to keeping a habitat dwellable. (Don't bother with Febreeze, though. Febreeze is NOT a substitute for actually doing laundry. Febreeze is a lie.)

Don't overschedule: if it's financially feasible, consider not working for at least the first semester, or stick to an on-campus work-study job, which will minimise scheduling conflicts. Leave time for exercise, leave time for sleep, and definitely leave time for relaxing -- both with friends/through activities and on your own, because you'll need to recharge and decompress and just watch Netflix or play a game and not do things. Make sure you have time for this every week.

Go to every class. Seriously, go to every class. Even if your professor doesn't take attendance. They will know if you're not there, and they will know if you're present in class but just dicking around on the internet instead of paying attention, and when you start struggling with the work, they will know it's because you haven't been coming to classes and paying attention. The second you start thinking you may be falling behind or having difficulty with assignments or attendance in any class, email the professor or go to their office hours. Most of us really, really want to help our students, and the earlier you come to us, the more we can do to help.

If you have any sort of learning disability or require any sort of academic accommodations, sort that out right when you arrive! Your school will probably have an office devoted to helping students with this. If any previously-undiscovered learning or emotional issues crop up (and this often happens at this age and life-stage), don't be afraid to seek out help. Visit ODS or DSS or whatever acronym your school's support office goes by. Go to the health centre or the counselling centre. If neither of those resources feels right, but you have a professor you trust, go to them for advice. But go to someone!

This also applies for physical health. Get a check-up before you go, and get any vaccinations or boosters you need -- Tdap, Hep B, meningitis, etc. Wash your hands often, carry hand sanitiser (and use it before you eat), and don't share utensils or cups or towels, because college students are petri dishes of grossness and your new-found friends probably have their own new germs they'll be exposing you to. Sleep enough. Hydrate enough. You will probably get a gross upper respiratory infection about two weeks into your first semester, because that's just how it goes. If you start feeling rundown, rest and hydrate extra-well. If you're full-on sick, get checked out at the health centre -- you're paying a student health fee anyway, so take full advantage, particularly since you can often score free OTC meds and first-aid supplies and condoms while you're there. If sexually active, use those condoms, and get regular STD checks. And if any bout of physical or mental illness means you'll be missing classes, email your professors so they can excuse the absence and help you stay on track.

And yeah, as mentioned above: kids who are living alone and feeling free for the first time don't always know their limits and can drink way too much, or way too often, or overdo other Substances. Be sensible. Get familiar with the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, and look after your friends. If anyone in your group drinks too much, or gets too high, or overdoses on something, do not be afraid of getting help, because you're not going to get kicked out of school and it can be an issue of life-or-death. Pay attention to those doofy interminable information sessions during orientation week about alcohol and drugs, and know how to get help for your friends if they need it, and make sure everyone in your friend/party group is on the same page about looking out for each other.
posted by halation at 1:39 PM on August 14, 2018 [13 favorites]

I think having a series of conversations about alcohol and its role in college - you said state school, right? - is really important. Its not clear that your son is or isn't a drinker now, but once he gets to school he will be exposed to and expected to drink.

So it makes sense to talk openly and honestly about how he plans to handle situations he finds himself in around alcohol. Is he going to rush a frat? Is he sexually active? Is he going to drink at school, and what are some strategies to make sure he doesn't poison himself and/or do horrible things while intoxicated? If he avoids alcohol, what are his strategies to do so and still participate in campus life and have friends?

Its worth having a plan, and talking through scenarios with you a few times during the next year.
posted by RajahKing at 1:44 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Related to discussions about alcohol, my vote is for a discussion about what affirmative, enthusiastic consent to sexual activity looks like. He can live in squalor or sleep through some classes without being likely to cause serious problems for himself or others, so there's plenty of room to learn through screwing up. But when it comes to sex, the stakes are high...and the consequences more likely to fall on someone else.
posted by somedaycatlady at 2:07 PM on August 14, 2018 [25 favorites]

How is he on relationships? Is he dating now? Particularly if he's straight, have you talked to him about consent? Does he understand that someone who has been drinking more than a very moderate amount can't give consent to sex? Does he know about birth control and STDs? Is he the type of kid who can be trusted to buy and use condoms? If he is going to be sleeping with women, does he understand the basic mechanics of pregnancy?

Also, what are his friends like? Do you get a gender-respectful vibe from them, or are they kind of gross and creepy about women? Is your son the type of person who is really entranced by toxic masculinity, such that he could easily fall in with a dangerous crowd at school?

How is he about dealing with people who are Not Like Him? If he's straight and cis, do you think he's going to be sophisticated enough to be polite to the GLBTQ people he will encounter at college?

This might be a great time for some clarifying conversations about expectations/values around drinking, how you treat sexual partners and how you treat people different from yourself.
posted by Frowner at 2:10 PM on August 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

he sounds like he is more responsible and level headed than lots of kids so i think you are already on the right track. in addition to practical skills mentioned above, here are the basic rules i have told my kids:

Go to class
Don't drink anything green that tastes like liquorice or anything that comes in a trashcan mixed with koolaid. mix your own drinks if you can or drink beer you open
go to class
Teach him to assert himself getting to know the people that can help him - advisors, professors, people in the tutoring lab and tell him to use those connections and resources at the first sign of struggle, not when the situation is dire.
go to class
Use uber or lyft
Practice birth control. do not rely on the other party involved to do it for you.
get involved in something - frat (there are fraternities that are more along the community service line than the traditional social line, if the social one isn't his thing) clubs, intermural sports - whatever works for him. I will say things that meet more than once a month and do things like projects or parties or games or whatever work better.

good luck - it is a wierd feeling when they go
posted by domino at 2:11 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm an old guy. Maybe it isn't so much like this anymore, but the one thing I wish somebody had told me when I went to college is this:

In high school, people cared. People were there to help. If you started to mess up, or fall behind, somebody would be there to try to nudge you back in the right direction.

In college, it's all on you. Nobody cares if you shit, die, or go blind. The whole culture of competition was so different that it took the better part of my freshman year to figure it out.

Oh, and the "Go to class" advice above is really good, too.
posted by dono at 2:16 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

One thing I'll warn. It's embarrasing as hell, but if I can prevent someone from going down my route ...

I'm a morbidly obese man now, and I gained nearly all of it at college. Why? I am an emotional eater and I was miserable where I was -- and I had had no preparation for making healthy choices of food and knowing, internally, what their effect was on my body. I had a full work schedule. In my past, at home, I had just ate what was put in front of me for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So at college I just ate comfort food ... a lot of it.

When you said he likes to eat a lot of fast food, that was what made me think of my own past.

He will probably rebel at this idea, but I would suggest this: make him responsible for the family meal one or two times a week. If you let him choose the food, hold him to certain nutritional guidelines (i.e. no hot dogs, etc.) -- or give him healthy recipes that he has to prepare.

The idea is to send him off knowing -- in his muscle memory from repetitive practice -- how to prepare 5-10 meals that are healthy yet that he likes and knows he can prepare in his sleep.

If you want to really motivate him, tell him that women really like it when a man cooks for them. It's not untrue!
posted by WCityMike at 2:22 PM on August 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

As a university faculty member....

- how to care for himself when sick and how health insurance basically works (and specifically how it works at his U health center)
- basics of credit and finance
- alcohol management
- consent and sex
posted by k8t at 2:26 PM on August 14, 2018 [8 favorites]

I would talk with him about a plan for this next year, to open a dialogue and start him getting used to the idea and letting him explore what he really thinks life will be like at school and how he's going to handle the responsibilities, and let him set some priorities while you also tell him what yours are.

If I was forced to time travel back and deal with my useless ass, my messaging would probably be along the lines of:

- Money does not come from some magical place and ignoring money problems doesn't make them go away
- Many people suffer varying levels of depression around their first years of college not because they're homesick or not excited about school, but because major life changes + late stage puberty are serious business. Check yourself, and check your friends.
- Lots of little parts of your life are a lot easier if you are relatively tidy
- However, if you sleep on top of a literal mountain of Taco Bell wrappers but go to every class and touch base with your instructors on a regular basis, so be it. (But consider your personal odor w/r/t classmates and instructors, maybe.)

Chances are good that your son is either a white guy or he isn't, and I think you should talk to him about personal responsibilities as they intersect with being or dealing with white guys. White guys get taught that everything they do is right and a great idea, up to and including taking advantage of other people - like those girlfriends who will cook and clean, or a roommate who silently cleans up after your entitled ass because they're sick of the mess and you think hey, that's extremely helpful instead of oh god, I'm a piece of shit, or professors who are going to give you significantly more leeway to fuck up and use that to justify being shittier to students who don't look like you and that's not actually okay to employ as a grade strategy. But these guys also die in extremely stupid and embarrassing ways, again because all their ideas are so excellent, and there's a bunch of reasons to be mindful not to be or get too close to Those White Guys, and to put a foot down, rather than get swept along, if he observes inappropriate behavior.

You should, where you feel you safely can, start extending some small freedoms and responsibilities, like getting your butt up in the morning but maybe also a late enough curfew that he learns about consequences of staying up late before the alarm goes off in the morning. Most universities do expect you to graduate high school in order to attend, if he can't make that happen he doesn't need to go to college yet. Give him enough money to manage some of the stuff he hasn't had to before.

And don't be afraid to ask him straight out if you could please teach him basic domestic survival skills, like could he possibly give you one hour on Tuesday nights and one on early Sunday afternoons to drill on stuff like toilet care and basic repair, budgets, how to shop and make a food, how to keep laundry from being a 10-hour ordeal by enduring periodic 1-hour ordeals, etc. He's old enough to not want to be told he's going to do this, but he's also old enough to maybe indulge the old parental units in the occasional activity that lets them spend some time together.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:28 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

One suggestion: for the summer before college, no curfew. Allow him to stay out all night if he wants to - hopefully he should be answering your calls or otherwise certifying that he's safe, but the timeline is his. That will allow him to experiment with the impact of making potentially-stupid choices about sleep (and sleepovers, and whatever else) while he still has the social support of home in place. I think one of the hugest things that made early-college the most challenging for me and my peers was having a really sudden amount of freedom with our time and especially our nights - right at the same time that we suddenly had more access to alcohol, drugs, etc (in particular, we all had a moment of "oh, wow, nobody cares when or if I go home tonight"). If you can do the former while limiting the latter, it might make the transition a little easier.

Datapoint: my teenage brother was regularly staying out all night starting during his senior year of high school. Once my parents knew where he was staying (his girlfriend's or another friend's, usually) and once they had a better setup in place to know he was safe (tracking his phone, in their case, in addition to honest conversations about drugs/drinking/safe sex) they were fine with it - in fact impromptu sleepover are probably a much better idea than driving while tired. It's a little more unusual, but honestly, I think it was good for him to take responsibility for that well before college started.

Also have him start managing his paperwork - making appointments, that sort of thing. Expect that he may make some mistakes with it, and allow the natural consequences to happen.

Final suggestion: when I was in high school, when there were things (like college application fees or medical copays) that my parents would pay for, they would give me a lump sum to cover things and then let me manage the actual remembering/managing/paying. This gave me some education in that kind of mental labor, and challenged me to learn to price things out and balance cost in each decision (since savings was money in my pocket!).
posted by mosst at 3:01 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

- Laundry (separating lights/darks, folding, washing sheets/bedding weekly in addition to clothes)
- Handwashing dishes
- Budget budget budget
- Wiping down bathroom and sweeping, on a schedule
- *Consent and sex* as others have said above!!
- Time management (when to leave the dorm to walk/bike to class and arrive on time; making blocks of time for studying)
- Conflict resolution/etiquette (for handling disputes or disagreements with roommates, professors)
- Basic hygiene products to always be stocked up on (and when/how to use them)
- Maybe unrelated, but if he’s going to be paying for any portion of college with student loans, I would strongly encourage him to apply for as many scholarships as possible when he has free time. I regret that I didn’t do that.
posted by nightrecordings at 3:01 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, a very googleable term for books and listicles and ideas is "adulting". That's what The Kids (or at least the Millennials) tend to call that whole group of skills.
posted by mosst at 3:06 PM on August 14, 2018

Yeah, go to class. Even if you're not studying. One professor told me a single class session costs as much as a Broadway show, which I don't think is true, but get the value you're paying for. And go see the professor or TA sometimes.

If I could make just one other suggestion, it would be to not stop going for dental checkups. So many people do this once no one is making appointments for them.
posted by BibiRose at 3:19 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Your son should understand how the family is paying for college and if there are any terms/ conditions to your (financial) support.
posted by oceano at 3:24 PM on August 14, 2018

You need to let this go. Your son has demonstrated that he is not less capable than his peers, and his peers mostly don't die of Taco Bell or smother under a mountain of dirty laundry.

Also he will learn to do his laundry, unfuck his habitat to some sort of standard and clean his toilet or he won't get laid. And that is a powerful, powerful motivator his mother should in no way hamper.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:00 PM on August 14, 2018 [12 favorites]

unfuck his habitat to some sort of standard and clean his toilet or he won't get laid.

Realizing that your desired romantic partner won't come over if you live in filth was one of those eye-opening, paradigm-shifting things I had to learn on my own that no amount of parental coaching could have ever taught me.
posted by ralan at 4:09 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I remember I got a bread maker one semester in college. I didn't get around to learning how to use it until winter break. I didn't realize why until winter break came around. My first year out of high school, I lived on canned lima beans straight from the can, canned potatoes, Silk soy milk, a specific flavor of microwave popcorn, velveeta cheese and pasta.

The number one bit of advice I've read in this thread is the muscle memory for cooking skills. Knowing a handful of solid rounded meals with simple ingredients that he can live on without having to think about it is valuable.
posted by aniola at 4:37 PM on August 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh, man, WCityMike is so right. Can you tell your son in as few words as possible, maybe making it into a limerick and repeating it sixty times a day, that if he's not currently an addict but will become one, when that will happen is overwhelmingly likely to be within the next four years? The college years are supposed to be devoted to developing lifelong intellectual habits--training to build the brain. Not many people talk about it, but they are also the years when one develops the lifelong consumption habits that destroy the liver.

I drank like a crazyperson as befitted a student of German in my school, but I lucked out there and didn't take to it permanently. Sugar, however. A different story.

I was buying my own meals for the first time, so I ate bagels and candy and pizza anytime I had any dollars available. I remember going to the drugstore and getting the giant family-size bags of M&Ms and eating the whole thing in a few hours lying flat on my back in my dorm room "studying." At home we had soda only when we were sick, and in high school if you tried to eat in class they screamed at you. In college, I could drink a Coke in the morning to wake up if I wanted, and I could get a Coke and a Snickers at the class break and snack on down the whole second half of class with nothing but a pleasant nod from the instructor! Three, four, five times a day! I developed a monster Coca Cola habit that stuck with me ten years.

Of course I heard a lot of jocular references to "the freshman ten" that had no impact on me, other than making me feel like I was doing college right. It is possible that if someone had sat down across from me at the kitchen table and said, "Pal, it's not just about you might have to go up a jeans size. There is a disease called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease that you get from eating a shitload of sugar every single day all day for years. If you like chocolate, don't eat it all day every day or you might have to stop eating it."
posted by Don Pepino at 5:08 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

If he is already balancing school, work, and friends, he's way ahead of where I was when I left home. I babysat in high school, but did not have a regular W-2 job until second semester of my freshman year of college.

Maybe try asking him what he wants to learn before he leaves the nest.

Above all, try to make the preparation fun, not ponderous. My parents were so rigid and angry at that time in my life that that's all I remember from that era. We even fought over what kind of coat to buy for collegiate weather. Don't be like that.
posted by 8603 at 5:19 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Agree with those recommending living in dorms. I was in campus housing all four years of college, and made some of my closest, lifelong friends. Particularly when I lived in a residential college my 3rd and 4th years.

Financially: many colleges now use your student ID as an everything card: swipe in to residence halls, swipe in to dining hall, debit dollars for the university convenience store and laundry. You can set a monthly or semesterly allowance for him.

Even if he is a morning person (I was/am) don't sign up for 8am seminars. The other students will be half asleep or hungover and he won't get anything out of it.

Learning basic cooking skills now, including how to meal planning and shopping on a budget, will be invaluable.
posted by basalganglia at 5:21 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd say the most important things out of the stuff listed above are

1. don't be a pushover (don't do what everyone else is doing without thinking about it), and don't be a bully, especially about sex. Probably not something he'll learn in a couple months if he doesn't have a handle on it.

2. Learn what to buy at the grocery store so he can eat healthy without cooking if need be -- and how to prepare a half dozen simple meals for himself (and maybe company) that won't just be fat and carbs.

3. For fuck's sake learn how to make things clean and tidy, including clothes, and especially body/face.

4. Perhaps obviously but still: actually go to fucking class and do the work.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:35 PM on August 14, 2018

All good advice above. I’ll underline a couple things: make sure your son knows where to get help on campus Tutoring/Financial/Counseling were all available on my huge state campus for free. Students did not know how to access the services, though.
Go to office hours and learn how to write a professional email. As a professor, it was much easier to help the students who took the time to write to me as Prof Songs About Rainbows, describe their problem, and suggest a meeting. Also data point: I was a professor for 10 years. Exactly four students ever came to office hours. Guess for whom I can write amazing letters of recommendation
posted by songs_about_rainbows at 5:38 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

What I wish someone had explained to me (they certainly didn't in my college prep high school, and my parents didn't go to college) is that even if you can fly by the seat of your pants in high school and get good grades, in college you're going to have to study. I majored in biology and crashed and burned hard because nobody ever taught me how to study, and more importantly, I thought that because I couldn't get the material right away it meant I was too stupid for science, and I changed my major.
posted by unannihilated at 5:47 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thanks to all for advice! It is much appreciated. Every answer is helpful, and yes, I probably need to let go. Thank you for advice to make it fun and to relax a bit.

Check to dorms, a roomate, and a meal plan.

He does chores at home but no set schedule. Usually it's me asking on a weekend and he does it, reluctantly.

We have spoken numerous times about:

1. Dangers of alcohol and risk of alcohol poisoning. Speaking up, calling for help, and never assuming when alcohol is involved. Lengthy conversations on calling for help for friends, strangers, or classmates.
2. Sex, condoms, and lengthy conversations on consent.

I think he's straight. No girlfriend. No toxic masculinity. He's a decent kid -- a nice guy. A respectful person who would never discriminate or expect anything from anyone without consent -- I hope. I think he's pretty sophisticated in that he is around a diverse mix of kids. Kids these days are live and let live. At least that's what I observe and what we have always tried to instill in our kids -- Tolerance, acceptance, and mind your own business.

He has a bank account and manages his money. He cooks for the family twice a week -- spaghetti, tacos, etc.

My goal is to let go and let him handle things without so much input from me (he does it his way anyway and manages quite well most of the time). Thanks to all for advice and reminders -- great tips on housing, emails, communication, free university services such as tutoring, mentoring etc.(our university system has these services).

Thank you for advice on showing up to every class and the requirement to actually study-- I agree and will definitely communicate this and have been communicating this for his entire school life (Show up. Do the work.) Thanks for reminder on when to seek health/medical treatment. I will be sure to emphasize the need to seek treatment for illness. Lots to think about. Thank you AskMe!
posted by loveandhappiness at 5:54 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

There is so much above I'm not sure if my advice is duplicated, but basically they should know that college is purpose driven. You are there to learn, to make contacts/network with teachers and students, to have the basis for a career or profession, to grow as a person socially/confidence, to demonstrate the ability to succeed (GPA, portfolio, certificates, commendations), etc. There will be things that interfere with that (e.g., get assigned a roommate who has emotional problems, get sick or have an injury, or other totally unexpected things), or poor teachers/text, or obnoxious faculty/administration ("students are not our customers"), or trouble renewing financial aid, etc. There should be no shame in going back to your family for advice, or getting help/advice from other trusted sources. As someone else said this should occur before it reaches critical mass. I would also recommend Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture".
posted by forthright at 6:02 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Honestly he is probably more prepared to live alone than half the men in his class. Just plan to be there for him but expect him to solve his own problems with guidance (not step by step instruction) from you. I think he will do fine.
posted by muddgirl at 6:10 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Honestly, I think that everything you've done for the past 17 years is going to matter much more than anything you do for the next year, but I have some thoughts.

1. He's probably going to live in filth and eat crap. That's not the end of the world, and you shouldn't freak out about it. Let him know that you're always available for cleaning advice if he wants it, and he'll feel better if he eats the occasional vegetable, because scurvy is really unpleasant. And then realize that he needs to make some mistakes and learn from them, and having your room get so gross that your RA intervenes is probably not the worst mistake he will ever make in his life.

2. In college, he is going to need to manage his own time and keep track of his own responsibilities. So maybe give him some opportunities to start doing that. If you're keeping track of things like extracurricular activities, tell him that he should do that now. Encourage him to come up with a system: he could use Google Calendar, or a paper planner, or an app on his phone. In college, professors may not remind him that he has assignments due or exams coming up, so he needs to figure out how he's going to stay on top of that stuff so he doesn't forget that he has an exam until two days before it happens.

3. Pretty please with sugar on top do not tell him not to take 8 AM classes. He may have to take some 8 AM classes. (Source: I work at an institution much like the one that your son will attend, and part of my job is to help incoming college students enroll in classes. This summer, I have had over 100 incoming college students sit in my office, make a schedule, and register. I am *really, really* good at making schedules, and I cannot always avoid putting them in 8 AM classes.) He may need to figure out how to drag himself out of bed and get to class even when it's at an unreasonably early hour.

4. Many of my students are not good at addressing adults. Let him know that he should call all of his professors "Professor So-and-so" unless they tell him to call them something else. (If they tell him to call them something else, he should comply. In general, call people what they ask you to call them.) He especially must not refer to female professors as "Mrs. So-and-so." He. Must. Not. He should not refer to any woman as "Mrs." unless she explicitly asks him to refer to her that way. He should say "Ms." But he especially must not refer to female professors that way. Call your professors "Professor." It's a mark of respect.

5. You know what factor correlates most directly with getting good grades? It's going to class. Students who go to class are much more likely to get good grades than students who don't. That's probably because students who go to class are also responsible in a lot of other ways, but you should let him know that you expect him to go to every single class, unless he is truly sick. Many of his peers will skip lots of classes, which is fine. They can do what they want. But he should expect to go to every single class.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:24 PM on August 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

Adding to the consent/sex suggestions: not only in regard to his direct experience with dating and sex but also help him recognize when he sees women in situations where they're uncomfortable around other men so that he can step in as an ally and help provide an opportunity for a woman to be able to extricate herself from a situation. Teach him not to be the guy who witnesses a woman being coerced to leave with a man who just thinks to himself, "it's probably all right."
posted by acidnova at 6:44 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

He does chores at home but no set schedule. Usually it's me asking on a weekend and he does it, reluctantly.

For the sake of his future partners, he needs to learn to take initiative when it comes to doing chores. Not how to do chores "reluctantly" when someone asks him to.

First, he should do more in the week to help out. A nearly-adult man should be doing an equal amount of household upkeep as other adults in the house. Second, he needs to learn to to keep on top of his adult responsibilities without someone else being his manager. Maybe there is some task you can give him that is his job to keep track of? Like unloading the dishwasher, or something.

A lot of adult men fail in this regard. When they're living alone, it can result in some pretty disgusting living situations. When they're living with others, it can result in treating roommates or partners in a shitty way.

And let him start making his own appointments and stuff now, to lessen the stress of doing that on his own for the first time when he's, well, on his own. Think about the stuff he'll have to do alone and help him develop the skills/confidence.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:14 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound crazy but here’s some things I wish I had understood before college:
- how to set a thermostat
- utility bills
- how much things were supposed to cost (like rent is 25% of your income, this is a reasonable amount for groceries in a week)
- common scams

Things I was glad to have:
- my own credit card. I took using it very seriously tho
- how to talk to people on the phone. I hated doing this and my mom made me and I’m glad

RE the thermostat: I’d ask your son to take a moment and think about if there are things he’s never done before because someone else is doing them for him. Like for instance: I almost made it out of high school without ever pumping my own gas (learned to drive late & was often with parents, etc.)

On the other hand, I was pretty clueless about a lot of things and now I’m fine. So it’s probably going to be ok.
posted by CMcG at 12:57 AM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

In college, it's all on you. Nobody cares if you shit, die, or go blind.

This is terrible advice. While it is true that, at the end of the day, you are the one responsible for your education in that no one can force you to go to class, pay attention, do the work, and learn, it is not true that people don’t care. While there are jerk professors and even more who are stressed and overworked, most want their students to do well, if only because a well-constructed assignment is easier to grade. If he has trouble, he should talk to professor or TA and do what they tell him to — ie, if he successfully pleads for an extension, he has to turn in a well-constructed assignment by the new deadline. There is no walking back being a waste of time and effort.

He can also talk to staff — his advisor should be able to meet with him, almost every school has a writing center, an academic skills center, and a councelling center. If he gets stressed during finals, he can ask the councelling center for help, then talk to the academic skills center to find ways to reduce that stress in the future. Now these people are also overworked, so being self-aware enough to get help early is a huge plus.

I’m a professor, and every semester I provide students direction and support because no one wins when a student fails.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:12 AM on August 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

I think a good distinction is that in (a decent) high school if you're really obviously struggling someone's going to come for you. Either you're failing out or you're in distractingly bad shape or whatever, and someone's probably going to intervene. Or a parent or other person who sees you every day is going to intervene. And in a lot of cases because you're a minor you can't necessarily avoid intervention even if you don't want it.

That mostly doesn't happen to you in college. If your performance is shitty enough you maybe don't get to come back the following semester, but nobody's going to show up at your door saying gee, your grades are not great, how can we help? If you take advantage of all that help aimed at you, you're likely to get really good intervention, but the first step is generally yours to take. That's adulthood, and it's one of the harder transitions to get used to.

It's another one of those areas where you should also be looking out for your friends - be a person who advocates generally for seeking help and encourage friends to take advantage of services they need, because there's a fairly toxic tendency in young adults to be hyper-independent and refuse help. But honestly, you're paying for those services, they're there for a reason, you might as well use them.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:56 AM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Things have changed, at least at some universities. I routinely inform advisers (for students who have dedicated advisers) about absences, decaying work, etc. There is also a university-wide program for offering Students who’s academic work is unsatisfactory a variety of lifelines. The students don’t have to except the help, of course, but more and more universities offer these services.

My school recently started using a semi-automated system, which is not required, but many faculty use, that tracks things like attendance and issues automated warnings to various campus support organizations to try to better identify students who are doing poorly and might respond to a helping hand. There is a line between excessive invasiveness and support, however, and I don’t know these are going to play out in the long run.

As I said in the comment above, nobody wins when a student fails. Universities are under increasing pressure to increase four year graduation rates and other success-oriented metrics, and a student who does poorly in class adversely affects those metrics. So some of this is pure self interest on the part of the University. Then there are also some (even many) faculty and even administrators who, you know, actually care about the students and want them to succeed on a personal level.

To take it back to the question, if you’re interested, you might talk to enrollment services and see what kind of services there are two monitors students success and help them when they hit a rocky patch. You could also ask about other support services that your son might be interested in at some time as well.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:24 AM on August 15, 2018

He sounds pretty prepared, but here's some general advice.

Give him a small set of basic tools like screwdrivers and a wrench cause noone else ever brings that shit and it comes in handy.

Once he makes a friend at school, encourage him to have them remember each other's phone numbers by heart. I did this with my friend and it came in handy if your phone was lost / damaged / died (so you couldn't look up their number and you needed help but like didn't want to call your parents. Program some useful numbers into his phone before he goes - local taxi service, his primary care doctor's office, grandma, local takeout.

Studying all day (cramming) before a test is a waste of time. Regularly review class texts for 20-40 minutes at a time and then you rarely need to do extra studying. Also he should learn his rentention style. I learned info by writing notes, but if i ever reviewed them they were pretty useless compared to just reskimming a text book. For me the physical motion of writing it out is what helped. I could have written notes and thrown them out right away and it would have worked just as well. HE should figure out what his thing is.

Join an intramural sport to get some fun exercise in that not really competitive.

Know how to tie a tie. Even if just for a fraternity formal.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:27 AM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I worked as an admin, my office/desk was right near a main entryway. I cannot tell you the number of students in the Fall who would ask me where their classes were because the building was basically a dead zone and they couldn't get a signal on their phone and didn't remember the room number. Tell him to PRINT out his class schedules to have on hand because the reliance on technology can backfire when he's trying to find his classroom for the first time.
posted by acidnova at 11:26 AM on August 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

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