Joys, Tears and Fears of College Life

Syndi Victor

Senior Staff Writer

Starting college is a huge transition for both students and parents alike. Parents have to let their kids ‘grow up’ and kids have to ‘learn to be adults’. It’s a scary and exciting time for all families. The end of Summer and beginning of Fall is generally the time of year when students start heading back to school and parents are feeling “all the emotions.” The first and most important feeling is undoubtedly one of joy on all sides.. 

For students it’s obvious. College means freedom. It is the chance to step out on their own, find their individual identity and chase their dreams. They get a chance to meet new people, and create new opportunities for their future. In speaking about the joys of college, Keith Dumais from Lander University (The Odyssey Online) expresses it in this way; “College is fun. The experience is wonderful from the big to the little things. The one main thing that I do enjoy is the sense of freedom and responsibility you get from it. These are the skills you need to have in life to be able to live it well. Having the freedom to do what you want is great. These important decisions you make is all up to you. With responsibility comes great power. You have to own up for your actions that you do. College has taught me that and I really enjoy it.” 

For parents, the greatest joy is seeing their children accomplish a major step in their maturity and development. Nevertheless, despite the milestone achievement, it is a bittersweet experience watching children go off to college. Parents experience feelings of grief and loneliness when children leave home for the first time. This is generally known as “Empty nest syndrome.” Empty nest syndrome is a real condition that is common among parents. Ian Bogost the contributing editor at The Atlantic comments, “To say that you’ll “get used to it” is both true and insufficient. People get used to all manner of distresses—acclimation itself is hardly noble, and it implies that the future is something to be borne, not to enjoy. The alternative is so obvious, it’s easy to look past it. The way to react or prepare for, a foreseeable and certain but unfamiliar reality is to begin living in it as soon as possible. For parents of college kids, that means developing a new relationship with your kid as an adult rather than a child or adolescent. You can’t really practice that until they become one. The emotional nadir when you drop your kid off at college is your gut reminding you to do it, to start right now. But even if you don’t heed that call right away, it’s never too late. The future always feels uncertain, but in truth, it’s the one thing that is guaranteed to come to pass. The best way to face it is to transform it into the present the moment it arrives.”(Why It Feels So Terrible to Drop Your Kid at College). 

Parents have more concerns than just seeing their children leave home. There are serious factors that parents have to consider more and more these days when it comes to their children entering college. State-wide campus shootings, sexual assault and rape culture on college campuses, as well as the reality of many students struggling with mental illness, are just some of the major concerns all parents are processing as they adjust to the new norm in their homes.  Equally, students are generally aware of these existential threats but tend to just get on with making the best of things. Anxiety over school shootings has become a common fear in America. Responding to this concern, Jamie Howard, Ph.D., director of the Trauma and Resilience Service at the Child Mind Institute, says that parents tend to worry about school shootings more than their children do. “Even though they’re the ones going into school every day, I just don’t hear a lot of kids worrying about it,” she says. “When children are younger they’re more egocentric. As they get to become teenagers this changes.” Perhaps this is something for which to be thankful. So what can parents do? Look for ways to be proactive; talk to your children, and advocate for active shooter drills at the institution. (Child Mind Institute, Anxiety Over School Shootings).

A survey, “Preparing for College: The Mental Health Gap” was conducted by WebMD/Medscape, in collaboration with JED, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting emotional health and preventing suicide among teens and young adults with diagnosed mental health issue. The survey found that among parents and teens, only 28 percent said they had thought about mental health services when shopping for schools. Leaving home and losing that protective cocoon places stress on kids, especially those who have had everything scheduled and monitored for them by helicopter parents and guardians. Therefore, going off to college is even harder on kids who already have mental health issues – there are now far more of such young people according to Dr. Steven C. Schlozman, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Associate Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. “Kids who would not have gone to college in the past now go…we have gotten better at acknowledging these symptoms, and they get into treatment before college. But when they go to college, the treatment often disappears because there hasn’t been a lot of thought about how to transition their care.” Parents need to consider the availability of such services and the culture of the campus in dealing with mental health before their children enroll.

Another area of concern for both parents and students is sexual violence. This is now more pervasive on college campuses. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)  the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, the 2018 Campus Sexual Violence Statistics among undergraduate students showed 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. And most victims do not report these offenses to law enforcement. These are some of the major concerns parents are processing as they adjust to their children being away in college. We spoke to Loretta Merritt, Corporate Client Associate, and mother of three college graduates, about the challenges and joys of sending her kids off to university. 

What were some of the thoughts and concerns you had before sending your kids off to school if any?

Before sending my kids off to school I was concerned about their safety, outside influence, study habits, new friends, and continued church attendance which is important to me.

I was concerned about my daughter’s safety as she was going to be in a new environment where she would not know anyone.  As her mother, I would no longer be around to protect her. When she went outside of the dorm, I would be fearful if she would make it back safely. I was fearful someone could harm or hurt her. Since I was so far away from her I worried even more. 

I was also concerned that she would allow other students to influence her in doing things that were not in her best interest; causing her to make bad choices. 

Additionally, I thought, since she’s away from home, would she be studying consistently, doing her homework and turning in assignments on time, or, would she slack off since I was no longer around to check up on her.

Moreover, we attended church every week.  I wondered if she would keep up with attending church regularly, less frequently or stop attending altogether.

When you dropped your first child off at college, what were your feelings in the days that followed?

I had mixed feelings.  I was happy that she was in college but sad. I was sad because she was away from me and I was going to miss her not being around the house; talking and laughing with her.  In the days that followed, I was skeptical about her being away from home. But, whenever I checked in on her she would reassure me that she was doing good. I began to feel less anxious and gradually more comfortable with her being away at school.

Did the process of sending your children off to college get easier with each child that followed?

Yes. By the time my youngest child attended college I was less nervous and anxious, although the same thoughts were there as when my first child attended college, they were not as strong.  As a mother, those thoughts, well at least for me, will always be there. Also, I was able to make sure my youngest child’s financial situation; room and board, and other expenses were taken care of right away which really lessened my concerns – I knew more than I did when my first child attended college.

What were some of your proudest moments in seeing your kids attend college?

I was very proud to see my kids pursuing courses and majoring in fields of study that would be the foundation of their careers; preparing for their future.  Additionally, I was proud to see that they were independent. They were on their own and taking care of themselves; being responsible and making good choices.  I was proud to see my young teenagers growing into confident young adults. I saw my babies growing into leaders, thinking for themselves and having their own opinions and thoughts, and not succumbing to peer pressure. It felt great when they took part in the school’s extracurricular activities.  But most of all, my proudest moments were graduation days – seeing my kids graduating from college; knowing they had done well and were ready to make their mark in the world – was overwhelming.

What advice would you give other parents about to send their child or children off to college for the first time?

I would advise such parents that it is okay to have some fear or be nervous; you will be sad and cry because they will temporarily be away from your presence and you will miss your child. Yet, you will also be happy because your child is doing something important (getting a higher education) for their life.  Moreover, I would advise the parent to trust that you taught your child or children good morals, values, and right from wrong. Be there for your child if he or she makes mistakes. Listen to them and do not judge them. Know that they are not perfect, so they might not get it right the first time or perhaps the second time but let them know that if they need to talk, you are and will be there to listen. Let them know that they are going to do good being on their own. Parents, be very proud of your child or children. They are getting a great education, meeting new people, and being self-sufficient.  Finally, when it’s all done, you will be totally stoked, excited, and so very proud to see them graduating, walking up and receiving their degree. 


College can be scary, exciting, stressful, shocking, difficult, and rewarding for parents and kids alike. There are many emotions that go into making a huge transition like leaving home and starting a new chapter in life. Students from Historically Black University and College, Oakwood University, share some advice for new students starting college.

“Making mistakes in college is good. Crying is okay. You may be way out of your comfort zone at times, but it’s all just molding you. It will be okay.” says Bria Gamble, Class of  2020. 

Jessica Giscombe, 2019 graduate, says, “Get actively involved in some club or organization. Don’t like what you see? Change It! You have a voice!”  

Branden Perkins, Class of 2020, adds “Get in the habit of making your bed every morning and every time you leave your room. You will have extremely long days, people will try your life. Honestly, some of your days will just suck… But, nothing is more rewarding and relaxing than coming back to a made bed!” 

Our final word; Students make sure you enjoy every aspect of college life while you’re there.  Parents, try to enjoy this time in your life; it’s a great accomplishment for your family! 


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