Purple bedding, college roommates, and the big good-bye

Authored by Carin Smith, Lawrence University admissions Supermom. (Editor’s note: Carin would never call herself “Supermom.” But her colleague–and aforementioned editor–does.)

As I write this, new college students are learning who their roommates will be and where they will be living this fall.

Before that reality sinks in, let’s press “pause” and savor this moment. Do you remember where you were last year at this time in the college search process with your child? Think about where you are now. If you’re like most parents of college-bound students, you’ve come a long way in 12 months, and, for that, I encourage you wholeheartedly to celebrate, celebrate, celebrate!

I also encourage you wholeheartedly to savor these last few weeks of having your child at home with you before officially crossing that threshold to being a full-fledged College Student. (It’s such a big deal it needs capital letters.)

Back to reality.

Last summer I received an unusual number of phone calls from parents around this time. They were calling about their child’s roommate, or room assignment, or something else all together:

  • “My son has never shared a room before and his assigned roommate isn’t responding to his email messages so they can start to get to know each other. I think he needs to be re-assigned – before school even starts.”
  • “My son is an athlete, and as best we can figure out none of his teammates are living on his floor. I’m quite certain he’s going to feel very isolated.”
  • “My daughter’s roommate is arriving at school by herself, from the west coast, which means my spouse and I will not be able to meet her parents and make sure we feel comfortable with them.”
  • And my all-time favorite: “My daughter has already purchased purple bedding (purple has been her favorite color since she was 2-years old) and her roommate seems to think gray is an acceptable color for dorm décor. I’m concerned this could be problematic for my child.”

Reflecting on these concerns, I think these parents may have been less concerned about email messages and purple bedding than they were about the reality that was rapidly bearing down on them: their kids were going off to school. They were no longer going to be under the same roof anymore.

As someone who has now gone through this exercise twice, and is currently going through it again, I like to think that maybe I have some wisdom to share to provide a little comfort. Like I did for those parents, I’ll share this with you:

As a Division I athlete, my oldest daughter not only had no say in who her roommate was nor where she would live, she was required to report to school (and stay there!) 5 weeks after she graduated from high school! Her roommate was one of her teammates, someone who came from a very different family, cultural and socioeconomic background. The first couple weeks were an adjustment, but pretty quickly they bonded over surviving the demands of D1 athletics and their irrational fear of spiders.

My son went through the more typical process of filing housing forms and waiting to see who he would be living with only to discover that his “randomly-assigned” roommate was a boy who attended our church and the other high school in our town. I’ll admit to being fairly disappointed by this since his school of choice was 4 hours away, in a different state, with a fairly diverse student body and this is what happens?! They survived just fine and I quickly realized that I should have been far more concerned by the fact that every freshman boy (400+) was housed in one massive residence hall. Drop off day was the last time I was ever able to bring myself to walk beyond the front lobby, where even there the odor was “eau de locker room.”

Number 3 is headed off to school this fall and informed me in April that she was pretty sure she had identified a roommate. (I was shocked!) Her school of choice is 5 hours away, geographically diverse and she does not know any other new students attending this fall. “How did this happen?” You guessed it: social media. Not only had they found each other, asked and answered some questions that they felt gave them enough information about each other to believe they can successfully co-exist their first year, but had already made plans to meet for coffee, both by taking the train to a destination in the middle and about an hour away from each house.

I asked my daughter, “What was the key question and answer that sealed the deal on this?”

“She has a dog that she loves, and will miss every bit as much as me. And seriously mom, we don’t have to be best friends, we just have to peacefully co-exist!”

The moral of these stories? They all ended up working out, each in their own way—and they were all beyond my control—something I don’t easily let go.

I am a firm believer that college is about much more than classroom learning; it’s about problem-solving, trying new things (and sometimes failing), pushing outside your comfort zone and helping to build your new community.

(PS: this works for parents as much as it does for students.)

Whether your child has chosen to attend a residential college like Lawrence, where we require students to live on-campus for all 4 years, or a school with a looser residential requirement, that physical space in your home that they now inhabit is going to change—for them and for you.

So if you find yourself confronting housing issues, before calling your college, I would strongly encourage parents to spend time this summer taking care of some very important checklist items:

  1. Enjoy time with your child
  2. Teach them how to do laundry (if they don’t already know how to do this).
  3. Make sure they can successfully set an alarm (probably on their phone).
  4. Make sure they can successfully get out of bed when said alarm goes off.
  5. Remind them to regularly check their email (since that’s how professors will be contacting them) even though it’s not their go-to form of communication.
  6. Help them know how to “rationally” get a spider off the ceiling of their dorm room. (Hint: a hysterical call home isn’t going to do the trick.)
  7. Enjoy time with your child (So important it’s worth a second mention.)

Happy summer!