College Drop-off Day: Preparation Pays Off in More Ways than One

By Patricia Roberts

As the final phase of packing officially wound up and we prepared to head north for our son’s college drop off day, we ran through his check list one last time and did one final sweep of our home to assure no essential item had been inadvertently left behind. With that, we were on our way to what we’d been working toward for so many years!

A sigh of relief set in. Our planning ahead had paid off. Doing small amounts of shopping and packing a little at a time over the prior two months was key to a stress-free departure. All we had to do at this point was to make certain that everything would fit into our car.

As the final item got carefully tucked into what appeared to be the very last available inch of space in our SUV, I thought back to an earlier road trip. It was our very first trip — when we meticulously tucked Ben into his car seat to head home from the hospital just days after his arrival. Surprisingly, the emotions of that trip began to parallel in part the emotions of this trip. After all his college-bound belongings were safely inside and we were all buckled in, I was overcome with a sense of accomplishment and excitement for the new situation in which we found ourselves.

On Our Way

Like with our very first road trip, I found myself glancing back from time to time from the front seat to admire the blessing we’d been given. This time I saw not the precious face of a tiny sleeping newborn, but the face of a confident, bright-eyed teen wide awake and filled with excitement about all that awaited him.

While much was the same, there were differences too. On this trip, there was far less anxiety about whether we were prepared enough for what was to follow or whether we could comfortably afford this next chapter. This time, we had eighteen years (versus nine months) to prepare and prepare, we did. One important way was to open and contribute regularly to our son’s 529 college savings account.

The Long Ride Home

While our years of diligence and careful planning clearly helped us to prepare for our son’s journey to college, one thing we could not have prepared for was the wide range of emotions we experienced on our way back home after drop off was complete. A sense of pride, emptiness and countless other emotions were our passengers on this leg of the trip. And unlike what I had so often done on prior trips through the years, I couldn’t bring myself to glance back from the front seat. For comfort, however, we reminded ourselves of how lucky we were to develop such a close relationship with the terrific young man we raised. We acknowledged that but for this, we wouldn’t be missing him so much already. We also discussed that the most important things Ben took with him to college that day were not on any of his packing lists. The examples we set and the foundation we helped build were deeply ingrained and would accompany him through college and well beyond. No matter the distance between us, we would always be close in heart.

For Your Journey

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for your college drop-off day whether it’s right around the corner or years away:

  1. Savor wherever you are in the process. As author Gretchen Rubin so wisely says about parenting, “The days are long but the years are short.” I am so glad to have enjoyed each phase of my son’s life as I could never have predicted how quickly time would pass.
  2. Even if you can’t imagine the direction your child will someday take, begin and continue to build aspirations for higher education. Research shows that earmarking savings for college is one way to increase the likelihood of a child attending and completing higher education. Keep in mind that investments in 529 college savings plans can be used for two- and four-year colleges as well as many trade and technical schools across the country.
  3. Consider inviting friends and family to contribute to your child’s college savings account as a smart and easy alternative gift for holidays and special occasions. Small contributions over time can go a long way toward college expenses and allowing others to invest in your child’s education can be priceless for all involved.
  4. And when the future you planned for is finally upon you, take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.

This article originally appeared on the College Savings Plans Network Blog.

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