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How to Tell if a Child is Ready to Go Away to College

Updated on May 19, 2016

It's Time to Go

Years ago, when my children were little, I remember the mother a young adult telling me her daughter was going away to college. "It's time," she noted, in all seriousness, meaning that her daughter was ready to leave the nest.

Now, with my own child planning to do the same thing next fall, I can totally relate. My son is ready to be out on his own. He's mature in many ways. He still has a lot of growing up to do. Psychologically, he is hardy and resilient. He'll adapt very well to living in a dormitory. He'll sleep through any kind of chaos that might be happening in his room or out in the hallway.

He desperately wants to be out from under my watchful eye, and free from the rules of our house. I tend to keep a granola crunchy kitchen filled with organic produce and free-range meats. We don't use the microwave because I'm well aware the type of non-ionizing radiation it emits is potentially carcinogenic. This technology for a number of years was banned by the Russians.

Not using the microwave is something that drives my strong-willed son crazy, because he realizes that most people in the United States do zap their food.

"I can't wait until I'm out of here, so I can use a microwave as much as I want," he said to me one day, as he launched into yet another complaint about my view of the world.

"Of all the foolish things to rebel against," I thought to myself, hoping and praying that he sees the light before he decides to nuke every meal he eats while away at school, just to assert his independence.

He Wants to Bust Loose

Of course, the microwave is just stance he's decided to take in his ever-increasing drive to pull away from his family of birth, and become a full-fledged adult. Going away to college, although I have my concerns, in general, about the practice of throwing a bunch of teenagers together in a largely unsupervised setting, will the next step on the road to independence.

As a Catholic, I am worried that he won't keep the values we've tried to raise him with. The thought of living in close proximity to members of the opposite sex is something I'm not happy about. However, I'm relieved that his girlfriend is going to another college, and I know as long as they're together, he probably won't be too tempted by any other female.

Also, my son is an adult and, legally, he can do whatever he want anyway, a fact that he likes to bring up whenever we have an argument.

So, even though I have my reservations about dorm life, I do believe my son is as ready as anyone. With any luck, he'll mature from the experience, and be a little easier to live with when he returns home during his college breaks.


One Sign that He's Ready to Leave

Fortunately, I don't seem to be the only parent struggling with a high school senior, whom knows he or she will soon be out of the house. Other parents have admitted that this is a conflict-filled year, as their child is at the cusp of moving out.

One sign he's ready to leave is that I don't totally dread the thought of him leaving. I already miss him and I can already envision the quiet house will be when he's gone. Even though we've always had a close relationship, I also realize, in some ways, I'm looking forward to the day we drive him to college and leave him there.

That's because I also realize "it's time." He needs to be out on his own, and dorm life is a good way to bridge the gap between living with your parents and getting your first apartment.

If you're at peace with the thought of your child leaving the house, this probably means he or she is ready to go. If the very idea keeps you awake at night, perhaps you need to rethink the plan, as I'll explain later.

Emotional Resilience

My son has always had a strong personality. He is very resilient, in the sense that misdirected comments do not bother him. Stress does not trouble him very much either. In fact, he seems to thrive upon a certain amount of pressure and seems to get his best work done when he's under the gun.

His time management skills need a lot of improvement, but I'm hoping this comes with maturity. He might have to take a few knocks, in the form of a bad grade or two, before this happens though. If he totally blows it and falls flat on his face, he'll brush himself off and carry on.

However, sometimes, even students who appear very well-adjusted do not do well once they arrive on campus. This possibility will be in the back of my mind, because, occasionally, even the strongest can stumble.

But in general, if your child is in good emotional health, he or she will probably do well at college.


I'm Not an Expert

I'm not an expert on teenage psychology, so don't take everything I say as the final word. However, I do believe I have a unique perspective on college readiness. That's because my son is my second child to go through this transition. My first child wasn't ready to be on her own.

Although we looked at schools, and toured different dorms, I had a sinking feeling throughout my daughter's entire senior year that disaster would await if she moved into any of them. Because I tend to worry about my children, I assumed it was just something I needed to get beyond.

The idea of her going away to school did keep me up at night. I'd wake up in the middle of the night with this thought on my mind, and I couldn't fall back to sleep.

Deep down, I envisioned her going away to college and needing to come home in a few months, if not sooner. Then I worried that she'd arrive back home without a plan and sink into a deep depression, with all of her promise and potential derailed.

Although we can't protect our children from every disaster, this one seemed preventable, if she could somehow stay home and commute to college.

Many Students Aren't Academically Ready for College

My Daughter Wasn't Ready for Dormitory Life

Even though I didn't think my daughter was ready to live in a dormitory, I wanted it to be her decision. I didn't want to force her to stay at home and commute to campus, if her heart wasn't in it. I wasn't sure what she wanted to do until two weeks before the May 1 deadline, when the deposit was due at the school she'd attend that fall.

I was greatly relieved when she announced she wanted to live at home, because the college she could commute to had a better program in her intended major. One thing I've learned is that when the right decision is made, it gives you a sense of peace.


Survival Guide for College Students with Learning Disabilities

Resisting the Pressure

There is a great deal of pressure in our society for graduating high school seniors to go away to college. This comes from close and extended family members, as well as from the high school administration and the student's peers.

One of my daughter's high school friends was aghast at her decision to stay local, and forego living in a dorm. "Why are you doing this?" she demanded to know.

We also had a relative question this choice as well. I was told that I was an over-protective mother, because I didn't want my daughter to go away to school.

However, in the end, the choice was ours. My husband, who was also skeptical in the beginning, is now firmly convinced my daughter made the right decision. She's thriving in college and maturing nicely, even though she's still living at home.

So going away to college is not for everyone. But when your child is ready to leave for school, you'll know when "it's time."

Going Away to College

Do you think most 18-year-old adults are ready to live on their own?

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  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    As my daughter prepares for high school, this day grows nearer and nearer. She is looking forward to it and I'm nervous about it, as she's my only child. There's so much to teach them about not only what they need to know about living on their own but why they need to do it that way. Dorm life is a nice transition, though. I wish the best of luck to you and your son in the upcoming months and years as you navigate this new territory for him and for your daughter as she continues to do so.

  • blueheron profile image

    Sharon Vile 3 years ago from Odessa, MO

    I think most parents have a fairly good idea how well a particular kid will adjust to college. There are two aspects to this: One is life skills and the other is emotional stability. Since my girls found dorms intolerable, they spent most of their college years living off-campus. Can your young adult budget, shop for food and other necessities, cook, do laundry, and keep their living space reasonably clean and tidy? Is he/she a good driver? Can he/she properly maintain the car? Can he/she "take care of business" on their own? Will he/she take care of traffic tickets, or wait until there is a warrant out for their arrest? Are they used to talking to insurance companies, cell phone companies, college counsellors, landlords, and all the other people they must conduct business with?

    If your young adult will live in the dorm or have roommates, do they deal well with troublesome people? Can he/she hold up during a romantic break-up? Are they really focused on a goal, or are they just drifting? Do they have goals that require a college degree, or should they be doing something more in line with their life goals?

    Even if you have highly competent kids, parents need to be available to offer advice and emotional support on all these issues.

    I had one daughter who really didn't belong in college (she was only there because of outside pressure), so I had to drive down and get her. One daughter needed very little hand-holding in college, probably due to lack of roommates. Another daughter needed to discuss both personal and business issues almost daily. Kids often need advice on dealing with people who are difficult, if not insane, and on business matters--even if they are pretty level-headed and competent.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    HI blueheron, it sounds as if you have very good insight into what happens when you send children to college. Thanks for reading and for sharing this. You are totally correct. One aspect of readiness is life skills and academic readiness. The other is emotional. I'm hoping my son can stay organized enough to deal with everything.

  • profile image

    mariewj 3 years ago

    I did not go to college until I was 21 and I still found it a very hard transition to be away from home - and it was a long way away too. I remember that sinking feeling as my parents drove away and the doubts that crept in. I stuck with it and I managed OK because my parents were very supportive on the phone. I'm not sure if I would have coped without that reassurance and emotional support.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi marie, thanks for your feedback also. It's good to get to hear different perspectives. Every child is different I guess, and some are more ready to leave the nest than others.

  • kj force profile image

    kjforce 3 years ago from Florida

    ologsinquito..Enjoyed your words/thoughts..good job, on the other hand " is anybody ever ready " ? All we can do is raise them with what we believe to be right, instill values and responsibility and hope for the best. Guess it could be worse look at the Spider whose babies after birth, feed on the mother...great hub

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi kj force, that's really all we can do, just raise them right and hope for the best. I also pray a lot when I am worried. I don't think we ever stop worrying about our children, even after they are grown. Thanks so much for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi FlourishAnyway, thanks for reading. I didn't see your comment until just now. Most graduating high school seniors are probably ready for that next step. When your daughter is ready you'll know it. Because they are ready, and itching to get out, the separation probably isn't as painful for the parents.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

    My daughter was also ready to embrace freedom, but she did not like the fact that it came with the responsibility of preparing her own food.

    Anyway, please express confidence in your son--confidence that he will live by the principles you taught him. He will not want to disappoint you. If you express only fears, you are preparing yourself to expect what you fear. Pray and believe in your prayers.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    You've shared some more good advice, ologsinquito. I don't have a son or daughter that's ready for college, but the senior students that I teach are eagerly discussing their college options and plans for next year. It's an exciting time for them, but I can see that it could also be worrying for their parents.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Alicia, it is very worrying for the parents, especially if you don't think your child is ready. But everyone goes through it.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi MsDora, I do have to trust him and trust that my prayers will be heard.

  • Faith Reaper profile image

    Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

    We were so young and dumb, that I married at 19 and then went to college. I vowed to not get married so young and finish college and such, but it just happened. We were very ready to be on our own at 18 and 19 years of age. My husband has joined the Air Force, so we moved far away from home and were just fine. However, we did have each other. Then five years later we had our first child, our daughter.

    She went to college at a College right in the City in which we lived. It is a wonderful college known all around for its quality education, but very costly. We thought, at least we do not have to pay out-of-state fees or she will not have to live in a dorm. The funny thing is she said she wanted to experience the "full" college scene and so decided to live in a dorm? Well, every night, being we lived right there, when I arrived home from work, she would be home? We finally had to point it out to her that she was at home more than at the dorm and so what was the point. She admitted that she could not concentrate to study at the dorm with so many people coming and going and so much noise. She moved back home LOL.

    Great hub. Those are exciting years of transition for all and each family is different.

    Up and more, tweeting and pinning


  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi FaithReaper, thanks so much for reading and for sharing and pinning. These are exciting years, and it's a big transition.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    My son is at college and through conversations knew what to expect more or less he manages well knows responsibilities are more than before and the experience is overwhelming.

  • CyberShelley profile image

    Shelley Watson 3 years ago

    I was lucky enough that my son studied at our local well recognised, University. I think you next hub must be on parents - and how ready are they to let their kids go and empty nest syndrome. LOL. Up, interesting and useful

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi CyberShelley, believe it or not, I've thought of that. It's going to be a difficult transition.

  • Maggie.L profile image

    Maggie.L 3 years ago from UK

    Thank you for writing this hub. This is a subject close to my heart at the moment. My 18 year old daughter may have to leave home to enter the course that she wants to study. We're hoping that her results will be good enough to allow her to study at the University near to home as she (and I) are not sure she's ready to leave home. Recently in the UK studies emerged that showed that the numbers of young students seeking counselling has dramatically increased in the last few years and was particularly high in students living away from home. Some of the factors that were contributing to these feelings of depression were isolation and financial stress. A great hub. Voted useful, and interesting.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Maggie L, my heart goes out to you right now. I'm not sure all 18-year-old students are ready for the experience. My own son (my second child) is ready for the most part, but his time management skills are not what they should be.

    My other child, on the other hand, clearly was not. I hope your daughter can study close to home. That study is concerning. Thanks for reading.

  • profile image

    Kate 2 years ago

    I'm currently a student in university, so this was wonderful insight on a viewpoint I had not considered. I still feel a great deal of angst and consternation at the start of the year, even though I don't live with my parents in the summer any more. College causes a great deal of anxiety to many people; but I believe you're right, it does take resilience to truly weather through it. I was not really close to my parents growing up, so I didn't have an experience similar to your childrens', but I often feel unprepared going into school or a new term to this day. We just have to understand it's our barbaric adrenaline preparing us for a battle that will never come, because our fight or flight instinct is not suited for modern life. It's still terrifying, but it's somehow easier knowing it's origin.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Kate, thanks so much for your insight and your perspective. It is good to hear from someone who had some qualms about going away. Maybe all students feel a bit of anxiety. I don't know. Good luck in your studies and your eventual career.

  • profile image

    Susan 22 months ago

    Let it go, let it go. You have to let your child go to fail or suceed. If they fail, they will be stronger and know what not to too. Stop protecting and make your child learn the ups and downs of life. This wil mkae them better people for society, better people for America. Failing is not bad, but it is good. Makes you stronger and more successful. Let go moms, let go.

    Sincerely, A fellow mother.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 22 months ago from USA

    Hi Susan, this is not true for all children. Going away was the best choice for one of my children, but not the other. Each child is different. Each family situation is different.

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