Sending your kid off to college is a veritable cocktail shaker of emotions. Excitement and pride mix with sadness and worry to make for some messy parents. Keeping it all together matters– not just to avoid family pictures with mascara streaming down your cheeks but also because your student is probably feeling some of the same things and looking to you for support.

When my kids left for college, I did something that I thought was for them but that turned out to be at least as much for me: I wrote them each a letter. In it, I described things I knew about them that were going to help them succeed as students, my hopes for their college years, and a reminder of our love and support. I added a favorite picture of each and a little memento– a necklace for Gabi made from a stone that symbolizes renewal; a copy of the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken for Alex– and wrapped it up and left it behind in a dorm drawer.

My intention was to remind them that they had what it took to succeed in college and to roll with whatever punches came there way– and for the class of 2023, there were plenty! What I found was, writing all these things down helped me to realize that they were ready to head out on this next step in their life journeys.

Want to write a letter to your student? Here are some thoughts– maybe even a template– for getting started:

  • Start with the general “I love you and I’m proud of you.” Writing that down means that your page is no longer blank!
  • Think of a trait that will help your student succeed in college– perseverance or dedication or intellect or curiosity or flexibility or whatever– then think of times when your student has used this trait successfully. Maybe something didn’t go right the first time around but they were able to solve a problem. Maybe they tried something new and made some new friends along the way. Maybe they put in the work to learn a new skill. Share an anecdote about this to remind them that they have the skills they need for this next step. This will also help to remind you that your student has a pretty solid toolkit for the coming years.
  • Tell them your hopes and wishes for their college years– why you want them to have this experience in the first place. Be as grandiose or mundane as you like. Learning about the world and learning that they’ll save money on laundry if they clean out the lint screen in the dryer are both good life lessons. Spend some time thinking about this, because you’ll probably find it helps the happy/excited voices drown out the sad/stressed ones.
  • Remind them of the support they have: you, the rest of their family, friends, on campus resources. You might find it reassuring to research on-campus support resources at this point, too.
  • Mention something about the school they’ve chosen and why it’s a good fit for them. Maybe even add that you’re excited to visit them and get to know the campus and surrounding area. Again, build up the happy/excited voice– and maybe start making plans for parents’ weekend if you haven’t already.
  • Tell them that you’re confident that they’ve made a great choice and will have an amazing four years. Numerous studies have shown that confidence has a halo effect: when you project confidence (in your student), you help them to feel more confident. And of course, the more you speak confidently and positively about your student’s choices, the more likely you are to feel confident and positive about those choices.

If you’re like me, just putting this down on paper will make you feel so much better about your baby stepping out into the big world on their own. They’ve got the skills and the support network to make it work, and you’ll still be a part of their life, no matter how far they go.

If you would like a template, here is one of mine that you’re welcome to adapt for your student.