Off to college - ready or not

Off to college - ready or not

Be sure to check out our tips from the experts below.

I see them at the dorms every August: the excited and nervous freshmen, the anxious and even more nervous parents, lugging pillows and towels and everything else they could cram into the car.

And I think: I’m so not ready for this.

We’ve still got a couple of years before we send our oldest off to school, but this is a momentous time for families making the college transition — whether it’s the first or last child to go.

John and Anne Storsved’s firstborn son is headed to Miami University of Ohio, and Dad — the admittedly “sappy” one in the family — has been anxious about it ever since Ben walked across the Krannert Center stage in his Central High School maroon cap and gown. All day there was something “gnawing inside of me: Man, is it this close?” he said.

As the days ticked down to August, they’ve tried to take a more practical approach and gotten more excited for Ben.

“I’m trying to think back to when I was this age and getting ready to go off to college. I was nervous, but I was ready for it. You hope that you’ve given him the right tools and skills that they’ll be able to succeed,” John said.

They’ve made the most of Ben’s last high school summer, heading to Minnesota for John’s parents’ Blog Photo50th wedding anniversary and taking a nine-day trip to Alaska as a “culminating family adventure,” John said.

John, Ben and daughter Kate also went on a mission trip with their church, Ben’s last year to go as a youth.

“We’re trying to squeeze in as much as we can. He may decide not to come home next summer,” John said.

John is bracing himself for that empty bedroom come Aug. 24, when they make the 31/2-hour trip to Oxford, Ohio. He's always liked having everybody under his own roof, even when his kids went off to camp or sleepovers.

“I know they’re safe,” he said.

The Storsveds are trying to decide how often to text or call — not too much, to avoid the “helicopter” adjective, but just enough for peace of mind. John wonders if he and Ben will still have their inside jokes, like the podcast they listen to from the Minnesota station where John grew up.

The nice thing is that Miami is only 3 1/2 hours away, a good weekend distance. And parents weekend is Oct. 1.

Anne Storsved is prepared to be “sad and happy all at once.” She grew up in Urbana and went away to college, and thinks she is a better person because of it.

“I’d actually be more worried if he was staying here, that he wasn’t getting out and meeting new people and finding his way,” she said.

They know it’s a transition to adulthood, where he’s likely to miss home when he’s in school, and miss his college friends when he’s at home.

Anne has given Ben her “first of a four-part lecture series,” on college life. First topic: alcohol.

John, an associate professor at Millikin University, also had some fatherly advice: Go to class. Make connections with your professors and let them know you’re serious about your education. Plan your time well. And watch the buffet line at all those campus eateries.

Ben hasn’t said much about the upcoming transition, but “I definitely think he’s ready to go,” John said.

Still, a couple of weeks ago, as John and Anne got ready to go out for a game of golf, Ben asked out of the blue if he could go, too. He hadn’t shown any interest in years.

John expects there will be tears on the big day — from him, not Ben — but adds: “I’m very excited for him. I remember how much I enjoyed college and what a great experience it was. You just hope they get the same thing out of it, and pray that you’ve taught them well and they can make the right choices and right decisions — and maybe still need you once in awhile?”


:Tom and Natalie Lessaris are at the end of this road, sending their fifth and youngest child off to Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. It may be more familiar, but it’s a new experience each time.

“One thing we’ve had to keep in mind is, this might be our fourth or fifth college education, but it’s Blog PhotoSam’s first,” said Natalie, a teacher at Booker T. Washington School in Champaign. “This is like a blank slate, and we’ve never been in that situation before with him.”

The oldest, Steve, now 27, was more than ready. When Natalie wanted to mark his move-in day at Illinois Wesleyan on her calendar, Steve took the pen from her, smiled, crossed out “move in” and wrote “move out.”

“He was so itching to go that it made us feel really confident,” she said.

Sam appears ready, too. Last November, he told his dad that they’d had a good relationship, but “now it’s over.” Tom took no offense.

“He just wanted that separation,” Tom said.

In truth, the family is quite close, but kids start distancing themselves in the months leading up to college, Natalie said: “‘I’m 18, I have my own life, it’s separate from you.’ It’s not a bad thing.”

Her daughter, Chloe, wanted to spend every minute with her friends during her last summer before joining the Army.

“She was always saying, ‘Well, it’s my last time to be with my friends for the Fourth of July, it’s my last time to be with my friends when we go to the cookout,’” Natalie said. “And part of me goes, ‘But it’s my last time with you for our Fourth of July before you go to college.’”

It’s a gradual shift, when you realize they’re not just an extension of their parents, Natalie said.

“Now they’re their own people, and they want to paint their own picture with their own brush. And that’s good.”

This year will be a transition for Tom and Natalie, too, after 13 years as Central parents. They’re going to miss it, but after five kids and nine high school sports, they’re ready for a little free time. And sleep. And deepening friendships with other parents. Life with five children tends to fill up the time.

“We can go visit our kids,” Tom said.

They also know their children aren’t far away and will still be in and out of the house. Chloe has been living at home attending Parkland while preparing to go to the UI Chicago in the fall. Noah, who has only one semester left at Illinois State University, may live at home and commute this fall.

“It’s another chance to be involved in their lives and to help them,” said Tom.

It’s important to enjoy each stage of parenthood, he said.

“We’re both really, really happy to write a new chapter with our adult children,” Natalie agreed. “We’ll see how I do when Sam’s actually gone. I may be a little more weepy-eyed than I think I will be. But it’s nice he’s an hour’s drive away — what’s that?”



Five tips from our parent experts on how to prepare your children for the world after high school:

Don’t panic: Anne Storsved has worried since middle school that she wasn’t doing enough to prepare or to ensure her son had plenty of options for college — grades, extracurriculars, the right summer job, college visits. “You can always find someplace that you’ll be happy,” she says.

Be flexible: There’s no cookie cutter when choosing a school or post-high school experience. Find a place where they fit, and “let them have their own experience,” says Natalie Lessaris.

Be a partner and a parent: Give them room to make mistakes, so they grow and learn to be independent. Be their advocate, and just make sure they “don’t get too derailed,” says Tom Lessaris.

Set realistic expectations: If you tell them college will be the best years of their life, they may feel like a failure if it doesn’t happen. Tell them to have fun, take advantage of the experience, try to work out the bumps, and “if it gets too dark and desperate, we’re a phone call away,” says John Storsved.

Be confident: Know that you raised an intelligent child and trust them. “They’re going to figure it out. We always say they’re going to bang around a little bit while they do it, but they’ll get it figured out,” says Natalie Lessaris


Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, or


Top: The Storsved family hikes a glacier during their summer 2016 vacation in Alaska. From left to right are: John, Kate, Ben, Anne and Luke. Family photo

Bottom: Samuel Lessaris has his cap adjusted by fellow classmate Kelley McDonald as Nicholas Finke and Isabella Rossi look on. Champaign Central High School 139th Annual Commencement on May 31 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Holly Hart/News-Gazette



Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):Education, People


Login or register to post comments