My oldest son Sam headed to Otterbein University this year to start college. Sam is a mature, responsible teenager. We are very proud of him.
No matter how you feel about your child's maturity level and history of responsible behavior, it is good to have a discussion with them before college about all the things they will face in college. Taking care of themselves, in all the meanings of the phrase, is an important part of transitioning to higher education. Tread lightly as you do not want to sound too preachy or overbearing. I think the average high school graduate wants some advice and wants to know you are there to help, but they do not want you telling them "never do this".
Nutrition: You have spent years trying to help your child become a healthy eater. Remind them about eating a well-rounded diet, eating breakfast (even a protein or cereal bar), and avoiding over-eating and excess snacking. Encourage calcium intake with milk, cheese, and yogurt.
Sleep: Your child in college is likely not going to get enough sleep! I would love it if they did get plenty of sleep, but college students will stay up too late and be sleep deprived. Part of this is socializing and part of it is staying up to study. Good time management will help them from having to stay up until 2:30 a.m. completing that paper that is due tomorrow. Encourage your child to get enough sleep so they are not overly tired.
Socializing: College is, of course, a huge opportunity to meet and become friends with a huge new group of young people. Many college students find this exciting. Some more reserved or shy students find this distressing. It is like life after school: your child will need to learn to interact with people from all walks of life, with different interests and backgrounds. For those college students dreading the "getting along with roommate"/"meeting new people" issues, giving them a pep talk about the fact that meeting one or two people with similar interests will help with the transition. Many times at college orientation, some upperclassmen students will mention that it was hard to balance the socializing with academics that first year of school. You hope that your children hear this message and they themselves find a good balance.
Alcohol and drugs: Despite it not being a good idea or legal, many freshman have access to alcohol and drugs at college. Talking through with your child how to handle this will help. Review with them the dangers of drunk driving or riding with someone who is intoxicated. Remind them how they can get into legal trouble or trouble with the university for public use of alcohol or drugs or public intoxication. Please tell your daughters to NEVER leave any beverage unattended -- there are far too many cases of an acquaintance or stranger adding a date rape drug to young women's drink.
Sexual activity: Although I tell patients to wait until they are in a committed, long-term relationship (ideally marriage) for sexual activity, many college students are sexually active. Besides the possible emotional and social consequences, the big issues we worry about for sexually active young adults are sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. You know your comfort level and your child, but it is a good time to discuss these issues with your son or daughter. Consider taking your daughter to the gynecologist to discuss birth control.
Money: Not only will your college student learn to budget time, but they will learn to budget money. I had a time in college where I could not send my girlfriend a letter at her college because I could not afford the stamp. Although it helped me learn to appreciate when you can afford those things you do not absolutely need, I do not wish this situation on anyone. Many college students learn about budgeting their money because they have more control over their spending when they are away from home. Whether they have their own debit card, a check book, or some other arrangement, discuss before they go off to college how you as a family are going to keep track of spending, whether parents can have access to online account information, and what to do if there is an issue.