ORLANDO, Fla. – Starting at a new college – especially one as large as the University of Central Florida – can be scary, for students and parents alike.
Whether your child grew up in the Orlando area or they’re coming from out of state, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by all UCF has to offer, but some advice from fellow Knight parents who have been through this season of changes before should help.
As a UCF alumna who made the move to Orlando at 17 after spending most of my life in Tennessee, I know how scary it can be, but I also know how exciting your student’s first year can be, as long as you both know what resources are available to you.
No one knows that better than some fellow Knights and their seasoned Knight parents, which is why I asked a group of them what they think parents of first-year UCF students need to know.
Here’s some of the advice they had to offer, broken down by topic.
Having your child away from home for the first time can be tough on parents, since there’s a good chance it’s the first time you don’t know exactly what they’re up to at all times. There are a few ways you can keep up with what’s happening on campus, though.
I guess I should start by suggesting you join UCF-related Facebook groups, considering I asked the UCF Parents group to gather a lot of the advice I’ll mention in this story.
In the group, parents are constantly helping each other with pretty much anything you can think of: Advice on housing, what organizations their student should join, where to stay if you’re visiting campus for a football game, etc.
Parents of the group also recommend downloading the UCF app, following all UCF-related social media accounts and regularly checking the school’s website, UCF.edu.
Multiple people in the group told me they also recommend parents attend freshman orientation, and that they grab a few extra copies of the calendar they hand out during the event. It’ll come in handy throughout the year.
The Pegasus Parent Post, a monthly e-newsletter from the university’s Pegasus Parent Program that provides parents and family members updates on what’s happening on campus, advising tips and other information, is another good resource, particularly for family members of first-year Knights. Parents can click here to subscribe.
Can your child move in early? What if they don’t get along with their roommate? Is their dorm or apartment going to be what they expected? Trust me, you’re not the only parent who has questions when it comes to their student’s living situation.
In fact, so many parents have the same questions, that the university has put together a list of move-in related frequently asked questions.
In the future, if your Knight is looking to move in early without paying the early move-in fee, they may want to consider being a move-in ambassador, which means they’d move in early to help others with the move-in process. This opportunity allows them to get settled in a bit earlier than other students, get to know their way around and meet other Knights before the start of the semester.
If your student needs to be on campus early for any other reason, such as sorority recruitment, they can request to move in early by filling out a form through UCF’s housing website.
When the semester is over, your Knight may come home for a while and need a place to put their stuff. To help with that, the university compiled a list of local storage companies, including some that offer a discount to students.
“University Moving and Storage picks up, stores between semesters and returns belonging to new location,” one mom in the UCF Parents group said. “They’ve been a lifesaver more than once.”
Click here for all other move-in related resources UCF has to offer.
Finding their place
If you’re worried about your Knight getting lost in such a big crowd, I completely understand that. The campus is huge, after all. But it can also be as small as they choose to make it.
I didn’t know a single person at UCF when I enrolled. While that excited me because I knew I’d get a fresh start, it also intimidated me. I knew I needed to find a place on campus that would feel like home while I was away from mine, so I decided to rush a sorority in an effort to meet people.
I had no intentions of joining one at the end of the process – or even sticking it out through the entire process, if I’m being honest – but I knew I wanted to walk on campus the first day of the semester with a chance to see at least one familiar face.
Long story short, I joined one and found a place that felt like home. Knowing that small group of people gave me the confidence to want to explore even more groups. The good news about that is, the opportunities to do that at UCF are endless – seriously.
From there, I joined clubs, got involved with a campus ministry program, attended university and campus housing-organized events and talked to every person who sat next to me in a class the rest of my college career – whether they wanted me to or not.
I’m not saying sororities and fraternities are the way to go. What I am saying is, encourage your Knight to start somewhere. Have them get to know each of their roommates and meet their friends. Tell them to speak with their teachers about organizations they’re involved with, or that they know other students are a part of. Challenge them to do something that scares them until they find the thing that comforts them.
Are they into sports? Have them take a fitness class at the rec center, or register to play on an intramural team. Do they like traveling? Cars? Games? There are clubs for each of those hobbies. How about wine? There’s a club for that, too – if they’re 21, of course.
If they don’t see one they like, maybe they’ll start one.
Safety on campus
If there has ever been anyone who lives up to the name “scaredy cat,” it’s me. I’m scared of my own shadow, but I can honestly say I never felt unsafe on UCF’s campus.
It’s natural for parents to worry, especially on those nights they know their student is running on no sleep because they’re studying for an exam and they haven’t heard from them in a while because they’re busy cramming.
To ease your mind, you should know about all the safety features in place on campus.
Of course, UCF police can be found all over campus. There’s also blue light emergency telephones everywhere that will, when activated, connect you to a police dispatcher. They don’t all look the same, but if you’re on campus, you’re always in site of one, according to UCF Police. Click here for a map of the blue light phones available to students in case of an emergency.
UCF also recently installed license plate readers on campus that scan the plate of every vehicle that comes on and off campus.
Police offer a women’s self defense class and a number of other different programs designed to make students and parents feel safer about their UCF experience. Learn more about the programs and other safety tips here.
Of course, UCF police encourage signing up for UCF Alerts to be notified in the event of an emergency. They also recommend using the buddy system. Don’t go anywhere alone if you don’t have to.
And on those long nights spent studying I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to walk to the library alone in the dark if you’re planning to have a long night. Thanks to UCFPD and the Student Government Association, Knights have a safe nighttime transportation option called Knight Ride to get where they need to go on campus. The van makes its rounds every day from 7 p.m. until 1 a.m. when classes are in session, with extended hours offered during exam periods, according to UCF police.
If your student needs special accommodations or would prefer a walking escort, they can call 407-823-2424 to reach a Knight Ride dispatcher during those hours.
Click here to learn more about the service.
Other helpful hacks
Paying for textbooks in inevitable, but it doesn’t always have to cost an arm and a leg. In fact, there are many ways to avoid purchasing costly books.
Encourage your student to look for the books their professors list in their syllabi in various Facebook groups. Here are links to a few used by UCF students:
They can also ask members of clubs or organizations they’re apart of if they were previously enrolled in a certain class and if they still have the book.
Local book stores can also be a great option, because they often offer the option to rent textbooks. Pro tip: The Barnes and Nobles on campus has a price matching option, so you may be able to negotiate a lower price.
Have your student do a search in their phone’s map and visit a few different bookstores. Really do some shopping around within the Facebook groups and stores, then decide which route will give you the most bang for your buck.
If you want to avoid paying for books all together, try visiting the campus library to see if you can utilize textbook lending, a service the university library implemented in 2018.
“Certain textbooks can be accessed for a two-hour loan on a first-come, first-served basis,” according to UCF.
Just be careful relying solely on that option, because you never know if your book will be available when you need it. Click here for more advice to save money on textbooks.
While your student is in the library, have them check out the study rooms. If they’re like me and need a quiet place to study, those will be one of the best resources available to them throughout college. You just book a room online and it’s yours for up to four hours.
Yeah, college students still do some assignments on paper. Or they write them on a computer, then print them on paper. Either way, your Knight will have to use a scantron or green book sometime throughout their college career – I’m sure of it. You can buy them at a few places on campus, but that doesn’t mean you should.
SGA offers one free scantron or green book per day in the Student Union. Just stop by with your student I.D. a few days in a row and stock up on them so you have them when your next exam rolls around.
Your Knight will also likely have to print something at one point or another, but they won’t have to pay for that either – if they know the right spots on campus.
With their I.D., Knights can print for free at the SGA Computer Labs in the Student Union or at either All Knight Study location on campus. Click here for details.
Your Knight is going to miss home at some point. It’s inevitable. And you’re probably never not going to miss them, so you should just accept that now. With them away at school, you’re likely going to miss a birthday or other special event and feel horrible about not being there to celebrate with them – but don’t.
There are still ways to make it special while they’re at school. Sure, you can’t go wrong sending something from 1-800-Flowers or even an Edible Arrangement, but there are other options.
Many Knight moms in the UCF Parents Facebook group raved about Proxy Mommy, a service designed to help long-distance parents be there for their Knights.
“Proxy Mommy provides helpful services to long distance parents for their UCF students. Services include errands, care packages, hand deliveries and more,” Proxy Mommy’s Facebook page says.
What can Proxy Mommy do for you? Make sure those special moments aren’t missed.
“Proxy Mommy is an awesome service! Being out of state she/her family have helped us with our Knight by delivering bday cakes/balloons,” one mom in the UCF Parents Facebook group said.
Another mom in the group echoed those praises, saying, “I wish I could give two or more likes for this suggestion.”
I always hear women talk about having a “tribe” of women who help them along their parenting journey. Maybe Proxy Mommy can be the long-distance member of yours you never knew you needed.
Enjoy every moment
Finally, don’t worry the present away. Even if it’s hard to watch your student branch out so much as they take on a whole new world, do your best to focus on being proud of the brave Knight you raised. Sit back and enjoy this chapter of your life and theirs. After all, they don’t call it the best four years of their lives for nothing.
Have any other advice for new UCF parents? Share it with them in the comment section below.