Courtesy Teresa Guidice Gia and Teresa Giudice
They grow up so fast! Just ask Teresa Giudice.
It seems like just a blink ago that the world was introduced to the Real Housewives of New Jersey star's oldest daughter, Gia Giudice, on the first season of the hit Bravo reality show in 2009, when she was just 8 years old.
Fast forward to 2021, and Gia, now 20, is about to enter her junior year at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where she is majoring in criminal justice with plans of becoming a lawyer.
"Gia did great this year," Teresa, 49, tells PEOPLE. "She met so many people and made so many friends."
Gia and Teresa Giudice
As a mom who's already dealt with the emotional roller coaster ride of sending a daughter off to college, the Bravo star has a few tips for parents whose kids are about to fly the nest.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
"You're always going to worry, but you have to tell them to always communicate with you because they'll be living on their own," says Teresa, who is featured in The Ultimate Guide to Sending Your Kids to College in this week's issue of PEOPLE.
When Gia was on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, "I would check in with her all the time," she says. "She would always check in with me, because she's that type of kid."
"When kids go away to college, keep busy so you keep your mind off them not being there. I have three kids at home who are going in all different directions, so when Gia was away, I was busy with her sisters," Teresa says of daughters Gabriella, Milania, and Audriana.
"I have to drive everyone everywhere," she adds. "I'm like an Uber driver!"
Give Them Room to Grow
"You have to give them their space and let them be independent," says Teresa. "I would never say, 'You have to come home.'"
At the same time, she says, "Gia is only 45 minutes away. Whenever she could, she would come home, and it was great. She would come home for Sunday dinners."
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Cheer Them On
"I really try to encourage Gia," she says. "Encouraging your kids is important. Being there for them and supporting them is important, too. Anytime Rutgers had something for the parents, I went. Parents weekend. Tailgates. I went to her football games. It was fun."
Says Gia: "She is always there for moral support. It's so fun when my mom comes up."
As for the students heading off to college, Teresa — and Gia — have the following advice:
"When you get to school, be open to meeting people," says Gia. "That's the whole thing freshman year. Knock on everyone's door and say hello. Introduce yourself. Say what floor you're on. Then you can start hanging out in little groups and it grows from there."
Get Right with Your Roommate
"If you can, meet with roommate beforehand in Facebook groups," says Gia. "And try to meet them for lunch or something before you get to school."
Be Careful Out There
"Don't take things from strangers," says Teresa. "Be aware of your surroundings. Stay with a group when you're going out. Never take an Uber by yourself."
"I am all about exercising and eating right," says Teresa. "I told Gia, 'Take care of yourself. Go to the gym. Work out.' Some nights were boring, she said, so I told her, 'Go work out. Make yourself tired and you'll go right to bed.'"
"You want to eat right so your energy stays on track," she adds. "Respect your body. Don't do drugs."
Make Good Decisions
"My mom always told me, 'Just be smart. Stay on the right path and stay true to yourself and never get lost,'" says Gia. "She also said, 'Never disappoint me.' That one stays with you."
Soak in Every Moment
"Study hard," says Teresa. "Get involved. Make it the best experience you can. Do the right thing. This is your future. You have one life to live. You want it to be the best version it can be."