What Does My Student Really Need to Take to College?
By Liz Yokubison
Raising twins is by nature a lesson in psychology. And the way my son and daughter prepared for what to take to college was no exception. My daughter poured over websites searching for the perfect comforter, created a Pinterest-worthy photo collage and took me on endless shopping trips to Target and The Container Store. She slowly accumulated an arsenal of dorm room décor and supplies.
Her twin brother, on the other hand, wandered into the guest room, which was temporarily storing my daughter’s stash, and wondered aloud if he needed as much stuff. I assured him that he did not. Instead, he chose to order the “dorm room essentials” package from his university’s bookstore and called it good. So, what is the answer to the age-old question, what does my student really need to take to college? Somewhere in between the two extremes just described.
Must-Have Things to Take to College
Most universities offer incoming freshmen the option of purchasing a package from the on-campus bookstore that includes sheets, towels, a comforter, and pillow. The bare necessities of outfitting a dorm room. This can be handy for out-of-state students, who simply walk over to the bookstore and pick up their linens. Our son chose this option since he was attending college on the other side of the country and packed everything he was taking with him into a few airline-checked duffle bags.
One downside of this approach is that your student won’t have the chance to wash the sheets before they make the bed in their dorm room. Possibly for the only time all year. And if parents think they’ll be able to convince their student to run a load in the dormitory washer and dryer on move-in day, I can assure you that will not be the case.
Even if your student chooses to take advantage of this option, you will still need to plan to pick up a few more “must-have” items. These include a light blanket, since many college dorm rooms don’t have air conditioning and a comforter will be far too warm in the dog days of summer when classes begin. Similarly, a fan to circulate cool air is also a necessity, but you will need to figure out what type of windows your student’s room has before purchasing. For example, a box fan won’t work in windows that only open inward.
Other necessary items include a shower caddy and shower shoes for shared bathrooms, and storage containers to maximize closet or under bed space. And since thousands of students will be descending on campus during move-in weekend, it’s best to take advantage of online ordering that allows you to order in advance and pick up your supplies in the store before everything has been picked over.
If your student doesn’t already have their own laptop, many campuses allow special deals for incoming students who purchase their computer on-campus. The added benefit of this strategy is that if anything happens to the computer during the time your student is enrolled, IT service is included in the price.
An often forgotten but entirely necessary item your student needs to take to college is a mattress topper. After criticizing his sister’s overzealous shopping habits, our son insisted he didn’t need a mattress topper. But, after a poor night’s sleep on a thin, plastic wrapped mattress, he ordered one the very next day.
Last, but not least, make sure your student packs a variety of clothes for multiple seasons including snow boots and coats if they are attending college in a northern climate or plenty of waterproof gear if their university is in the Pacific Northwest.
Nice-to-Have Things to Take to College
If your student has a specific vision for their dorm room, or if they’re feeling uneasy about moving away from home, spending a little extra time and money to make their dorm look less utilitarian is worth it. Our daughter purchased a rug and bean bag chair to provide extra seating and make her dorm room feel cozier. Both items now decorate her post-college apartment. Other ideas include fun pillows or fuzzy throws to make their bed feel less sterile and more inviting.
Bringing a few pictures from home for their desk or walls can make even the sparsest dorm room more appealing. After my daughter printed out a swath of photos for a collage above her desk, my son followed suit, but with a more minimalist approach. A photo of he and his sister, our dog, the four of us, and a few of his high school buddies was the extent of it, just enough to remind him of home.
Depending on your student’s major/classes, a printer can also be a useful, albeit costly item to take to college. While most dormitories offer printers in common rooms, my daughter discovered that with her course load, she needed easier and more frequent access to a printer than one five floors below. However, given the expense, it’s best to wait until your student is well into their first semester to decide if a printer is a true necessity.
Often forgotten, but other helpful things to take to college include a plate and silverware to heat up takeout from the dining hall or local restaurants in a school-provided microwave (see below.) And again, any extra storage in the form of shelves and plastic bins is helpful to store everything from extra linens to dorm room snacks.
Not Necessary to Take to College
One thing we learned the hard way was to rent a combination refrigerator and microwave from the university your student is attending. Why? Because otherwise you will be stuck with a small appliance that nobody wants to buy when your student moves out of the dormitory.
My son and his roommate rented a fridge/microwave ensemble that was compact and already in their dorm room when they moved in. If they had purchased their own appliances, I’m not sure where they would have fit in their shoebox of a room. Plus, the rental cost was reasonable and both appliances arrived in clean, working order.
Regardless of whether your college student chooses to take enough things to college that you need to rent a U-Haul or Suburban, or goes with the more minimalistic approach, rest assured there will be one or two things that they end up realizing they just can’t live without. And the best part? That means they will have to call or text you to ask for help, giving you a little glimpse into this new chapter of their life.