The Ten Essentials of College, 2017 Edition
August 2, 2017 9:37 AM   Subscribe

The firstborn of the baseballpajamas family is leaving for college in three weeks. Aside from condoms and a laptop, what should he bring with him?

Location: The Berkshires of Massachusetts.
Living Arrangement: Shared dorm room, no stoves or hot-plates allowed.
Flavor: Liberal Arts.
Age: 17.
posted by baseballpajamas to Education (46 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Command hooks. (The plastic hooks with the pull tabs on the sticky tape that makes them remove cleanly. ) all shapes and sizes. Also those velcro strap things for cord organization.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:49 AM on August 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

Bed lifts to make room for storage under the bed
posted by raccoon409 at 9:50 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh! And a mattress pad. Dorm beds are kind of creepy and it's nice to have another layer in between the sheets and the mattress.
posted by raccoon409 at 9:51 AM on August 2, 2017 [10 favorites]

The Sweethome has just updated their Best College Dorm Essentials.
posted by donajo at 9:51 AM on August 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

Does the firstborn consume coffee (yet)? if so, get him a small coffee maker.
posted by heathrowga at 9:57 AM on August 2, 2017

Led torchiere
posted by brujita at 10:00 AM on August 2, 2017

A frisbee!
posted by kevinbelt at 10:03 AM on August 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

Laundry bag (for that matter, does he know how to do laundry?).

A good (but not too good) set of headphones.

Whiteboard (8x10) and several different-color pens.

Extra towel. Like, after you've packed everything, then shove another towel in somewhere.

Stash a bunch of gift cards for local restaurants in a bag somewhere so he'll find them after you leave.

In a couple of weeks, order a bunch of cheap-as-hell phone charger cords from China and ship them to the dorm.
posted by Etrigan at 10:05 AM on August 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

no stoves or hot-plates allowed

Kettle. Plug in kettle. You can completely illegally make mac 'n cheese in them. Also instant coffee. Also hot dogs. Also, I suppose, tea although I've never seen one used for that purpose.

A mini-fridge is handy! For beer, obviously. Also milk for the coffee.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:06 AM on August 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

$100 in quarters, for laundry.
posted by fancyoats at 10:11 AM on August 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

Instead of a plug-in kettle, I had, and continue to give new dorm residents, a hot pot. Same as a kettle, but the element is protected.
posted by angiep at 10:14 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Y'all should, if you can, coordinate the microwave/refrigerator situation with his new roommate (if he's going to have one). It would suck to show up on move-in day and both of them have microwaves/refrigerators, only because dorm rooms are small and space is at a premium.

Is laundry "free?" (aka part of tuition) Or will he need rolls of quarters? Will he need detergent?

My son's first dorm room was SUPER HOT because the window faced south and maintenance could never seem to get the radiator to shut off all the way; he liked having a big box fan that he could either put in the window or right at the foot of his bed (his university is in upstate NY, so, you know, not a super hot climate but yeah, that room got HOT).

Snacks. You can get those before you leave him there, though.

Basically, anything that will alleviate some of the homesickness but you also don't want his room to be an extension of his room at home because then he won't want to leave it to go meet people and do things.
posted by cooker girl at 10:14 AM on August 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

Now that Amazon Prime is a thing, underpacking isn't going to lead to as much inconvenience/ expense as it used to.
posted by metasarah at 10:15 AM on August 2, 2017 [11 favorites]

Definitely a nice mattress pad. If he's going where I think he's going, I spent a night on one of those dorm mattresses at reunion a couple of months ago and they are not great.

I would recommend a hot pot over a kettle too. He may be able to keep a hot pot in a common room, even if he can't keep it in his room. They're cheap enough that if it goes missing no big deal.

A Nalgene/other reusable water bottle and a nice insulated coffee mug!
posted by MadamM at 10:17 AM on August 2, 2017

A plastic box with a lid, containing:

* band-aids
* antiseptic cream
* tissues
* throat lozenges (the ones from the chemist, not the ones that are lollies)
* paracetamol
* disposable vomit bags
and anything else he might need for a cold or minor illness... because often when you need this stuff, you're too ill to get to the shops to buy it.
posted by Murderbot at 10:18 AM on August 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

Desk lamps/clip on bedside lamps/ambient lighting

flip flops for bathroom floors

this might be an "after you're set up" thing, but curtains really made my dorm room seem homier back in the day
posted by Lucinda at 10:20 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

(Before going nuts with laundry quarters, make sure the machines actually take them. If it's the college I'm thinking it is, their website says they require debit or credit cards. Many colleges now require debit/credit or take swipes on the student ID.)
posted by dayintoday at 10:25 AM on August 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

The packing tip "bring half of the stuff and twice the cash" has never been as true of anywhere as of a dorm room. I brought way too much random crap as a freshman and he can buy anything he needs once he's there -- especially with Amazon Prime, as another poster noted. Dorm rooms are small. Get the essentials and things that are completely obvious he'll need. Skip the rest. Like half the things on this list that people are mentioning I brought and I didn't need at all.
posted by phoenixy at 10:26 AM on August 2, 2017 [12 favorites]

$100 in quarters, for laundry.
Probably not necessary anymore. A lot of dorm laundry machines now take student IDs.

My vote is for a real alarm clock. Most students try to use the alarm on their phones, and it doesn't work. If he has an issue with turning off his alarm clock, I have found the alarm on a FitBit HR to be completely foolproof. It's incredibly annoying, and the only way to get it to stop vibrating is to get up and walk around.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:26 AM on August 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

Maybe he can buy it himself once he's settled in, but a lot of dorm rooms featured a bottle of Febreze.

Definitely make sure he knows how to do laundry: there's no bigger sign of a privileged child than an oversudding accident in the early weeks.
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:38 AM on August 2, 2017

A small electric rice cooker that also steams and simmers. The Sweethome link above has one.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:45 AM on August 2, 2017

A day planner. Made of paper. For his first term at college at the very least; he can switch to an electronic calendar after that if he feels the need.

He should enter by hand all his class times, meetings, events, midterms, assignment due dates, etc into the book. This will let him see the dates and times in relation to each other, and start thinking about allocating the necessary time for each assignment. For the first week of term he should also sketch in hour-by-hour how he *actually* used his time -- this can be used to gain self-awareness to apply to the rest of the term. He should review the coming events of each week the weekend before and each day the night before.
posted by heatherlogan at 10:46 AM on August 2, 2017

Extra power strips, the kind that come with USB sockets too. Never have enough of those in the dorms, he can probably buy a case and sell the half he doesn't need in the first week, make a few bucks and meet people that way.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:48 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think the only items posted so far that actually are essential are the frisbee and shower flip-flops. I had way too much crap in college that I didn't need, and my advice would be to just live with what's provided for a while to figure what else actually is needed. The school will provide plenty of furniture, and getting food or coffee outside of the room can be a good social opportunity (being mindful of skimpy student budgets). I would even go so far as to recommend only packing clothes equivalent to maybe a two-week trip — like a limit of what you could check on an airplane and handle yourself for travel, though western MA will need some bulky winter gear as well.
posted by stopgap at 11:03 AM on August 2, 2017 [9 favorites]

Comfortable bedding, snacks in case the food is bad/gift card to nearest supermarket, first aid kit and cold, diarrhea, allergy meds. And stationary. Like someone said up thread, pack half the stuff and twice the cash. I overpacked over two years away and didn't downsize until my last semester. It sucks to move with a lot of stuff.
posted by starlybri at 11:24 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Poster putty and/or duct tape for putting up posters. I had a nice string of Xmas lights up over my bed in college that I really enjoyed, but that's more of a personal preference than an essential item.

A shower caddy! Even if he doesn't use a load of bath stuff, it's so convenient to just be able to chuck all your wet stuff in a bucket.

A desk lamp, if one does not come with the room, for any late night studying. His roommate will thank him.

If he's a light sleeper, eye mask and ear plugs, just in case his roommate is a noisy sleeper.

A big ceramic mug for drinking all manner of liquids. Sturdier than glass cups, more versatile than plastic.

A multi pack of plastic cutlery. Real silverware always sounds like a good idea, but in a dorm room, it just becomes Easy Mac-encrusted clutter.

I agree re: overpacking. It's sooooo much easier to pack light and fill in the gaps as you go than it is to try to make space in a tiny dorm room for all of the stuff you brought and ended up never using. Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:25 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Definitely check with the Res Life office to see what's already available, so you don't over do it (like I did). Especially in residential liberal arts colleges, it's pretty common for college dorms to have minimal kitchens on each floor (stove/oven/microwave/fridge) and adjustable-height beds.

Does he have experience sharing a room with a new person who might keep different hours? This was a challenge for me going off to college. How about a stash of ear plugs or headphones that are comfy to sleep in?
posted by esker at 11:25 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding flip flops for the shower. If he doesn't know how to recognize the symptoms of athlete's foot, get him up to speed on that so he can treat it before he gets bad.

Earplugs in case it's noisier than he's used to and it takes some time to acclimate.

If you have the money, consider an $150 Chromebook in addition to the laptop - something that's easier to carry around to classes and is less of a deal to replace if it gets broken or stolen.

If it's an old dorm and doesn't have air conditioning, a good (powerful but relatively quiet) box fan.

At least two sets of sheets to encourage changing them even if he doesn't have time then and there to do laundry.

If possible, one of your credit cards in his name with several thousand dollars LoC available on it with the *strong* understanding that it is to be hidden and only used in case of an emergency or specifically authorized situations.

If he's into them, some socially friendly party games (Werewolf, Cards Against Humanity (I find it droll but it is popular), Times Up, Taboo, etc.). Or a copy of the Jackbox games. Something that helps break the ice socially.

If you're not technologically adept, get your Facetime/Hangouts video chat skills up to date if he wants to be able to do video calls home to help with homesickness.
posted by Candleman at 11:31 AM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

A tool set. My aunt gave me a pretty decent one when I moved off to college and it came in handy so many times. I still thank her for it every couple of years when it occurs to me. This is what it contained: hammer, needle-nose and blunt pliers, 4 screwdrivers, ratchet set, x-acto knife, a few wrenches in different sizes, metric and imperial hex keys, measuring tape, little box of assorted screws/nails/fasteners.

Thanks Aunt Katie!!
posted by number9dream at 11:51 AM on August 2, 2017 [11 favorites]

nting an electric kettle. And a pour-over drip coffee funnel. Also, desktop fan. Potted plants are nice, but shipping them is silly.

Add an auto-refilled monthly bus pass if you can afford it. Not having to think about ones budget when exploring a new town is pretty fantastic.
posted by eotvos at 11:57 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

A sturdy, cheap laser printer and one backup toner. Why? Nobody else on the hall will have one, but at least one professor will require assignments turned in on paper. Campus computer labs are a PITA and being the one with the printer helps you meet people.

My college experience was maybe unique in that the power went out a lot, but I'd still recommend a flashlight (even if only for fun) and if you get a real alarm clock, one that has a battery backup.

I would honestly just bring basic stuff and set him up with an Amazon gift card after you get there to buy any necessary comfort items.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:02 PM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Two different laundry hampers--one for hots, one for colds (a third if he has a lot of delicates, but I doubt that's the case).

Tupperware for leftovers.


Bathrobe if he has to leave the room to shower.

A good, sturdy backpack he can fit the entire day's textbooks/homework in if he needs to, because nothing is more annoying than going back to your dorm room for only an hour and then coming out again. (YMMV... I've got chronic fatigue, so maybe it just annoyed me more than most. But I also had a power wheelchair and STILL didn't wanna go back to my dorm until the end of the day, so.)
posted by brook horse at 12:41 PM on August 2, 2017

Echoing esker, read the literature from the school about what's provided. Specifically, if the school provides linens, you probably want to take advantage of those rather than have to launder your own.

I'd definitely throw in one or more 25' three-prong extension cords, to give some flexibility when the room layout doesn't quite work (if allowed), or for temporary use. I was always loaning extension cords out to host cafe night in the lounge, to power a buddy's projector for movie night, to run a saw in the back parking lot, etc. Label anything you don't want to lose with your name, so when they're cleaning up the next day, they remember to return it to you.

Depending on the wifi situation, a ethernet cable may yield faster download speeds in the dorm room.

A good set of tools is going to be useful sooner or later.

If he'll have a car, basic maintenance tools and knowledge.
posted by yuwtze at 12:55 PM on August 2, 2017

IME the most forgotten item during a move to college was always a nail clippers.

For a shared dorm room, nothing - nothing - will improve his life as much as a decent pair of noise cancelling or noise isolating earphones. You don't need to break the bank to get a decent pair.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:06 PM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

A couple of power strips and an extension cord or two are the most useful (and frequently overlooked) items ever.

Laundry bag instead of a hamper, it's easier to lug around.

Very basic first-aid kit (bandaids, Advil, any other OTC stuff that he tends to actually use).

Instead of a tool set, a decent multi-tool will suffice if he doesn't already have one. Also, it's a nice thing to give as a gift.
posted by desuetude at 1:19 PM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh! I recently went to a student presentation where current students were asked this question, and one of them said cold medicine, because nobody wants to go to the drug store when they're sick.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:09 PM on August 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

Former college help desk worker, student, and now frequent traveler who has the experience of moving into a hotel for a week or two at a time, so some things to add:

- Five port USB charger: let them leave it at their desk in their dorm and take other smaller chargers with them around campus (to inevitably have those smaller chargers die / break / get lost / forgotten). Maybe a 2 port charger also.

- PowerLine+ cables in 3ft/6ft/10ft lengths: USB-C and Lightning versions available, durable cables, survives being used a lot/beat up.

- Consider a Laptop Stand "water" will be spilled on their desk at some point. Chances of it destroying the new laptop are less if it's on a stand. Plus it provides a better angle to reduce strain, and combined with a decent keyboard/mouse it would help for any long term typing.

- Second charger for the laptop. One will live at the desk, one goes with the laptop if needed. The one that travels might eventually get broken and die, but if it's a laptop with a decent charge, then they still have one at their desk to charge when they get home.

- Emesis Bags: or as someone said, puke bags. These are amazing. I discovered them during an ER visit and immediately ordered my own when I got home. Little tabs on the sides let you twist the bag shut then lock it in place like those plastic bread bag closures.
posted by mrzarquon at 2:14 PM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

My firstborn is also leaving for college in 3 weeks! The Parent Association at his school helpful posted this parent-created spreadsheet about what to bring.

Now, it's a huge list but it helped us to think in great detail about what he'll really need versus want and to make our own list. Everything he'll need, we're bringing with us on move-in day. All his wants are going to wait a few weeks til he sorts out what would really be useful to him.
posted by blessedlyndie at 2:45 PM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Coat hangers.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:25 PM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

My students all seem to constantly lose their chargers, so an extra set or two.

And a small stapler to stash in his schoolbag. He'll still have to turn in some of his work in hardcopy, and students never have/find staplers.
posted by TwoStride at 4:55 PM on August 2, 2017

Plunger. A really really good one.
posted by ezust at 5:48 PM on August 2, 2017

My kids really liked having a folding disc chair in their dorm rooms. It gave people a place to sit that wasn't a desk chair or a bed.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:22 PM on August 2, 2017

Also a mom box, as previously recommended.

That whole thread may be useful to you, too.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:26 PM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Definitely cold medicine. The first time you get sick (and don't have a more prepared roommate or past you to stock up) is a bitch. Same for cough drops, lotion-y tissues.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:03 PM on August 2, 2017

An envelope with some cash stuffed in it.

All students bring the wrong/inappropriate/not enough stuff to college with them. Half of the bonding he will do with his new friends is sharing other people's stuff, and then joint trips to the nearest WalMart* or whatever for the genuinely needed stuff that's been forgotten.

He will learn to fend for himself, and in the meantime he has walls and three square meals a day. And a laptop + condoms.

*In the UK this is Wilkinsons. I don't know what the appropriate North American translation is

posted by citands at 6:05 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's better just to pack the essentials he already has like clothing, school supplies, etc and figure out what you need once you're moved in
posted by infortunity at 6:27 PM on August 10, 2017

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