College Freshman Care Package?
July 31, 2007 3:43 PM   Subscribe

Freshman Filter: Our summer clerk is going away to college in the fall (one state away, living in a dorm). I'd like to put together a gift basket of things that a college freshman might use.

Just little things- her dad is my boss, so he can get her the microwave/toaster oven/coffee pot combo. I just want to get her things like hot cocoa and coffee packs. But I'm stuck on hot drinks. What else should go in her basket?
posted by dogmom to Education (53 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Long shelf life food that can me microwaved so that she can eat when the dining hall is closed. Think mac and cheese, soups, and ramen.
posted by Loto at 3:48 PM on July 31, 2007

Those microwaveable Chefboyardee or Campbell's Chunky thingies are expensive, choke full of sodium, but ohh soo convenient.

I know this isn't within the purview of your question, but a pair of high quality flip-flop sandals are great for the showers. A nice plastic bucket/pail thing with holes in it is also good for carrying toiletries to-from the dorm room to the washroom.


You can get powdered apple cider.

posted by porpoise at 3:51 PM on July 31, 2007

Shower flip-flops, a plastic bucket to carry stuff to the shower, a small first aid kit (with bandaids, antiseptic, advil, etc).
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 3:52 PM on July 31, 2007

Ramen. You can eat that stuff out of the package. Sometimes getting hot water is too much of a bother.
posted by spec80 at 3:56 PM on July 31, 2007

a small basic tool set.
i know that sounds weird, but someone gave me one when i went to college, and it was extraordinarily useful. no one in my entire dorm had even screwdriver, or pliers, or any of the most basic tools. tons of people bored them. seriously, a small basic tool set is very useful.
posted by Flood at 3:56 PM on July 31, 2007

One of the local pizza chains where I went to uni sold cards good for a large pizza. My mom would send me a few of these towards the end of the semester and I always loved having them.

Marshmallows for the hot cocoa.

Flips flops are great.

A mug for the drinks.
posted by chriswarren at 3:59 PM on July 31, 2007

A roll or two of quarters isn't especially cute in a basket, but is ever so useful.
posted by waterlily at 4:00 PM on July 31, 2007

Quarters for the laundry.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:00 PM on July 31, 2007

posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:00 PM on July 31, 2007

If she likes tea, you could splurge and get her some Mighty Leaf Tea--it tastes good, is nicely packaged, and comes with silky cloth tea bags rather than paper. It's something a college student would probably find too expensive to buy herself, but is a nice treat.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:02 PM on July 31, 2007

Maybe use a plastic or metal caddy as the "basket" and put the other stuff inside? The caddy is useful for carrying toiletries.

Hot pots (which plug in and heat up water) were a hot commodity when I was in college a few years back. A lot of dorms don't allow microwaves in room and don't have much of a kitchen set up, so the ability to boil 1-2 cups of water at a time becomes really useful.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:04 PM on July 31, 2007

Oh yeah, gift certificates for pizza are like GOLD.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 4:06 PM on July 31, 2007

My mom put a package of powdered milk in my pantry, so that if I didn't have milk, I could still make kraft mac&cheese.

Pop tarts, cereal bars, packaged crackers, things that she can toss in her backpack and eat on the run between classes.

I had a box of those popsickles that are liquid tubes, and kept a sheet of them in our dorm fridge freezer all the time. They were the hit of the hall.

Kool-Aid, pre-sweetened so she doesn't have to mess with sugar.

But those are all if you're just sticking with a food theme.
posted by librarianamy at 4:06 PM on July 31, 2007

Seconding Flood's tool set, and also basic office-type supplies--stapler, ruler, etc. If her dorm/apartment doesn't have AC, a fan. A small desk lamp (for working while the roommates sleep).
posted by equalpants at 4:06 PM on July 31, 2007

An extension cord or power strip is sure to be useful.
posted by washburn at 4:06 PM on July 31, 2007

Easy-Mac, ramen, power strips, lots of pens, gift cards, an electric tea kettle (might not be allowed), a big memory card in his camera's preferred format, a cake of blank CD's/DVD's, Leatherman/Swiss Army Card, sewing kit, fun-tak for posters, extension cords, umm... that's all I can think of right now, I'll pop back in later with more I hope.
posted by knowles at 4:07 PM on July 31, 2007

Tell her dad to invest in an electric kettle over a coffee pot. More versatile. But consider a good travel mug for schlepping to class.

I'd go with a multitool, though. Less likely to lose the bits. The Leatherman Micra is tiny, robust and inexpensive.

Also, laundry sack. Easier to get a thin mesh one than one with a frame.
posted by holgate at 4:10 PM on July 31, 2007

eh, i wouldn't buy condoms for your bosses daughter. creepcity.

gift cards are awesome, pizza, coffe, etc.

3rding quarters.

earplugs are an awesome idea, maybe one of those eyemasks things in case she has a roommate?

a lot of dorms don't allow open flames, maybe a nice air freshener?
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 4:10 PM on July 31, 2007

small whiteboard/bulletin board

fun post it notes.

those special poster adhesives so you don't have to put holes in the wall

highlighters, pens, and pencils.

Shower caddy.

A nice bath robe.
posted by unexpected at 4:11 PM on July 31, 2007

Oh, one more thing: keychain LED flashlight.
posted by holgate at 4:13 PM on July 31, 2007

posted by knowles at 4:13 PM on July 31, 2007

Before I went off to college, I got one of those huge ceramic mugs intended for lattes. It has never seen a latte, but it became my go-to ramen "bowl." Maybe that, a set or two of Japanese chopsticks (nice looking wooden ones with a colored design at the top can be had for a dollar or two), and some packets of ramen? (Don't ask me why a special ramen bowl is necessary...all I know is that the latte cup is the perfect size for this, and I still use mine for exactly this.)

My favorite ramen, by the way, is Ichiban chicken flavor. Beats that Maruchan stuff hands down!


- travel mug (with a handle?) for her to carry the hot drinks in

- more hot drinks: tea! green (little bit of caffeine), black (more caffeine), herbal (I like chamomile for downtimes; peppermint and rosa jamaica are nice when I'm working but don't want any caffeine)

- gift certificate for a local coffee shop near campus (even $10 would be welcome, I'm sure)

- gift certificate for local bookstore/on-campus bookstore (again, doesn't have to be a lot to be appreciated)

- dry erase board/markers (is that still required for dorm-room doors?!?)

- small sewing kit (for sewing buttons back on, basically): thread in white, off-white, navy, black; random assortment of buttons; packet of sewing needles

- postage stamps and packet of nice notecards (for writing to friends/family, to use as thank-you notes)

And I like the hot cocoa idea, if she's going to school someplace where it gets cold...for a while I lived on cocoa and animal crackers when I was in college.
posted by splendid animal at 4:13 PM on July 31, 2007

Some people go away to college and still eat food, not ramen noodles and Krap Macaroni and Cheese. It's also not much of a gift, considering a ramen costs about 16c. I like the quarters and pizza gift certificates.

Other things:

Cleaning supplies
Fake ID
Stationery supplies
Duct Tape
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:15 PM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding the small tool set. Incredibly useful. Maybe some nice lip balm or hand lotion? Dorms can be dry.

Also, a subscription to a magazine that you think your intern might enjoy can be a nice gift. Getting mail when you're first away from home is, for some reason, a big deal (or at least it was for me). And having a subscription to something random and not-at-all homework related could be a boon. Back in college, I was a fan of the Oxford American (amazing yearly music issue), AdBusters, and of course Wired and National Geographic.
posted by minervous at 4:16 PM on July 31, 2007

Bed Bath and Beyond / Target gift certificate? Or if she's lucky to be near one, Ikea? (Second thought, you'd have to ship the card so Ikea might not be a good option unless you're near one.) All of those places are popular with college students stocking up for dorm accessories.

Dream Essentials makes a great sleep mask that even comes with earplugs.
posted by ALongDecember at 4:17 PM on July 31, 2007

Oh, and if you spring for the bathrobe, make sure it has pockets...they're invaluable!
posted by splendid animal at 4:17 PM on July 31, 2007

A few random ideas (some cuter than others) : a sleep mask, an insulated travel coffee mug, a calling card, a brightly colored ethernet cable, a booklight and/or keyring flashlight, mints, cute thumbtacks (for putting stuff on the doors/walls), a disposable waterproof camera, a moleskine, a small houseplant ...

A step up : a bud vase (with flower if you choose) All the girls on my floor ended up with a flower in a water bottle at some time during the year.
posted by synapse at 4:17 PM on July 31, 2007

Response by poster: Wow! I only posted the question 30 minutes ago! Thanks guys, and keep 'em coming if you think of more!

I see a trip to the grocery in the near future...
posted by dogmom at 4:23 PM on July 31, 2007

If you decide on loose tea, an infuser like this would be nice to pair it with (mine came with a clear glass mug, but I don't see that combination on the website right now):

Bodum YO-YO tea infuser
posted by splendid animal at 4:29 PM on July 31, 2007

If there's a Chipotle in her college town, a Chipotle gift card would be the thing. Every college student I know lives off the stuff.
posted by bijou at 4:44 PM on July 31, 2007

As someone who finished first year a couple of months ago, I have to second the tool kit. I was always borrowing someone else's tools when stuff broke in my room.

Don't buy condoms (for the reasons above, and) because they are super cheep at the University/College health center (were 20 cents a pop for me).

My favourite gifts were food (especially non-perishable stuff) and my moleskine.

Other than that, duct tape was endlessly useful.
posted by Ctrl_Alt_ep at 4:54 PM on July 31, 2007

-Nthing tea. It keeps you alive during hell week when your immune system is shit and you can't talk.
-Depending on how expensive you want to go, a pair of headphones can be a godsend. After a semester of awful chinese pop music, they were the best christmas gift ever.
-A whiteboard/dry erase markers? It might be provided by the dorm, but many of my friends use them for grocery lists, weekly planners, and to work out calculus problems.
-Also nthing the toolkit/sewing kit/leatherman suggestions.
-A nerf gun. Or water gun, depending on climate.
-If you're thinking gift certificates, might I point you toward Amazon or iTunes or something rather than food? Depending on what kind of college and town she's in, she may not be able to use them, or be able to get off campus all that often. I just finished my first year at in a town where not even the goddamn Taco Bell was open past ten o'clock, and there wasn't a decent bookstore in sight.
posted by dismas at 5:07 PM on July 31, 2007

Quarters can be handy, but I'd make sure that the college actually uses them for laundry. My college changed over from quarters to a stored-value card.

Definitely non-perishable food; Easy-Mac was great for when I wanted a late snack.

Maybe a small rug, to go next to bed for those days when the floor is freezing?
posted by Godbert at 5:11 PM on July 31, 2007

Before I went off to college, I got one of those huge ceramic mugs intended for lattes. It has never seen a latte, but it became my go-to ramen "bowl."

Yes. I had one of these on college and it literally saved my life. I cooked everything microwaveable in it, and it's still servicable today. Fill the bowl up with some goodies.
At first, it might not seem so cool by her, but as she has to start cooking for herself, it will serve its purpose.
posted by jmd82 at 6:01 PM on July 31, 2007

Definitely a few tools. A friend of mine gave me a cheap-ish plastic tool box with a small hammer, one of those four-in-one screwdrivers, and picture-hanging supplies, and I still have the thing ten years later. It was incredibly useful, and not something very many people had thought to get for any of my female dormmates.

I was also always on the look-out for lightweight bookends (that is, not those huge heavy marble things, but metal ones that slip under the books for support) because I never had enough room for all my books.
posted by occhiblu at 6:44 PM on July 31, 2007

Power bars, microwave popcorn. A travel mug. A nice picture frame or two for photos of friends from home (you can tell her dad it's for photos of family!).

A map or "city guide" book is great - I really wish I had that when I went off to school.

Pre-printed labels with her campus address for when she needs to send mail could be fun. I think I recall having some of those at one point. I mostly just sent postcards and greeting cards to my friends from high school, so stamps and a cool postcard book could be nice too.

This may sound random, but if you are able to find out the dominant drugstore chain near campus, and get a gift card for that, it might be really useful. Most of our first-year off-campus trips were to the (same) drugstore and it sure would have been nice to have a gift card for the random stuff I ended up buying. If her parents are paying for everything, she can still use it to buy something frivolous and fun. Just a thought.
posted by ml98tu at 7:06 PM on July 31, 2007

Anti-gas and anti-diarrhea medicine. I know it sounds silly, but this is what my dad gave me before I went for college. As he handed it over to me, he said to make sure I always had these on me at all times because when one really needs it, one rarely has the constitution to go out and buy it. Incidentally, all my roommates and floormates in my dorm knew that I had these magic pills, and would often hit me up for them in their time of need.
posted by lesly at 7:19 PM on July 31, 2007

A can of compressed air (for dusty computers). Sewing kit. Stapler. Extra printer cartridge. Small size Nyquil, Advil, Sudafed, cough drops, and Pepto Bismol (it's hard to get OTC medicine on campus, especially after hours). Nalgene water bottle. Q-tips.
posted by almostmanda at 7:20 PM on July 31, 2007

ya nalgene water bottle they are fairly cheap and nearly indestructible.
gas card if she has a car on campus
posted by DJWeezy at 8:06 PM on July 31, 2007

My mom put a package of powdered milk in my pantry, so that if I didn't have milk, I could still make kraft mac&cheese.

My god, that's ingenious.

Some other things I've seen mentioned that I would have loved to have:

cheap flipflops: having to put on shoes to dash anywhere on short notice in the dorm is a drag.

massive tin of cocoa: sweet tooth is hard to satisfy on dining hall food. Doesn't have to be fancy.

pop tarts: these were currency in my dorm.
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:32 PM on July 31, 2007

I just finished up my first year and I'll make a quick list of what was valuable to me:
-microwave oatmeal
-flip flops
-tool kit
-sewing kit
-duct tape
-3M Command Strips
-a first aid kit with meds for colds and indigestion
-Christmas Lights

oh and for the love of God do NOT buy her condoms.
posted by andythebean at 9:53 PM on July 31, 2007

nthing set of tools. Phillips and flathead screwdriver, small hammer, etc. (If you get one of those neat little 'russian doll' hammers that have screwdrivers stored in the handle, be sure to get a real hammer as well, since if you use one of those soft brass ones to pound anything, you'll just destroy it.)

Electric kettle is far better than a coffee pot. (I read once that in terms of cost-per-use, electric kettles are the single best appliance to own.)

A big mug, for drinking or eating from, is great. As is a bar set and shaker, but that might not go over well with your boss. :)
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:55 PM on July 31, 2007

Not small, but I gave my twin cousins compact fluorescent torchieres last year---one ALWAYS needs extra light in their dorm room.
posted by brujita at 10:05 PM on July 31, 2007

I'd get her an electric kettle if you feel like being her hero and a bit of a big spender. I loooooove this one, a Krups from It's $58 but will make water boil in less than three minutes, and it's much safer than microwaving a mug of water for tea. The perfect gift would be this kettle, that big latte mug, a travel mug, and some packets of good quality cocoa, cider, and tea. Look at Cost Plus World Market for some alternatives to Swiss Miss and Lipton Tea.

If that's too spendy, either ask a few other people to go in with you, or go with a tool set. You can find pre-made tool sets at Lowe's, etc., and they will be soooo helpful.
posted by orangemiles at 5:24 AM on August 1, 2007

My niece is going away to college for her Freshman year in a few weeks. I'm getting her a gift card for a movie theatre (two passes and $10 for concessions) and a Pizzeria Uno that are both only about 1/4 mile from campus.

Dinner & a movie for two!
posted by zach braff's mixtape at 6:18 AM on August 1, 2007

My summer job boss did this for me when I went to college, and I was really surprised and touched!

Here is what the office put together for me: a coffee mug, tea bags, hot cocoa, a small desk set (probably from the dollar story or something, but I still use it: a large notebook and a small one, a little box of scrap paper, and some pens), some laundry detergent and dryer sheets, a Wal-Mart gift card, and some granola bars and some blank CDs.

And while this wasn't in this basket, my mom did get me an electric kettle, and it was awesome. We got one that wasn't shaped much like a kettle, so I used it for making rice and noodles all the time, too. They cost less than $20 and I use mine at least a few times a week.

If you want to go the gift certificate route, I'd say stick with (a) some place she can order food from (like a Pizza Hut) or (b) Major chain stores that you know will be around the area. As much as I hate shopping at Wal-Mart, that gift card came in handy because you ALWAYS forget things that you need when you move in, and it is nice to be able to pick those little things up without spending lots of money.
posted by nuclear_soup at 6:25 AM on August 1, 2007

Washable nylon laundry bag. A family friend gave me one when I went off to college and I'm still using it (over a decade later) as a hamper-liner.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:57 AM on August 1, 2007

Not ramen. It's plentiful and cheap in college and students quickly get sick of it. I suggest the similar, but more upscale, Thai Kitchen ramen-ish packs of instant rice noodle soup. Packs of miso soup and tea are also great. Also Luna Bars, Larabar, and other upscale snacks that will be scarce in college. My mother loaded up on such things at Trader Joes and they really were a morale saving treat considering the horrors of dorm food.

The thing I most often wished for as a freshman was a wind-proof umbrella. One of the things I loved the most was my clip-on lamp. It is so versatile and usable with any of the dorm furniture.
posted by melissam at 8:14 AM on August 1, 2007

One of my coworkers from my pre-college summer job gave me boxes of nice pens, the kind we used in the office. I used to talk about how great the pens were (I'm easily impressed) so I thought it was really sweet when I was presented with a box each of blues and blacks on my last day. I still have a couple ~10 years later.
posted by look busy at 8:15 AM on August 1, 2007

Upscale/downscale combo given to all of the freshmen girls we know: Aveda shampoo, conditioner, shave lotion, lotion; Target shower caddy, loofahs (2).

Recommended: of course feel free to swap out shampoo types, as salons recommend switching shampoos every once in a while for better results. As long as it's a cut above the usual, it will be greatly appreciated. For the shower caddy, get one with handle and holes at bottom for drainage. Finally, add bow to top, nice card and you'll officially *rock*.

Also, n'thing charged up coffee cards, target cards and other currency cards are terrific if you want to mail a valued gift on the cheap.
posted by Arch1 at 8:58 AM on August 1, 2007

Ooh. Post-it notes. A lot of people I knew just didn't think to bring them, but I used them all the time.
posted by dismas at 9:03 AM on August 1, 2007

nthing toolkit, sewing kit, basic medicines (I was the only one on my floor with these, and people asked for them all the time). Microwave popcorn and post-its also seem like good ones. And the laundry bag.

Also, I did much bonding with my floormates over playing poker - send a pack of cards. Possibly chips.
posted by timepiece at 11:20 AM on August 1, 2007

A french press if there's an electric kettle in the mix from someone. Good coffee. Travel mug.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:26 PM on August 1, 2007

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