Dorm Life: Ten Smart Picks

College student wearing sunglassed standing outside airport with suitcase

Ahhh, college… a young adult’s most exciting adventure and a parent’s biggest budget challenge. Whether your child’s new school is a drive or a plane ride away, it’s a huge step for everyone in the family. Offer support and encouragement — and set them up for success — with smart essentials.


Cheerful college guy and girl carrying backpacksThe right clothes, the right shoes, the right computer and the right smart phone are top-of-mind when your child begins packing for college. As your sort-of grown-up is filling suitcases with these must-haves, may we suggest a few less-fancy items, along with the whens and hows of getting them to the new dorm room or apartment.

LET’S SHOP SMART.

Begin by picturing the DORM ROOM itself. Most likely this space holds a bed (mattress, no pillow), a closet, a desk — and a roommate! Space is usually at a premium and you can probably assume housekeeping is going to be less of a priority than making friends, attending classes and exploring their new community (that’s a nice way to say “going to parties”).

Translation: They’ll need…

1. a pillow

2. sheets (most likely twin or twin XL)

3. a blanket and/or comforter, depending on the climate

4. a  small plastic garbage pail (surprisingly necessary)

5. a multi-plug extension cord (ideally with surge suppressor and USB charging portal)

6. clothes hangers and/or over-door storage (hooks or a hanging shoe rack)

Desktop with charging stations for phones and watches, cables, portable USB sticks

Tip: The next four years will likely involve four different dorm or apartment addresses with lots of storage, shipping and moving logistics. Keep this in mind as you make the packing list for college — and seek out light, compact, collapsible and value-priced items.

Now, take an imaginary stroll down to the HALL BATH & LAUNDRY. Your kiddo may not be accustomed to traipsing along a rather public hallway to the shower (or ferrying their clothes to a communal laundry room) but, alas, that’s the style for most freshman dorms.

Translation: They’ll need…

7. shower flip-flops

8. a plastic basket or bucket to carry shampoo, soap and other toiletries

9. at least two towels (the dream is that they’ll wash ’em in rotation) — consider a lively pattern or color to make them easily distinguishable from other towels on nearby hooks — or in nearby dryers

10. a laundry basket (a pop-up style makes a great choice!)

Bring, ship or buy? Right now or later?

As exciting as planning and packing can be, there’s really no big rush for some of the stuff. Make sure there’s a towel and a set of sheets in that suitcase but make the trip a little breezier by shipping second sets and next-season necessities once your kiddo is settled and has a better sense of their space and routine. Likely they won’t need that quilt in September.

Tip: If you’re planning a night or two in a hotel for the big drop-off-at-school adventure, call the front desk to see if you can ship a box to their address.

Tip: Wait until you see the desk to buy study and office supplies. It’s a fun thing to do at local shops as you explore the area before saying goodbye to your student. And don’t forget the campus bookstore. Those mascot sweatshirts can be pricey but a pencil cup or banner with the college logo is a fun, affordable way to add school spirit to room decor.

Don’t worry. You’ve got this. What’s more important is that your kid has got this. Chin up. Smile bright. College is gonna be great!Closet interior with hanging clothes and clothes in clear lucite bins