Help Me Make a College Shopping List!

Updated on June 03, 2012
J.C. asks from Chicago, IL
15 answers

Well, my son has decided on a college, so now we have to get prepared. I'm getting kind of overwhelmed trying to think of all the things he is going to need when he leaves. I want to start making lists now and chip away at them over the summer. Can anyone help me with getting this organized? Any tips? Please, moms and dads who have sent kids off, let me know things that were on your lists. I feel like I will be forgetting the little things, or even the big things, lol! He will be staying in a dorm (don't know yet if with one or two other kids), and will be in Chicago so the weather does factor into it. Thanks in advance for your advice and help!

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So What Happened?

Thank you all so much for the great answers! I knew I was right to ask all of you when I read the answers and realized I hadn't even thought supplies......duh!!!

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answers from Chicago on

First thing I did with my boys was to teach them to do their laundry. I started at home and then showed how to use a laundromat. Glad I used the summer to do it too. Next, I got a footlocker that could be locked. This was to keep some extra clothes and valuables. Because my boys were into sports, I set up a first aide kit and talked to them about it. It had ibuprophen, large nail clippers, tweezers, some bandaids, antiseptic cream,(these were kept in a large lidded plactic container) and most important, a large bottle of peroxide. I also sent along a large bottle of mouthwash. As for clothes, I did send lots of extra underwear - mostly because of 2 a day practices. Don't send too many clothes. That's why you teach how to do laundry. Besides, what is "cool" to wear at home may not fit with the college vibe. Don't worry about what you will forget - it may not be needed anyway. Hope this helps

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answers from San Francisco on

Will you be taking him to school?
I physically went with my son and helped him move in. It makes a HUGE difference to see the room first, the set up, the lighting, how many outlets he has, etc.
There was a Target nearby and we hit it hard. It was SO much fun because the place was full of nervous freshman and parents of freshman, lol! But in August they have EVERYTHING you need and at amazing prices.
You can find checklists all over the internet, and they pretty much boil down to the same things: bedding, towels, toiletries, etc. My son went to a school where it snows so I had to buy him a coat and boots, gloves, etc. but I waited until November to buy that stuff (when the selection/prices were better) ordered it online and sent it directly to him.
Have fun, it's such an exciting time :)

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

I would make a list, but not purchase until later. There are always big "back to school" sales at BB&B and other similar stores that will have sales specifically marketed to the going off to college set.
Target will have all the mini-fridges go on sale, all the XL twin bedding will go on sale, etc.

Be careful about how much "schtuff" you get though. Space will likely be at a premium. Spare sheets? Umm.. why? The one set is only going to come off the bed a few times (he's a guy!) and it will go directly into a machine to be washed/dried and put right back on the bed. Anything else will just take up precious space.
Furniture? Most dorms come with some sort of built-in desk/dresser space. I would contact his school/dorm and ask for info. I'm sure they will have exactly the info you are looking for.
Will there be bathrooms down the hall (communal bathrooms, like when I was in a dorm in college)? Or will it be a pod type dorm, where the students have a private bed area, but share a common living space, including bathroom, amongst say 4 students? In those situations, they'll need a shower curtain and bath mat/rug. Otherwise, no need for those.

If you are privy to the information about whom he will share space with, try to contact them. So that everyone doesn't show up with a shower curtain/rings/bath mat, and nobody brings a countertop microwave or mini-fridge.
My niece's dorm 2 years ago, had a mini kitchen in it. Complete with a microwave. Just no stove. Had the smallest non-mini-fridge out there... so that was nice.

Do some research with the actual college/dormitory, and see what they provide.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Dorms are normally furnished with the basics. All he'll need is just one set of bedding, his laptop and phone, his clothes & a laundry bag, personal stuff - shaving, shampoo, soap, etc. and something to carry that to the bathroom in. And a good backpack/bookbag.

Anything he discovers he needs later, he can go get. Don't overwhelm yourself with details and let him provide for himself! Some of the fun of "moving out" is to work with your roommates to decide what to do with your limited space.

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answers from St. Louis on

Bed bath and beyond has checklists.

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answers from San Antonio on

-an alarm clock that wakes him (it's been my experience that freshmen get the crummiest choice of classes - often at 8am)
-a roll or two of quarters for laundry
-computer/laptop/printer is a bonus; remember there are printers on campus too
-the right size sheets (two sets would be nice)
- the right bedding. Some roomies may like it hotter or colder. Hopefully they can find a happy medium. But if your son is always hot or always cold, make sure he's ready for an opposite roomate!
-a nightlight/light on a dimmer for when he is awake and roomie is asleep or viceversa OR maybe instead, a lamp on a clip for his top/bottom bunk
- plenty of clothes, hats, jackets that he'll need
- a shower caddy for keeping his soaps/shampoos/razors separate from roommates - different perhaps depending on where his shower is located and how many people he shares with. Some people like "shower shoes" or special non-slippery flip-flops to wear IN the shower when sharing showers with strangers.
- school supplies!

-teach him to do laundry
-teach him to grocery shop
-teach him the campus map, help him familiarize himself with where he'll eat, best place to study, where are the computer labs, etc.

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answers from Washington DC on

I remember heading off to college with a full van and carload of stuff, most of which I did not need. You will need to know his roommate, because both of them don't need to bring a refrigerator and microwave. I would say he needs a TV, laptop computer, sheets, clothes, towels, shower shoes, phone, some food and clothes, and laundry detergent. Teach him how to run the washer and dryer. Lots of quarters to use the washer and dryer at school. Some wall decorations. As for clothes, send him with what he needs for warm weather, and then when it turns cold, switch out the wardrobes.

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answers from Austin on

Our daughter just graduated, she was out of state..

Their freshman year they share rooms and then the other 3 years they had their own rooms.. At the end of each school year, they had to clear and pack up all of their stuff and store it in the basement. Make sure he has containers to pack stuff in.. Rubbermaid is great.

Put his name and Phone number on the lids and the buckets. You can purchase them to carry his stuff up and then leave them in storage so he will already have them at the end of the year.. FYI, We used Baking Soda Boxes in each Bucket so they would not be musty in the fall.

He will be in a dorm, but will he be on a meal plan?

If yes, then a Mini Fridge and a small microwave would be great.. Speak with the roommates.. If one of them has it, your son will not need one. IF he drinks coffee, a small electric coffee pot. Containers for the coffee, for the sugar. Thermal coffee cups so he can carry them to class or he can fill them up in the dining hall and take it to class. Ziplock bags.

Alarm clock? Or does he use his cell phone??

Is there air conditioner? If not, maybe a clip on fan.. Our daughters Dorm was built in the 1800's.. and in the fall and spring it was soooo, hot even though she was up east.

Mugs work great for all sorts of food and drink. So 4 good stacking mugs and 4 Plates and 4 Bowls. Forks, Spoons, knives, dish soap and a sponge. A multi tool that has a bottle opener, can opener, and some sort of knife to slice stuff. Then a container to put all of this stuff in..

Laundry bag and detergent.. make sure he knows how to do laundry. At our daughters college they used a swipe card for the washers and dryers on campus.. You go online to add money to it.. Like a campus debit card. find out if that is what he will need, otherwise give him rolls of Quarters.

Will he have his own bath or is it a floor wide shared showers? He will need something to put his bath stuff in. Shampoo, Bath soap, deodorant, razors.. nail clippers, etc.. If it is in the room, he will need cleansers.

Power strips. and multi plugs.
Pair of scissors, small tool kit.

2 sets of Extra Long Twin Sheets, Extra long Mattress pad. Pillows, Blankets or Comforter. .

2 Big bath towels.. I know lots of guys use Beach towels.

He may want a reading light. Rug for next to his bed.. We purchase thin bath rugs, from Ikea.. They wash and dry fast but on cold mornings.. it is nice not to step on a cold floor. They looked like regular foor rugs, but small.

If he will have a closet, look at it and figure out if you need an organization system.. Ex.. Our daughter filled her closet up with shelves. She does not have many hanging clothing, except her coats and Jackets. Closet light.

Otherwise, be prepared to move him in and make a list of other things he may need and purchase it at that time.. Everything for the dorm is on sale at that time of the year..

Linens and things, Bed Bath and Beyond used to do a deal where you order everything and they will ship it for you.. Look into it and see if it is still a deal.

First aid kit. Tums, Asprin, Tylenol, etc.. Remind him about any prescriptions he may have that he will be responsible for getting them refilled.

A Printer? again ask the roommates. You may want one with a copier as well as the printer. They only need 1 and can share the purchase of the paper and ink cartridges.

We purchased a small Sentry lock box for her important papers,. A copy of her Birth certificate, her social security card and her extra cash. They need these papers time to time.. so you need to let him know how important it is not to lose them. Give him his copy of the Insurance card. A copy of the car insurance.. any other important papers that may be needed in emergencies.

Extra thoughts.
Black out curtains can come in hand y depending on which way his room faces.

A weekend bag in case he goes to a friends home for the weekend.

A wipe board for their door facing the main hallway.. This is still sometimes used as communication.. It is a way people that do not have his cell phone or email can leave them messages. Our daughter also had one inside the room the freshman year so that she and her roommate could communicate where they were and when to expect them bad. Also their grocery list..

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Champaign on

I would start with basic toiletries, towels, one set of sheets (Dorm mattresses vary in size, so make sure you know what size sheets to buy.), comforter, pillows, clothes, a poster or two and picture or keepsake. I wouldn't go too crazy until you see his space.

Shower shoes
A set of dishes & silverware
microwave, minifridge, carpet, tv, dvd or blu-ray player (check with roomies first, as you only need one of each of these)

Dorm rooms are not big. My closet was really tiny. I'd look at the size of the closet before deciding on a laundry basket or hamper. I used a laundry bag.

Are the washers/dryers on the same floor? Will he need to take the elevator? My first dorm had 10 floors, and I lived on the 8th. There were washers/dryers in the basement and on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors. Sweet! The next year I lived in a dorm with 5 floors (no elevator) and laundry room in the basement. That was the year I bought my first laundry basket!

I would get the basics, get the lay of the land, then go to Target/Walmart. It will be crazy with all the other freshmen there, but it should be fun!

And remember, you don't live that far from Chicago. You can always make a trip later. This might not be the time to be too concerned about his winter coat.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

A small electric frying pan. You can get them in a 6 inch size and he could make a whole meal in it. My friend's daughter is currently at UW Oshkosh and meals are $7 each x 3/day that's $21/day for food.

A coffee pot will come in handy too and save him money being able to make it in his room.

Maybe a set of dishes (4 place settings) and silverware -- + a square dish pan to hold it all and to wash them in. It gets old eating off paper plates and always using paper cups.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Go for the laptop, most college students these days take their lecture notes on them. If he gets into a study grp most students study together w/their laptops. And if he is bringing a printer, make sure to stock up on paper and ink! Most dorms on the west coast have residents buy bedding in the extra long twin size. Also, get a good laundry bag and some sandals/flipflops for the showers.

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answers from Chicago on

Flip flops for the shower, as it is a shared bathroom most of the time. Shower caddy. Fridge. Microwave and quick breakfast foods/snacks for starters. No candles or matches, check rules. Have him check with his roommate on stuff so you split things up. Floor rug if room isn't carpeted. Hanging space saver shelves for closet. Some kids elevate the bed with cement blocks to have more storage underneath for luggage, etc. Comforter. Obviously computer and printer, though maybe profs don't require hard copies any more! If he's in Chicago, a winter coat that covers his butt (literally!) and a good hat/gloves/scarf set. He can come home to do a season clothes swap if needed, but layers work best as the heat can be super hot in winter inside even when it's below freezing outside. He'll need boots too. Waterproof. If his campus is big you might want to consider getting him a bike with a good lock. Most of all, he needs self-confidence to be himself and stand up for what he knows is right (not that he wouldn't) and not get sucked into peer pressure from the other silly freshmen boys. It is always nice to pack some special note or inspiring something he'll find later too, you can decide if it is next to a framed photo of his family. :)

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answers from Rochester on

First, is the dorm furnished? He'll need a bed, a bedside table, a dresser of some sort, and a desk. Think of all the accessories that go with that...two sets of sheets, two pillows, and a comforter, a lamp and alarm clock for the bedside table, clothes to put in the dresser :P and all the supplies he needs for his desk (cha-ching.)

He'll need a laundry basket or hamper of some sort, laundry soap, and quarters for the machines (if that's the way they do it.)

He'll need all his bathroom essentials...soap, shampoo, comb/brush, toothbrush, tootpaste, deodorant, razor, etc...and don't forget towels and a washcloth/sponge, whatever he uses. Nice manly looking slippers would be a plus.

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answers from Denver on

I'm in the same boat as we are preparing to send our daughter off to college 11 hours away. Besides the obvious, a computer lock would be beneficial. Can you imagine the headache/panic if your laptop with a major assignment being stolen. A small safe/lockbox would also be handy..Extra flashdrives would also be beneficial. Encourage your student to copy everything onto a flashdrive and store in the small safe/lockbox.

When touring colleges/dorms with our daughter this spring, all the college girls told us that "command strips" and sticky tack were your best friend for hanging wall decor. They are non damaging and can be reused with refill strips.

I still have and use my manicure set that was given to me as a high school graduation gift 34 years ago. It's just hard to find quality ones these days. Over the door hooks can also come in handy for hanging a robe, coat or even a towel. IKEA has some great space saving things. IKEA also has bathtowels with a loop sewn onto them. Makes for easy hanging. The handtowels and washcloths also have them. (I did this for the towels in our camper years ago and it sure helps) Surge protector power strips, cord keepers (velcro), a small tool box.

What about a charging station for all the electronics? I'm not sure about this, but it would be a place to keep everything to avoid getting lost in the mass chaos of a dorm.

That's all I can think of, but I will bookmark this page to keep myself informed. Don't know about you, but I will need a case of tissues when I leave my baby at college.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on

Don't be overwhelmed! This is fun!

First, find out the rules. The last thing you want to do is buy things that are against the rules of the dorm that will get him in trouble. Many dorms don't allow microwaves, hot plates, toaster ovens or plug in appliances at all. Most will allow small refrigerators, but you must be within the cubic feet guidelines.

Call about or look online to find out the size of the mattress. Many dorm mattresses are extra long, so you MUST get extra long sheets - regular singles will NOT fit. If you have any worries about bed bugs, there are mattress covers specifically for that. (I got my college son this.) The mattresses can be uncomfortable (I can feel the springs in my son's!) so buying one of those egg shell covers that you put under the fitted sheet really makes a difference, and helps the mattress feel warmer in the winter. Rolled up, it actually doesn't take up that much room in a packing box come the end of the school year...

A safe is a great idea. It needs to small enough that it won't take up a lot of room and isn't seen by people who come in the room, (kept on the closet shelf and anchored to the clothing rod is an idea). He should keep his wallet in it instead of walking around with a wallet all day. If it's big enough to put his laptop in, that's a plus. Have him keep a copy of his immunizations and health sheet in it. Make sure he has a health insurance card and a prescription drug card either in his wallet or in the safe. You should also make two colored copies of his drivers license - one for you, and one for inside his safe. He should keep his check book and extra checks in the safe as well, AND his bank statements. Make SURE he keeps his bank statements in the safe.

If you are going to move him into his dorm room, I recommend that you find out where the closest Target or Walmart is and expect to put the majority of the room together first, and then go shopping for incidentals. When you see how the room is configured, it's easier to organize the room. I bought lots of organizers at Target once I saw what I had to work with room-wise. I used hanging shelves in the closet - one wide one for storing the second set of sheets, extra towels and washcloths, board games, etc, and also a narrower one to hold shoes.

I highly recommend that you get your son a tux. My son has worn his several times, NOT including when he wore it to sing in choir. (If your son is a singer, he definitely needs one.) He needs one or two pairs of black pants, two or three button down dress shirts, at least one sports jacket and 2 ties. He will probably start thinking a different way of dressing his freshman year, so be ready for that - these college boys start dressing a lot nicer than they were in high school.

Get him a mesh laundry basket that you can "fold up" small that he can carry his clothes in to the wash room. If it has a "pocket" on the outside to hold small squeeze bottles of Shout, that's a plus. A bleach "pen" is great too - easy to use, and better than giving him a bottle of bleach that he might ruin his clothes with. You might want to give him Tide that's especially for smelly clothes~ (Smiles! I did for my son!)

An under-the-bed storage 'bag' of some sort can hold blankets and throws. A comforter that's not too light colored will weather the year better than a light colored one. He'll appreciate 2 pillows - ask him if he wants a "husband" to lean on when he sits up on the bed to study. (I don't know what else you call that - I wouldn't tell HIM that it's called a husband though! Then he won't want one!)

The floor in the room will undoubtedly be cold. One of the boys might want to bring a rug to help with that. For the warm months, a small fan that is specifically touted as "quiet" is great.

Your son will have a school ID that probably has to be used to check out library books, use the cafeteria, and school book store. Buy him a type of lanyard that it fits in with a clip that will go around a belt loop so that the ID goes in his pants pocket. This was a life saver for my son. His room key also was clipped on it. He didn't lose it all year either, thanks to this lanyard.

A little tool kit is very handy- my son and his roommate used it often. Bed Bath & Beyond had a cool popcorn tub and big cups set that looked like it came from the movie theatre - nice to sit up on the high shelf. I also bought a big box of popcorn microwavable envelopes for them to take downstairs to the dorm kitchen and put an envelope of it in the microwave. That was a big hit for them and their friends, especially in the big popcorn tub.

He needs one or two dropcords that are also surge protectors. If he has extra notebooks at home from high school that he has barely used, bring them so he doesn't have to buy more. (They are expensive!) Research ways to buy or rent textbooks that will save you money. As soon as he gets his schedule, he should RUN to the book store and look for used books. With them in his HAND, he should call you up on the phone and give you the ISBN numbers and you look online to see if you can buy them online for cheaper. If it's a used edition in the book store, that might be the cheapest one you can find. If you DO find it cheaper online, order for it right then and there while you are on the phone with him and then he can wait for it to be shipped to him. You can save money like this - books cost a fortune, according to his major. It won't hurt him to miss having the book for a week or so. If he has homework, someone in the class wouldn't mind sharing their book with him for the assignment. (Good way to meet a study buddy!)

It's important that he talk to his roommate this summer to coordinate a little bit. You don't need two rugs or two vacuum cleaners or two TV's. I DO recommend two refrigerators. Incidentally, I would NOT allow your son to take a TV. If he spends his own money sometime during the school year, you can't do anything about that, but don't do it for him and don't allow him to move in with one regardless of who pays for it. Being with other kids and learning the ropes of college is far more important, and TV in his room can hamper that.

They will probably give him a card to use for washing his clothes. Put $50 on it the first time for him, and go help him figure out how to use the washing machine.

This is certainly not everything, but a great start. I'm sure others will give you more advice.

More than anything, HAVE FUN doing this! It is a milestone for you too, Mom, a way of saying goodbye to a chapter in your child's life and hello to the next chapter.


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