Sending Your Kid Off to College? Read This First.

July 28, 2014

We’re well into the dog days of summer and the school year is almost upon us. For some, that means the first year of college. It’s a daunting and exciting transition, and on the eve of my final year in undergrad, I’ve spent some time thinking about what I wish someone had told me I’d need that first year.

Here are a few things students need during their freshman year of college and beyond that you won’t necessarily find on a dorm room checklist.

Don't Discount the Importance of Fans

I cannot stress how important a decent fan (or two or three) is to a happy existence in the dorms. While most dorm buildings nowadays have air conditioning in the main lobby and cafeteria, precious few—if any —have air conditioning for individual dorm rooms.

For most of the country, this is usually fine from October to April, when the air cools down and the heating kicks in.  However, the stagnant heat during the first and last two months of the school year can make dorm life extraordinarily painful.

The perfect size, price, and functionality vary from region to region and person to person, but chances are, some kind of fan will be absolutely necessary to help circulate that stuffy dorm room air. You can find great deals both in-store and online—I’ve found steals at Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Home Depot. Just do your student a favor and help them avoid the misery of lying in bed drenched in sweat at 2 am.

Make Informed Furniture Decisions

No one needs two TVs or two couches. Make sure your student gets in touch with their roommate before making any big dorm purchases so there isn’t any overlap. An even better idea — especially if the school is far home — hold off on buying anything large before arriving on campus for move-in day. You will get a clear idea of how much space you have to work with, and the purchases can be divided between roommates.

One last tip -- avoid splitting costs on anything that can’t be ripped in half at the end of the year. Decide which stuff your student will want over the next three years and pay for it in its entirety.

Take the Alternative Textbook-Buying Route

I realize that textbooks go in the “duh” category of things you’ll need at college, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay through the nose for them. The campus bookstore will sometimes offer used books at a discount as well as textbook rental programs, but there are even better deals to be found online.

Chegg is a great resource for cheap deals on used or rented textbooks, but Amazon, eBay, and other online retailers can also have great bargains. I’m personally a fan of buying my books—college is a great place to begin accumulating a collection of interesting or informative literature—but buy or rent, you shouldn’t be paying full price if you don’t want to.

Stock Up On Medicine

As anyone who is in or has been to college can attest, few things are more miserable than falling ill away from home. Everyone gets sick sooner or later; it’s just one of the realities of living in close quarters with hundreds of students, some (okay, many) of whom have questionable hygiene practices.

College life very rarely stops for illness, so make sure your student is prepared with a solid supply of Nyquil, Dayquil, Ibuprofen, Sudafed, or whatever over-the-counter medicines they would take if they got sick at home. You don’t want your kid to be the one shuffling like a zombie from door to door groaning, “Nyquil…. I need Nyquil…” Let them be the person who can lend their less-farsighted floor-mates meds when they get sick.

Think About Packing a Few Weird Clothing Items...Seriously

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase, “Does anyone have a sombrero?” With one more year left in undergrad, I would already have enough money to buy a fairly high-quality sombrero. I’m not telling you to bring every article of clothing you own, but you’d be surprised at the stuff you’ll find people looking to borrow or wear. Overalls, jean shorts, and sailor hats are just a few things I’ve seen come into high demand on the weekends.

If your student doesn’t have an extraordinarily eclectic collection of clothing, don’t fret: there are countless consignment stores around most campuses where you can get the coolest (and craziest) clothes for next to nothing. Think outside the box -- there will come a time when they really appreciate it.

Consider Shower Flip-Flops a Necessity

You probably already know this one, but I feel obliged to reiterate just how important they are. People can be gross, and you don’t want to be standing barefoot in that grossness. You’ll save your student the grief of athlete’s foot or any number of frightening infections that lurk upon the bathroom floor.

Luck favors the prepared. Make sure your future college student is fully prepared and ready to tackle this sometimes scary next stage of life.

This post was written by Holden Lewis, an intern in Colorado PERA's Creative Services Department. Would you like to write a guest post for The Dime Colorado? Send us an email at dimecontact@copera.org