I’ve compiled this list the hard way: I had to talk to college students. Well, that wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was making sense of what they responded with: long lists of impossibilities, the improbable, and always, always, a car. It’s funny, but the “essentials” are so much a part of their first coming-or-returning student lives, that they were almost invisible.
Thus, listed in very approximate order of necessity, are the top ten essentials supplies for college students:
1. Cell Phones
Yes, these objects are “a supply” and not just “an item.” Just count the number of cell phone stores surrounding colleges. Most students will go through their phones faster than they can finish a textbook. And they’re an integral part of communication now. But please don’t just send the kid off with just a cell phone, this list has two requirements to accompany the device. First, insure the cell phone. Really. This is insurance that you’ll actually be able to see the benefit of before the first semester ends. Second, be sure to purchase the unlimited text plan. There’s some unwritten, unspoken rule of college life that requires that the majority of one’s communication take place via texting.
2. A Laptop
The only question about listing this item was whether it should have been first. The existence of computer labs is the only thing that prevented it. In other words, access to a computer is essential to functioning as a college student now and becoming more so with each semester. Syllabi and schedules are posted online. Assignments are assigned and turned in via e-mail. Some classes or lectures are even provided via podcasts. Thus, one’s own personal laptop – with specifications outlined – is becoming a requirement at many schools. Yes, there are computer labs available for student use, but the convenience of a personal laptop is considerable, especially when weighed against the many distractions flying across their radar.
3. Prepaid Credit Cards & Gift Cards
Now, every single college kid or going-to-be-soon college kid said “money.” It was only a parent that explained to me the distinction between the same amount of money in “cash,” versus that same amount in prepaid credit cards and store gift cards. The prepaid credit cards literally are the “cash” of the student economy. They automatically prevent an over-expenditure, purchase records are easily available online and they are reloadable – if the available purchase records haven’t been too outlandish.
The gift card slant as explained to me as a parent is pretty savvy. If your kid explains that a certain amount of personal groceries are required in addition to their school cafeteria plan, then give them a $25 supermarket gift card. A Best Buy card might provide access to laptop-related accessories. If they complain that additional generic school supplies are needed, provide a $20 Staples card (Staples is cheaper anyway than the university or college bookstore.) You can even provide a $20 card to a favorite restaurant for a couple dinners out. The gift cards try to ensure that the money is spent as it was intended and, again, automatically prevent over-expenditures, such as inviting all your suite-mates to dinner with Mom’s Visa.
4. An MP3 Player or iPod
Before the parental eyes start rolling, kids have always brought their “stereo systems” to school with them and back during the Paleolithic ’70’s, more than 2/3 of any given dorm room was taken up by the stereo, turntable, receiver, speakers, and LPs. And it was unbearably noisy, which is why the campus buildings known as “libraries” were used on a regular basis to study.
Dormitories and even off-campus student housing are still unbearably noisy, but the invention of the MP3 player has helped a little. Students now have completely portable stereos and content to use while studying, exercising and sitting in class. Try to limit that last option.
Remember that music equipment example from the ’70’s? Well, “earbuds” are the modern version of those enormous, clunky headphones that made users seem hydrocephalic and weighed more than motorcycle helmets. Earbuds are small inner-ear speakers which allow individuals living in very close proximity to enjoy stereo-quality sound. Amazingly, the sounds they are enjoying are completely undetectable to others in the vicinity and allow them to live untormented by the various hums and beats of the many music sources surrounding them.
6. Chargers & Rechargers
Aside from the original chargers that accompanied the cell phone and the MP3 player and the laptop when first purchased, I was told repeatedly that they required replacement frequently – or at least this was the given excuse for having to run to Best Buy. At any rate, a spare recharger for this equipment is necessary and, for cell-phones, both a wall and car-charger are necessary.
7. Power Bar Strips
When PC’s were first widely used, remember how important the “surge protector” was to ensure the computer was not subject to blistering little bolts of electricity? Well, tell the truth, we were all more impressed by the fact that it instantly provided us with six available outlets than by the technology of the object. For all the wonders of this wireless age, the point remains that all this equipment requires recharging (see #6 above) and all those rechargers need a place to plug in. Power outlets are in relatively short supply related to the number of objects requiring electricity, even to the lowly desk study lamp.
8. Shower Sandals
Our first low-tech item on the list, but strangely listed by several kids who apparently suffered in the past from the result of not using shower sandals in common shower areas. These can be low-tech flip flops, studly athletic-branded sandals, or dinosaur-inspired Crocs, the only true specification was that they keep the student’s feet from directly touching the shower stall floor.
9. Storage Options
It’s an undisputed fact that dorm rooms almost fail to provide enough area for a single student’s oxygen requirements, much less room for all their belongings. Thus, it is essential to bring or purchase storage for your essentials. Because of the variability of design not only per school, but even per individual dorm, it’s difficult to specify exactly what you’re going to be able to use. For instance, those slide-under-the-bed storage boxes are wonderful – unless your dorm bed is a platform one and has drawers underneath to serve as your “dresser.”
Those “over the door hooks” are great, but not if everyone in the suite brings one – there are a finite number of doors available. There are clever closet “expanders” and hangers and instant shelves, but what size closet do you have? For such importance, this is best brought to school as an “intention” unless you know exactly what you’re coming to and the dimensions you have to work with. In other words, plan on piling everything on your side of the room, measuring what you have to work with, and going shopping.
10. A Laundry Bag
A student who has been a student, not once, but twice and in stellar fashion, suggested this second low-tech item on the list. But it’s true, where else but on the floor are you planning on keeping your dirty clothes? His suggestion also included the implication that said item was necessary to transport the filthy articles home on visits for Mom to do, but I won’t be as that politically incorrect. Because he did bring up a good point: what is going to put more pressure on the student sooner to return home for a visit, what will bear the greater weight – the stench of unwashed laundry or homesickness?