So soon after stressing over college applications, the ups and downs of acceptances and rejections, and the whirlwind of prom and graduation, the nuts and bolts of moving away to college are upon us.
Whether you’re new to the idea of packing for a child spending months away from home, or are a parent of long-time sleep-away campers, packing for college can be very different from what you — and your child — expect. The kids think they are packing for nine months and three seasons, but that may not always be the case. Students who have cars, live close, or who have family returning shortly for Parents’ Weekend can transport summer items home, and replace them with heavier bedding and clothing later. Other students may have to wait until Thanksgiving or Christmas break, depending on how far away they are and how easily they can transport items home.
Some 18 year olds can appreciate the importance of packing in advance, and their ability to attack the task at hand may ease the burden a bit. Many girls are organized and plan their shopping and packing well in advance, taking over living rooms and basements everywhere. But others (generally boys), think packing two days before departure is sufficient. Either way, most students appreciate some parental assistance.
“What to bring” and “What not to bring” lists are generally found on every college website. Study both, as the colleges spend a lot of time confiscating halogen lamps, electric frying pans, hot plates, and toaster ovens, according to Colleen Bench, director of the Parents Office at Syracuse University.
Even certain approved types of appliances may not pass muster without an energy star rating, according to Stacey Phelps, assistant director of Residential Life for Wesleyan University. At many schools, the fire safety issue also includes a prohibition against covering more than 35-square-feet of wall space.
Packing lists can also be found on numerous college-related websites and blogs, such as www.collegeconfidential.com, www.collegeprowler.com, as well as stores such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target, and The Container Store. Students can register online or go to their local store, zapping the barcodes on selected items with a handheld scanner. Then, they can pick up the items at the store location nearest the campus. (If they change their mind about an item, they are under no obligation to purchase it at the pick up.)
The store’s list will likely include unnecessary articles. One list suggested a zip-up bed bug protector, a mattress pad, a mattress topper, and a padded mattress cover. Even for the flimsy college mattress, that was a bit much.
Of course, Bed, Bath & Beyond’s “Pack and Hold” and The Container Store’s “Click and Pick-up” or “Scan and Deliver” programs have limited utility for parents who prefer to pre-wash linens and towels, unless they plan to do a load of laundry when they arrive on campus.
Overpacking is one of the biggest mistakes incoming freshman make. I had nightmares that we would be renting a U-Haul — it does happen.
Even students aware of the room dimensions might not get a full understanding of the space available, as the measurements sometimes vary from room to room in a dorm, where a wall juts out or a radiator gets in the way, says Bench.
Bench also recommends unloading the car and putting everything in its place before shopping that evening or the next day. She says that families who overbuy before seeing the layout are often stuck “standing on long return lines and missing out on valuable family time.” Returns need not be immediate, but it is important for even restrained shoppers to keep all receipts, as it is difficult to know in advance what will not be needed.
Residential Life directors stress the need to communicate with new roommates to avoid the purchase of duplicate vacuums, printers, coffee makers, carpets, and micro-fridges when space is at a premium. Bench suggests an actual conversation, not just a Facebook or e-mail exchange, so that roommates can get to know each other and their personal likes and dislikes better. Some students like to coordinate their decor as well. In addition, Bench directs parents to the special Syracuse Facebook page designated for freshman parents, which is chock full of handy advice from veteran Syracuse parents.
The stores encourage the purchase of laptop locks and small lock boxes or safes, but Bench disagrees.
“If you could carry it into the room, someone else can surely carry it out,” says Bench. Locking mechanisms are only good if they are actually utilized or attached to something. Often students, like mine, do not use these devices, and many leave items out and doors open. Instead of focusing on which security items to buy, Phelps recommends parents have a conversation with their students about responsible behavior in the handling of their possessions.
The lists also advise parents to buy “extra-long bedding,” although twin-size jersey sheets can stretch to accommodate extra-long mattresses. The length requirement applies to the sheets only; extra-long comforters work, but a regulation-sized twin comforter is adequate.
Forgotten things and extras
Lauren Kolodkin, Student Employee at Boston University’s Office of Housing and Residence Services, recommends students bring the essentials, ship things ahead, and order online those things they may have forgotten.
“Buy as you go,” she tells me, reminding students that the university, and most other schools, have major chain stores in close proximity. Syracuse University hosts shopping trips to major chain stores for new students.
Phelps even suggests that Wesleyan students wait to see their rooms before heading over to the local Home Depot to buy carpets.
Kolodkin advises parents and students to try to make the room “feel like home” by bringing photos of friends and family, or posters of favorite bands and sports teams. A small plant can also be helpful, as well as festive Christmas lights, an electric menorah, or other holiday decorations. Although small fish tanks are usually permitted, it’s best to leave the boa constrictor at home.
According to students, hands-down the most important item brought to college is the laptop, with the cellphone a close second. Therefore, it is critical to take all reasonable steps to protect it from breaking, so the purchase of a padded laptop case and laptop bag is not excessive.
Many students headed to schools known for colder winters tend to forget to bring fans with them, not realizing how very hot August and September can still be.
Both of my kids have left cellphone chargers at school and at home. Parents should buy an extra one, so that the student need not bring it back and forth.
The emotional side of packing
Of course students — and parents — often end up overpacking because of a fear that they will not be comfortable away from home.
“Parents feel the need to equip [their students],” lest “they fear they are not being a good parent,” says Bench, referring to some parents’ compulsion to outfit their incoming freshman with everything but the kitchen sink.
“They have to have everything freshman year,” adds Phelps, who notes that “there is an emotional component to it. When they buy [too much] stuff, it is because they can’t separate.”
. . .
When helping your college-bound student pack, remember that, if all else fails, there is always the college bookstore for last minute items. In reality, our children are quite resilient and will survive, even if they do forget something. And, within hours, they will have legions of new friends from whom they can borrow what they need until UPS arrives!
Risa C. Doherty is an award-winning freelance writer, attorney, and two-time veteran of the college move-in process — special thanks to her college sophomore and recent grad. Read more at www.risadoherty.com.
Students’ recommended items to pack:
Melissa, Franklin & Marshall College: Light-up makeup mirror
Molly, Franklin & Marshall College: Lap desk
Jake, UMass Amherst: Credit card
Jason, Boston University: Collared dress shirt
Michael, Binghamton University: Phone
Bobby, University of Pennsylvania: Mattress topper
Andrew, University of Pittsburgh: Tie
Alec, Johns Hopkins University: Ethernet cord
Dana, Franklin & Marshall College: Heels
Alana, University of Delaware: Power strip (only one outlet in her room)
Nicole, SUNY Geneseo: Pictures of family and friends
Emily, Binghamton University: Fan
Kara, St. Anselm College: Daily planner (blotter size or wipe-board)
Becky, Tufts University: 16-oz. double-cup coffee maker
Conor, Bard College: External hard-drive
Tommy, Cornell University: Snowboard
Rachel, Culinary Institute of America: Stepstool (for high closets and high lofted beds)
Top picks of college experts:
Boston University: Bed risers
Syracuse University: Fan
Wesleyan University: Khakis
University of Delaware: Rainboots with liners
Helpful hints from my family:
Don’t forget your health insurance card, bed rest pillow (aka “husband pillow”), keychain, water bottle, duct tape, flashdrives, iPod speakers, food storage containers, hangers, and a very loud alarm clock.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
©2012 Community Newspaper Group