Warning: How to Prevent College Shopping Overload

College shopping is beyond confusing. There is the list the college sends and another list that the store hands out, which differs from what your student tells you she needs. You know your kid had never used an alarm clock (it is 2021, and he doesn’t even remember when he didn’t have a phone by his bed) and that an air-conditioned dorm does not need a fan, so who to believe?

At the risk of causing any more confusion, here are our suggestions to keep you sane while college shopping with your kid. 

Red shopping carts lined up next to brick wall and near parking lot
Kristi Blohkin/ Shutterstock

5 Ways to stay sane college shopping

1. Join Grown and Flown Parents and ask any and every question you have about this move to campus.

There are over 265,000 high school and college parents in our closed group, and most have been through this transition and are happy to offer insights.

2. Start by buying only the items you KNOW your teen will NEED.

No one gets through freshman year without sheets, towels, hangers, a pillow, and a backpack. Check out this list of the 12 essentials. But start college shopping with the “must-haves” before you worry about the “might likes.”

If you can afford it, buy quality. If they are of poor quality, some of these items will not make it through the four years. Many quality items we purchased were handed down among siblings.

3. Check the college’s website CAREFULLY.

You are looking for banned items (e.g., electric kettles, toaster ovens, extension cords) and what is provided (e.g., trash cans, task lighting, full-length mirror). The college’s housing site will also give you the room’s dimensions if you are considering a rug and the configurations of the beds (e.g., if the beds are bunked, you may not want bed risers, but you might want a bunk shelf.) Also, check out YouTube, where you might find videos of the rooms at your teen’s school.

4. Figure out where you are going college shopping, where your teen is going to school, and how many different places you can stand to go.

Small niche retailers might work if your teen loves to shop and has endless patience. If they are going to school far from home, consider or Target because they are a one-stop-shop for all college shopping and ease of pack and hold, which lets you commit to purchases you have set aside (but not paid for) after you have seen the room and what the roommates and suite-mates are bringing.

Both Bed, Bath and Beyond and Amazon Prime Student make it VERY easy to buy any items you were unsure of later on with free shipping, quick delivery, and easy returns. Also, sign up for discounts and free college nights. In many cases, this will give you 20% off everything you will need for the dorm, and all they ask of you is your email address, seems like a pretty fair trade.

5. Warning. Here’s what your freshman may NOT need.

While we gave you a list of the 12 needed items (Check out this list that includes a mattress topper, mattress encasement, and laundry basket/bag that easily travels to the laundry room), here are some that you may consider or reject depending on your student. Parents tell us many of these items were still in the boxes, untouched on move-out day.

  • Iron and ironing board, they wear it wrinkled
  • Command hooks are perfect for most dorms but a big fail on some cinder block walls
  • Cleaning products, you know your kid, will they use these?
  • Bed risers, some beds have a mechanism for lofting; check before you buy
  • Coffee maker many times There is a cheap, easy cup available on campus
  • Printer, kids often share, and universities sometimes provide them in convenient locations
  • A stack of towels will take up space and sit wet on the floor, buy two quality ones instead of six cheap ones
  • For school supplies, they mostly use their laptop
  • Laptop locks
  • Textbooks! Sure, they need some of the books but ask them to consider renting or borrowing from friends who no longer need theirs
  • Pre-made first aid kit. Make your own with the products your teen likes and uses. Be sure to include a thermometer; unfortunately, it will get used.
  • A robe, most kids don’t wear them. Many students use a towel wrap instead.
  • Heavy comforter or duvet. Check first on the heating and the age of the building (my son brought his back home unopened because his room was so warm.)
  • Think twice about ordering that all-in-one package offers that colleges send out. This is not done by the college but rather by a retailer. Parents seemed disappointed in the quality and found they had better responses selecting their items. Here is a discussion around this topic. 

You Might Also Want to Read:

College Checklist: The Most Popular Freshman Dorm Extras 

It’s Here: College Move-in Day

How to Decorate a College Dorm Room: Adorable and Easy 

There is so much to do and buy when your kid is getting ready to go to college. Dorm shopping and college shopping can be overwhelming. Here are some smart ideas for preventing college shopping meltdowns and be smart about college prep. #collegeprep #collegedorm #dormlife #collegeshopping #shoppingforcollege #collegelife



About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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