Your teen is heading off to college at the end of the summer, and you have an endless list of "essential" dorm items. From shower shoes to snacks, it seems like everyone has an opinion about the "must-have gear" whose sole purpose is to weigh down your car (and your budget) as you help your young adult begin the next stage of her life.
Fortunately, there are at least a few items you can cross off the "must-pack" list. You know to leave the king-size sheets at home, but you may be surprised to learn that birthday candles are dorm no-nos, while goldfish are okay! Check out the list below with your furture college freshman to find out more about what you can decisively nix from your dorm list.
- Illegal drugs and alcohol. This is a no-brainer, right? While your teen may not be sneaking booze into her college-bound luggage, packing is the perfect time to talk to her about the consequences of risky behavior at school. According to 2005 data published by the Core Institute, 73 percent of university students drink at least occasionally. Talk with your child about how substance abuse affects social situations and classwork, and open up the discussion for any questions she may have.
- Extension cords. Since your co-ed will need outlets for her laptop, lamp and various chargers (probably all at once), it seems logical to load up on extension cords. However, many colleges prohibit cords altogether, while others won't allow them unless they're surge protected, as unprotected cords can overwhelm a dorm's electrical system and cause electrical failure or other dangers. If you're not sure where your teen's school stands on extension cords, check out the student housing website or call the resident advisor and ask in advance.
- Sources of open flame. Since candles, incense and hookah are firmly forbidden from most dorms, reserve those favorite scented candles for a bedroom at home. Instead, keep the room smelling fresh with plug-in air fresheners and flameless candles. Don't forget that birthday candles fall under this rule! To avoid paying a hefty fine or worse for an open flame, save birthday blowouts for restaurant celebrations.
- Halogen lamps. Though they're energy-efficient relative to incandescent bulbs, halogen lamps carry several additional dangers like high heat and a higher risk of explosion. As a result, major universities like Boston College and George Washington University prohibit halogen bulbs of any kind for freshman dorms. Keep in mind that halogen lamps can be either desk or floor lamps, so plan accordingly and nix anything you think might be questionable. If you're looking to replace halogen bulbs with an eco- and dorm-friendly solution, try using compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).
- Duplicates. Encourage your teen to coordinate with future roommates in advance to decide who's bringing which kitchen or bathroom items to avoid ending up with duplicate appliances that crowd the tiny room. Items that commonly end up as "repeats" include microwaves, blenders, toaster ovens, mini fridges, shower caddies and/or bathroom mats. To be sure everyone in a shared suite is on the same page, try helping your kid create a shared Facebook thread or Google document that roomies can update as the move-in date nears.
- Large furniture. That antique day bed may look cute at home, but odds are that it will barely fit through the door of most college dorms, let alone leave space to maneuver in a shared double or triple room. To avoid bringing furniture that's too large for the space, be sure to look up the dimensions of the dorm in advance. Divide the square footage by the number of roommates to figure out how much each roomie is likely to have. Once you factor in a standard dorm bed, desk and closet (typically provided by the college), it's unlikely there will be room for any major pieces of furniture. To keep décor interesting without taking up too much space, consider purchasing an area rug, posters and framed photos.
- Nails and paint. Since permanently altering dorm walls in any way is a major no-no (at Princeton University, for example, students may be fined up to $500 for painting), leave the paint and nails behind. Instead, explore décor blogs for inspiration—there's college-friendly options available to beautify dorm walls that you may not have considered, such as vinyl wall decals and removable glue dots for poster hanging.
- Pets. Though specific pet policies vary by school, the majority of universities prohibit furry friends of all stripes in their dorms. If your college-bound daughter is absolutely set on bringing a pet, many colleges do allow fish, as long as the tank doesn't exceed 10 gallons. However, before she buys a tank of her own, remind your kid that it's difficult to keep a fish afloat in a dorm when students are home from school for winter or summer break. Unless your teen has a clear a plan for feeding Nemo year-round or transporting him home, it's usually better to pass on pets altogether.
Packing for the dorms is notoriously tedious, expensive and time-consuming. Instead of weighing down your child's suitcases and your pocketbook with unnecessary buys, you'll be able to focus on spending quality time together—and share your own valuable advice—before she leaves, instead of worrying about what's going in her suitcases.