Practical Gifts for College Students and What They Cannot Have in School Dormitory Rooms
Thank You for the Gift, But ...
Students can use almost anything, but colleges and universities often restrict certain items from school-owned dormitories. Before you buy that electric blanket, portable stove or microwave oven, whether it’s a high school graduation present, birthday gift, Christmas, Hanukkah or any other kind of offering -- make sure your college student is allowed to use it in his or her living space.
What’s Allowed in a Dorm Room? What Isn’t Allowed?
If you plan to purchase an item for your favorite college student, be sure that he or she is allowed to have it on campus, especially in university-owned housing facilities. Colleges and universities have various rules for what they do and do not permit in dormitory rooms -- you can typically find “Do” and “Don’t” lists on school websites. For example, in addition to clothes and school supplies, the University of Cincinnati (Ohio) allows students to have alarm clocks, radios, TVs, computers, stereos, can openers, bicycles, rugs, coffee makers, hot-air popcorn makers and even a 20 gallon fish tank. However, the “don’t bring” list includes space heaters, waffle makers, oil-popcorn poppers, hot plates, sandwich makers, water beds, pets (other than fish), griddles and grills, halogen lamps, air conditioners and toaster ovens.
No matter what school your college student attends, the best rule of thumb is to check out the resident hall information before you buy anything for him or her to use on campus.
What Do Dormitories Provide to Students?
Many schools provide the basics in their dorm rooms: beds, sheets, desks, chairs, window coverings, closets and trash cans. Some student housing facilities, such as those from the Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio) provide built-in refrigerators and microwave ovens, cable and Internet connection equipment and services.
University housing allowances vary, depending the on the particular school and its state government regulations. Some universities’ dormitory rooms do have built-in refrigerators or microwave ovens but others may not. For rooms that don’t have them pre-installed, students can usually rent a “MicroFridge,” where the units are built into each other. Because of their electricity requirements, separate refrigerators and microwave ovens are prohibited in most school dorm rooms.
In many university dorm rooms, students can paint walls and hang pictures but structural changes are often prohibited because of potential damage. Review the university’s dorm contract for liability and responsibility before you buy anything that may significantly change the room’s structure.
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) | U.S. Department of Education
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a law that protects students' privacy.
University housing apartments are somewhat different than dorm rooms but they usually come furnished with the basics: beds, desks, stoves and refrigerators. However, university-owned apartments typically don’t supply dishes, toasters, small appliances, vacuum cleaners, cleaning supplies and other every-day living necessities. At the University of California Los Angeles, for example, school-owned apartment complexes have laundry facilities with pay-per-use machines.
If your college student is living in any type of university-owned apartment, be sure to find out what he or she needs to furnish it, especially if you are planning on a “big ticket” purchase.
Gift Ideas for College Students
Cash, Gift or Debit Cards
Any student will tell you that the best gift for him or her would be cold hard cash. But you can purchase gift cards for just about everything; from the college and campus-area bookstores to most local restaurants and fast-food places. Many universities have special debit cards that are used for purchasing items on or around the campus area. Contact the university to determine how you can add funds to your student’s debit card. (At Ohio State, for example, the BuckID office can add money to a student’s debit card over the phone with a credit card or online or by way of direct payment; cash, check or money order).
One thing to note, though, parents and others cannot see an account’s balance and activity online without the student knowing about it. If your university doesn’t have a debit card program, you can purchase a prepaid debit card or gift cards in many denominations.
Food and Gasoline Cards
College students are hungry! Food-stuffed gift baskets are always a welcome treat, especially for snacking during late-night study sessions. And, you can help with the cost of coming home to visit by presenting gasoline gift cards to your student. With them, not only can he or she purchase gasoline, but also groceries for those late-night snack attacks.
Grocery store cards are thoughtful gifts; although students cannot cook in their dorm rooms, they can store healthy snacks -- yogurt, fruit, cheese and vegetables -- in the fridge. And yes, with grocery store gift cards students can purchase nuts, chips, soda, candy …
School Logo Gifts
College items (such as sweat shirts and pants, t-shirts, blankets, books and just about anything else you can think of with the university’s logo) make great gifts for your student. College bookstores are full of various items and you can find many things online, either through the university or from private businesses. Recommended items (just to name a few) are: books containing the history and old photos of the university; jewelry and watches; scrapbooks; DVDs on past athletic events or seasons; bookbags and luggage; socks and slippers; hats; keychains; earmuffs, gloves and scarves; mobile phone cases; stadium seats; lanyards; sports memorabilia and school supplies. Fraternity and sororities sell items with their own logos. Check out the campus book stores or visit the chapters online.
Other Gift Ideas
It’s a general list but here are only some of the many things students may keep in their dorm rooms. You can buy … sheets (twin size), blankets and pillow cases; sewing kits; cameras, plastic storage containers; iron and ironing board; silverware and can opener; area rugs; school supplies; first aid kit; flashlight and batteries; sports equipment; book bags and backpacks; laundry supplies; computer and printer; pictures and posters; unbreakable dishes; television and clothing.
If there is something in particular that you’d like to buy your student but you don’t know whether he or she can have it in the dormitory, contact the university’s residence hall office.
Fraternities and Sororities
Although separately owned in most college campus areas, the rules for fraternities and sororities are similar to university dormitories when it comes what students are allowed to have in their living spaces. Chapter houses must abide by city or state government and university rules. If you’re unsure about whether your student can have a particular item in the chapter house, contact the sorority or fraternity (via email, website or telephone) to determine what is and what is not permitted. Communicate with a house manager, chapter advisor or student office-holder -- someone who is authorized to provide specific (and accurate) information.
Some campuses have for-profit and not-for-profit fraternity and sorority management agencies that serve as advisors to the “Greek” system of that college community. For example, the Fraternity Managers Association at Ohio State University helps student fraternities and sororities operate as small businesses and learn to handle budgets, contractors, vendors and house members. The FMA, similar to other agencies in various states, also provides services that chapter houses can purchase for member use.
Not all universities have “Greek” life management agencies, but fraternities and sororities have national chapters to help set the rules for “Greek” life. For example, Acacia Fraternity, with local chapters on campuses across America, helps its members abide by rules set forth by the national organization and each community’s affiliated university.
College students (hopefully!) appreciate just about anything you give to them but some things may clutter up the closet at home if these items cannot be used in school. Always check out the school’s “do and don’t” list before you buy a gift for your college student. Some electric items are O.K, of course, but others, such as electric blankets and heated throws, may not be. If the gift item requires a lot of electricity to operate or if it is fuel-required, fire-inducing, potentially explosive or hazardous, chances are that it would not be suitable for a college dorm room.
© 2013 Teri Silver