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What to Get for a College Freshman

Updated on December 12, 2013
The package my sister made for me!  :D
The package my sister made for me! :D

It's the question highlighting so many parents and relatives of recent graduates: What do I get them to help with their college transition? Well, I'm here to help with some ideas for some silly but mostly practical gift ideas that you can give to your college student. Take a few ideas and organize them into a care package or two for your college student, or take a bigger idea and give it as a gift.

For those staying in the dorms...

This is for students who are living on or near campus in a dorm-like setting.

My Care Package List Includes:

  • The Naked Roommate and 107 Other Awkward Situations you Could Face in College- As far as I'm concerned, every college student needs this book. It has so many ideas past the dorm room.
  • Special colored duct tape- This is helpful for knowing which boxes belong to you at move in!
  • White Board- Handy for leaving notes to your roommate and yourself!
  • White Board Supplies- This includes pens, erasers, and white board cleaner, which comes in handy if someone's written on the whiteboard in permanent marker (which happens more than you'd think).
  • Hanging Tabs- Get the removable hanging tabs, because most dorm rooms forbid any kind of permanent hanging device in your dorm room.
  • Memo Board- For hanging pictures of friends and family, saving phone numbers, keeping rack of flyers for social events, and much more.
  • Pictures of the Family, Friends, pets, etc- You're going to need something to put on that memo board, right? Why not donate a few to stave off homesickness?
  • Flashlight- You will never know when you'll need to search under your bed or futon for something, and it is always better to be prepared.
  • Ramen Cookbook- Because, honestly, you will get sick of just noodles past the first month.
  • Can Opener- Canned food is your friend in college, because it takes forever to spoil, but you're going to need a way to open those cans, and the can openers in the dorms are filthy and rarely work correctly.
  • Piggy Bank- Save the change in your pockets and put it towards laundry, student loans, or even for a treat for acing finals.
  • Laundry Bag- So that you can wash your unmentionables or delicates with the rest of your clothing, so you do not end up washing them in the bathroom like my sister had to one year.
  • Post-it Notes and Book Flags- perfect for leaving notes in textbooks or marking reference pages, and absolutely essential for any open-book/open-note test.
  • Notecards- Handy for preparing for tests and organizing research, these go perfect in a "College Survival" care package.
  • Staplers- Get two mini staplers; Keep one on your desk for last minute paper printing and one in your bag for when the professor staples the answer sheet on the back of the test, because you're going to want to rip that page off instead of flipping back and forth.
  • Staples- It would suck to be out of staples for your emergency stapler, right?
  • Pencil Sharpener- Because sometimes you're going to be stuck taking a test with an old Number 2 and it's going to break in the middle of the exam when a dozen other people are between you and the pencil sharpener.
  • Hand sanitizer- Because, really, who sat at that desk before you and what are the chances that they washed their hands recently?
  • Emergency Poncho- This is very helpful on large campuses, where, if you're caught in a downpour, it's a fifteen minute walk to your next class or the dorms.
  • Rainboots- Rainy or snowy weather can leave water all over the place on college campuses, and soaked shoes take forever to dry.
  • Umbrella- Another great practical gift, a mini-umbrella to shove in a backpack is the easiest way to prevent getting soaked during a surprise downpour.
  • Sunscreen- You are going to need it, no matter how well you tan.
  • Sudoku Book- For rainy days where you don't feel like doing homework.
  • Sewing Kit- Little rips and holes are common in clothing, and you don't want to have to throw away your favorite sweater because of one little hole, right?
  • Shower Shoes- Foot fungus is never in style. (A pair of flip flops works well for this--just make sure they keep traction when wet!)
  • Shower Caddy- Make sure to get one with a few holes in the bottom to let the water drain out!
  • Lip Balm- Get something that tastes good and has sunscreen in it. even your lips can get sunburnt!
  • Eye Mask and Ear Plugs- For the light sleepers, especially. Sleep is precious in college, so make the most of what you'll get.
  • Puzzles- The front desk in dorms carry a large selection of games, but choosing one personalized puzzle can really be thoughtful.
  • UNO- Never hurts to have an extra deck.
  • Basic Deck of Cards- Midnight game of "Go fish," anyone?
  • Frisbee- Ultimate Frisbee, of course!
  • Popcorn- Snack food, your best friend in college!
  • Water balls- Soak them, freeze them, and throw them at rude roommates (just kidding..).
  • Reusable Water bottles- Get a couple so that you can rotate--it's so much cheaper than buying drinks all the time!
  • Stress Ball- Because finals practically require one!
  • Travel Size Ibuprofen/pain reliever- You never know when a killer headache will strike.
  • Personal Fan- Not all dorms have AC, so be prepared!
  • Bucket- You never know when you'll need one, and they're particularly handy if you decide to get a fish for your room.
  • Hamper- You'll need to put those dirty clothes somewhere!
  • Laundry basket- Not only are they helpful for clothing, but they are great for carrying stuff around your dorm. A laundry basket can also double as a hamper, which is great for tight spaces.
  • Beach Towels- Having a couple extra-large towels around is nice, because you can use them for the beach, lying on the grass around campus, a makeshift blanket, and are good for when you don't want to flash your roommate.
  • Air Freshener- If your room is going to be smaller than the standard prison cell, don't you at least want it to smell better?
  • Febreeze- Because sometimes you just need to freshen up your futon.
  • Toilet Paper- Just a roll or two to use as kleenex, napkins, and paper towels.
  • Permanent Markers- So that you can write your name on everything. You never know if your roommate's going to be a klepto.
  • A Plant or Fish- Think cacti or Siamese Fighting Fish. Both are low maintenance and great for dorms rooms.

The "Big Stuff" List:

  • A Futon- My sister recommends Shopko.
  • A Laptop- get something with a decent amount of RAM and the ability to run Microsoft Office well.
  • An MP3 player- For tuning out the surroundings while studying, among other uses.
  • Loans- Depending on the Financial Aid package offered to your student, you may end up having to cosign for loans. Let your student know that this is a gift, and that they need to be responsible with paying it back.

For those staying in an apartment...

For the college student opting for an apartment, the previous list still works, but here are some specialty items for apartment-staying college students (assuming that the apartment is furnished).

i suggest a cleaning kit for those planning on staying in an apartment, because, unlike the dorms, no one cleans your bathroom for you. Hence all the cleaning products on my list.

My List:

  • A vacuum- Unlike the residence halls, you cannot just rent out a vacuum for a few hours from the front desk, and someone's going to need to keep the place clean.
  • (For the same reason) Dusting cloths and all-purpose bathroom/ kitchen cleaner.
  • White Board Calendar- Great for planning who's turn it is to go grocery shopping or the dishes.
  • Shower Mat- Safety first, right?
  • Storage Bins- A great way to stay organized.
  • Windex, Pledge, and 409- Great cleaning tools for every person, and they are all great for multiple surfaces.
  • A Toilet Brush- Hey, somebody's got to do it every once in a while...
  • Dish Rack, Dish Towel, Dish Rag- You have a limited number of plates, so they are going to have to be cleaned. For a homemade touch, you could knit or crochet dish rags-much more personal than buying them!
  • Coupons to Grocery Stores/Restaurants/CVS/Walgreens- Food is a major cost of living in an apartment, so every little bit helps.
  • Miniature Christmas Tree/Other holiday decorations- Most basic apartments are plain looking, so being able to decorate a little bit for Halloween or Christmas can really spice things up.
  • Shower Curtain and Rugs- Chances are that the apartment's bathroom is just going to be tile or laminate without a shower curtain or rugs, and no one likes to stand on cold floors first thing in the morning.
  • Kitchen Supplies- (See list below)

Kitchen supplies:

  • Cutting board
  • Knives
  • Cutlery
  • Dishes
  • Coffee maker
  • Cooking utensils
  • Toaster

For those staying at home...

And, of course, for the students who opt for the Bed&Breakfast deal (the hardest to buy for, really).

My List:

  • A Section of the Fridge- College is all about independence, and part of that deal is to start caring for your own food. So, unless the family comes to a concensus about sharing food, give them a small corner of the fridge where they can have their food labelled with their name.
  • Gas Cards/Money- Commuter students have significant fuel costs, so extra money always helps.
  • Tickets to a game for their favorite sport- Commuter students tend to feel less connected to campus, so getting them tickets to games for their college can help them feel more connected.
  • School Pride clothing- For the same reason as above, as things like sweatshirts and hats can help your student show pride in their school.
  • Space- I think this is the most important gift that a parent of a commuter child can give. College is about finding independence, and that will never happen if you constantly hover or maintain the same rules about things like curfew that you had in high school. They may make mistakes, but they would much rather make them than have you harp. But don't let the slack off, however--college is much more difficult than high school.

What type of student is the student you're looking for?

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    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      This is a GREAT list! And I must say... the eye mask and ear plugs are key!!


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