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The college supply list ain’t what it used to be

August is our last month to enjoy warm summer evenings and extended family time before the school year begins. August also shifts our attention to back-to-school shopping, especially for college students whose classes typically begin before the end of the month (if not before).

The college back-to-school list has changed drastically since I went to college. While I was concerned about bringing my Walkman, alarm clock and TV with rabbit ears (welcome to the 1980s), today’s students have far different needs in order for them to be prepared for college living.

Adam Casler is the director of community living at Siena College in Loudonville, NY and has a lot of experience with move-in preparations.

Casler says technology is the number one reason why the college back-to-school shopping list has changed so much over the years. In the past, he said, students would come to campus with usually one internet-capable device (a computer or laptop). Today, the average student is bringing 3-4 devices, ranging from laptops to smartphones to gaming devices. Students want and expect to be connected at all times, and colleges are striving to meet the needs of students related to internet connectivity.

According to Casler, here are a list of top items every college student should have:

Portable Power Bank

With students always on the move, having a portable power bank to recharge a phone or other devices during the day is a huge asset. Many students leave their room in the morning and are gone all day making these power banks a great – and relatively inexpensive – item.

Noise Canceling Headphones

Living in residence halls with a large number of other students is a new experience for most students, and so is the noise that goes along with living with others. For those who are light sleepers, a pair of noise-canceling headphones can go a long way as students make the adjustment to communal life in residence halls.

Tablets/Laptops

With streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, more and more students are forgoing bringing TVs to campus and are using their mobile devices to stream content on computers/tablets/phones.

“All In One Value Packs”

Many colleges partner with outside vendors that provide “all in one value packs” with items such as sheets, comforters, and bedding all in one package.  Rather than have to worry about getting sheet sizes, these companies partner directly with the college/university to ensure the right bedding sizes, etc.  It can also be just as cost effective as buying items over the counter at other stores. For example, Siena College partners with Our Campus Market, who offer a huge selection of items, all of which can be easily ordered and shipped. This comes in handy for students who are coming from a long distance, as they can order these items and have them shipped straight to campus.

Surge Protector

Most colleges/universities encourage students to buy a surge protector instead of a standard electric extension cord. The surge protector ensures that in the event of a power outage, electronic devices do not short out.

First Aid Kit

Something small with band aids, Neosporin and the like. Most college Health Services offices are not open 24/7, so having some minor first aid supplies on hand is always a good idea.

Shopping list by students, for students

My daughter is entering her sophomore year in college, and by now is a pro at back-to-school shopping. Here’s what she and her friends came up with as items they couldn’t live without during freshman year.

  • Mattress pad cover
  • Shower caddy
  • Back pack (you still have to carry books)
  • Flip flops for the shower
  • Keurig machine (coffee and tea)
  • Step stool if your bed his up high
  • A hook for your towel
  • Personal mirror
  • Full length mirror
  • Kitchen supplies

Words of advice

Casler warns that there is a tendency for parents and students to buy a lot of items to bring to campus.

“We always recommend having students contact their roommate(s) over the summer to discuss potentially sharing items, as it doesn’t take long to fill a standard residence hall room with clothing, school supplies, electronics and other items,” said Casler.

As a parent, I – and my wallet – can second that.

Happy packing!


While Carole Spendley enjoyed shopping in preparation for her college days, as a mom she is grateful for the ease of online shopping, especially when moving her daughter into an inner city dorm!

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