Amy’s Free Ideas

Seasons > Special Days > What the New College Freshman Needs to Start Life in the Dorm

Home-away-from-Home Kit

If you haven’t lived for a month or more in a place with limited essentials, you may not realize how frustrating it can be to not have a pair of scissors or hammer when you need one. Maybe experiencing that is what helped me come up with my “home away from home” kit that I have made for each of my children as they headed off to seek their fortunes in the world. The kits include the basics--the bare minimum they will need for medical supplies, clothing repair, kitchen utensils, office supplies, and tools. Obviously a kit this small can’t provide everything, but it can help them get by until they set up house for themselves.

There is no set form it has to take--just find inexpensive containers that don’t take up a lot of space, and really pack things in there. You don’t have to buy everything new--collect extras you already have from around the house. Then check the dollar store for what you don’t have. Also, the kit should reflect the interests of the recipient--my second daughter loves to cook, so the “kitchen essentials” box was bigger than the others’. To be honest with you, they might appreciate it more if you give it to them their first Christmas back home--after they have been without for several months. I always gave it to them as they left for college, and since they didn’t feel the need yet, they forgot they had it.  If you do wait till Christmas, though, you do run the risk that they will go out and buy some things as they need them.

Medical Essentials

thermometer (both Celsius and Fahrenheit if they are used to taking it in one, and need to tell the nurse in the other)

bandaids in different sizes

antibiotic ointment

fever reducing Ibuprophin or Motrin


sunscreen or sunblock

vitamins or calcium they usually take

ice pack

heating pad

ankle brace

The following may go in a separate “Documents” folder:

insurance card

immunization record

family medical history (these don’t seem so essential until your child gets sick)

a sheet of symptoms that need medical attention so they know when to see the school nurse

Kitchen Essentials

cutting board  (even if it is small)


can opener


measuring spoons

measuring cup set

knife, fork and spoon (chopsticks--for some M.K.’s, this is an essential!)

1-2 mugs (for company)

1-2 plates


sponge or dishcloth for washing up

dish soap (though most dorm kitchens probably supply this, if they use things in their room, they may be more likely to wash right away instead of letting mold grow on it till they take it down the hall to wash!)

a sheet of ideas for quick meals for one

a cookbook of family favorite recipes (or when they feel homesick)

hard to get ingredients (for M.K.’s leaving their adopted homeland)

For those who like to cook, these may also be essentials:

cookie cutters

rolling pin

decorating tips and bags

food coloring and sprinkles

Office supplies



box cutter


scotch tape

double stick tape

glue stick

(glue gun for crafters)

pens and pencils

(pencil sharpener if pencils aren’t mechanical)

markers in various colors and widths

sticky tack or other form of adhesive for affixing things to walls without taking off the paint (most schools have regulations)

whiteboard and markers for dorm door



philips screwdriver

regular screwdriver


tape measure

(hand saw)

small collection of nails and screws

wood glue

Clothing care essentials


thread (in different colors, but at least black and white)

sewing sheers

safety pins

extra buttons

stain remover (Tide to Go is my favorite)

Clorox II for big stains

stain remover guide

quarters for washing machines

Care Packages


Christmas is one of those times of year when they can really start feeling homesick. Sending them a care package can be very exciting, and make them feel loved and remembered, especially that first year away from home. This one is packed with a tiny tree with ornaments and lights to put on it, a wreath for the dorm door with a ribbon to decorate it, and a santa hat to help her feel festive. A trip to the dollar store keeps the cost down, and you will probably find that it was money well spent to surprise your child and make  her feel loved (a guy wouldn’t know what to do with it, and would feel embarrassed, to boot. So just send food to make him happy!)


I made sure my kids got a gift in the mail in time for their birthdays, and asked someone in the city to take them a helium balloon (from the dollar store,) a bouquet of flowers, and a birthday cake so they could celebrate with their friends. Some colleges will make a birthday cake for a fee, and I think it is worth every penny as a way to make  my children to feel loved and cared for! This is not always easy to do from half way around the world, but my daughter often told me I was able to pull it off.

Shower Tote

Dorm life can present all kinds of new experiences that require creative solutions. A shower tote, for example, can enable your daughter to conveniently carry all her toiletries to the shower down the hall, but it comes back to the room dripping. If you have a second one with a solid bottom that it can nest in, the problem is solved. If the inner basket does have holes in the bottom, it will cut down on mold growing. These baskets are from the dollar store.

Valentine’s and “Just Because”

I tried to send small care packages of foods they missed periodically during the year. Valentine’s day was a big deal at home, so I tried to provide a taste of home with the ingredients for making fondue, delivered by a friend.

view more care package ideas


It may seem scary, but they really do need to have all their essential documents now (particularly if their parents live outside the country), but keep a copy, or at least  a list of numbers for the following:


birth certificate

social security card

immunization record

insurance card

a list of phone numbers for emergency contacts


Hopefully by now they have learned to be frugal, or life could get very hard for them or for you! You will have to decide if they can be trusted with a credit card or just a debit card. Either way, you will want to help them set up a bank account in their college town. It can be hard to know how much they will need for living expenses, especially if neither of you has been living in the States recently. One option is to get a Walmart card that you can replenish when it runs low. This won’t help them go out with their friends, but it can make sure they can get the toiletries, school supplies, and food they need.

Computers and cell phones

These are no longer luxuries. Cell phones are especially important for safety when girls are driving alone. Computers not only enable them to do their assignments, it also allows you to stay in touch with Skype or gmail video chat. They still need you, and this is a great way to stay connected. They may act all grown up, but they still need mom and dad. They still need to feel loved. If you can afford a printer and stick drive, these can be extremely helpful, too. An extension cord with multiple plugs on the end can be helpful since often there is only one electrical plug.

A Chair

It’s nice to have a chair in the dorm room that folds up small so that the student can relax someplace besides the bed, or have extra sitting space for friends to hang out. Then it can be folded and stored when they need more space. My son preferred the camp style folding chairs that have a place to keep a drink in the arm of the chair.


Dorm beds are usually extra long, so it is important to buy sheets and comforter/blankets to fit the bed. If you buy two sets of sheets, they will be more likely to wash them. A lamp and trashcan can also be useful, but it is good to find out what the dorm provides--if they provide a trashcan, you don’t want to go out and buy another one.

Hot Pot

A hot pot may not be as essential as an iron, but it may get a lot more use! Girls like to entertain guests, and this is a way to enable her to provide inexpensive beverages. If it doesn’t have an exposed heating coil, it can also heat up soup or other foods for a quick hot meal when she can’t make it to the cafeteria. It can even melt chocolate for fondue for an exciting dorm room party. Guys may not host parties, but they’ll appreciate a quick meal of soup or ramen. This one only cost $10, so it is not a huge investment, but schools do have regulations for appliances that can be used in dorm rooms, so check your college before buying one.

Storage Containers, Hamper

Rooms vary so widely, if you don’t know what the room looks like. it may be better to wait till your son or daughter moves in to invest in these.

Cleaning supplies

My son’s favorite item, believe it or not, was a container of Clorox Wipes. It makes it really easy to keep the sink and bathroom clean--and easy means it is much more likely to happen, since college students are not known for their cleanliness! A sponge and dish soap to wash those dirty dishes might help, too.

A Note to Missionaries and Expats

Beginning college brings huge changes for both the student and the parents. But it can be particularly challenging for Third Culture kids,( or M.K.’s as they used to be called.) I think it is vital to send them to some kind of re-entry seminar as a first step to help them adjust from their beloved adopted country to their not so well known passport country. Be sure to check the organization out carefully, since some of them operate with the assumption that these kids are broken and need to be fixed. There are others that celebrate the differences and help the kids figure out how to make the necessary adjustments.

This is what it might look like when decorated.

Your son or daughter will not need everything listed on this page. You  will be the best judge of what he or she really needs. A lot of it depends on what the dorm room looks like and what is provided. Our daughters went to a college that provided a dresser, closet, and desk in addition to a bed, with a bathroom down the hall. Our son’s room had a pole that he shared with his roommate, to hang clothes on, one tiny 3 drawer dresser each, and they had their own bathroom. So if you can’t see the room before you get there, you may want to plan on making a Walmart or Target run once you get there instead of shopping ahead. Otherwise you might end up buying things that don’t fit, or that are unnecessary. Also, don’t forget to check the list that  your child’s college provides, for what they don’t allow. Some colleges prohibit refrigerators, others will rent them to students, and still others provide them with each room.