Kids & Money

August 22, 2014

A last-minute checklist for college students

A can of WD-40, a basic set of tools and refill orders on prescriptions might not be on the minds of college freshmen preparing to leave home for the first time. But a little preparation can save time, money and aggravation.

Ask a college freshman to name the most indispensable items they’re bringing to school and many would tick off the usual — laptop, printer, cellphone and music player.

Here are three more that I guarantee aren’t on the minds of most new students, or their parents for that matter: a can of WD-40, a basic set of tools and refill orders on prescriptions.

From my 10 years of experience shipping kids off to college, you’d be amazed at how often a screwdriver, wrench and a little spray container of lubricant come in handy when there are beds to bunk, pictures to hang and squeaky closet doors to muzzle.

As for prescriptions, it’s way more convenient to have medicines refilled at the pharmacy a block from campus than from one 600 miles away or from the mail order house that might route the order to your home address by mistake.

Over the past month, I’ve monitored an online parent chat website hosted by the university that my youngest child attends. It’s an opportunity for parents, especially those with first-time students, to run through their checklist of supplies, ask questions about college life and cope with some of the pangs of letting go.

Their questions — no doubt the same ones asked by parents shipping kids off to colleges all over the country — ranged from figuring out the correct sheet sizes on a standard dorm room bed to knowing the number of towel racks in the bathroom, the location of electrical outlets and whether the rooms were equipped with irons and ironing boards.

Parents also wanted to know the banks with ATMs on or near campus, the best deals for ordering textbooks online, the proximity of public transportation and how much money to budget monthly for pizza, entertainment and other extras.

While all good questions, I have my own list of essential supplies that aren’t on the school’s recommended list, campus facilities to visit and other to-dos that can ease the way for new college students making the big leap of living away from home for the first time and save parents time, money and aggravation.

Security: Are the dorm rooms equipped with a small safe to store valuables? If not, you can purchase a decent one for under $50. And to protect against identity theft, purchase a small shredder to destroy credit card statements and other items that contain personal information. And before saying your goodbyes, remind your freshman to mix up passwords for online school accounts and to be wary of participating in surveys in exchange for freebies.

Medical services: Visit the campus health center with your student and meet some of the doctors. And connect with local specialists if your son or daughter has a chronic disease. Ask your regular doctor or student health center for referrals or work through your insurer for a list.

Transportation: How will your student get to and from shopping centers, restaurants and the airport if he or she doesn’t have a car on campus and public transportation is minimal? One option: In more and more cities, ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft have become popular with the college crowd. They typically provide discounts on your first ride, and sometimes the driver offers cold water and snacks. Check their websites for locations and how to set up service.

Storage: Find out if the college offers storage over the summer. This may seem premature, but it could affect how much stuff to bring to school now, bring home during long weekends or leave behind in the spring. Some schools allow a couple of plastic bins per student to be stored in a dorm basement, and some give permission for storage pods to be dropped on campus over the summer, but many don’t offer anything.

To reach Steve Rosen, call 816-234-4879 or send email to

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