College Prep: Gift ideas for the college-bound student

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Although it is months away, rest assured, it will be here before you know it. And when the time comes, you'll want to make sure he or she is ready.

Every summer it plays out the same way. Newly minted high school and community college graduates destined for new horizons at four-year colleges and universities across the country want nothing more than to focus on a last hurrah of fun and fellowship with friends.

A prodigious game of tug-of-war ensues as parents, desperate to make sure their kids have everything they need for their first year away at school, wage a never ending battle with their college-bound students who never seem to have time to go shopping with them.

And in the end, when suitcases are to be packed and cars loaded, stress and last minute scurrying around seems to prevail. But take heart, mom and dad, there's a way to avoid all this. Well, some of this.

With great deals everywhere you look during the Christmas shopping season, start the process now for getting the college-bound student in your life ready for his or her inaugural trip away to school - and save some aggravation. Think of it also as a gift to yourself.

So, what does a college student need when heading off for the first time? Deciding needs versus wants each play a part in determining this.

After some perfunctory research and some conversations with some current college students, I have amassed a list of ten suggested items, divided into three categories - Practical, Personal and Preferred.

In the "Practical Items" category, whether a student is assigned to dorm with a communal bathroom, a suite with a common bath, or the student lives in an apartment, procuring a toiletry kit is probably in order. Securing one's things for travel and/or security is key.

Unless your student is planning to attend Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., where laundry service is provided to students, he or she will definitely need laundry supplies.

Granted, laundry items (e.g. basket or bag, soap, fabric softener, etc.) probably aren't at the top of anyone's list, but as a gag gift, why not.

Alternatively, Santa might consider a stocking stuffer of a roll of quarters, or a note pledging a pre-paid laundry card once the student arrives on campus. Now, if your student doesn't actually know how to do laundry, a coupon for "10 Free Laundry Lessons" could be a third option here.

At some point, a student's room is going to need to be vacuumed. For girls, it might be sometime during the first week or month. For boys, it might be during the first year. Either way, vacuums are often a precious commodity.

There are lots and lots of great options for the "Personal Items" category, but here are four that rose to the top of the list.

Watch just about any college football game on TV and it won't be long before a cameraman finds a student holding a sign that says, "Mom-Dad, Send Money."

It may not be your kid who is spotted with this sign, but you can definitely expect the request. A pre-paid, re-loadable debit card can help when emergencies occur. (And you do know that late night pizza is an emergency, right?)

After a long night of eating pizza, I mean studying, your student might definitely benefit from having a runaway alarm clock. After the first time the snooze button is hit, the runaway alarm clock rolls away and hides, dragging the snoozer out of bed to turn off the alarm.

Once (if?) they get out the door, they could probably use a new backpack. Student bookstores tend to be on the pricey side, so definitely get this one early. A nylon backpack that is waterproof would be advisable.

Following a long day of learning, your student will need the proper tools for a productive night of studying. Desk supplies would obviously (hopefully?) be important. Many can be brought from home. However, if your student presently lacks a desk lamp, this might be something to consider.

But then there are study breaks. And when studying stops, the phone goes on. Guard against jaw-dropping phone bills and review your current cell phone contract to see if you have a plan that accommodates the extra minutes and/or text messages your student will no doubt need. Pay now or pay later.

For the "Preferred Items" category we called on the experts - actual college students who are away at school and have intimate knowledge of exactly what a college student needs.

"Definitely a mini fridge," says Michael Kubel, a junior at the University of Nevada, Reno. "That way you have your own snacks whenever you want."

But at the end of the day, the number one suggested and requested item?

"A laptop," says Megan Einspahr, a freshman at Concordia University, Portland. "It's nice to be able to bring it to class so you can take notes and keep everything organized. Some classes are online, but even for those that aren't you sometimes have to turn in assignments online."

So there you have it, mom and dad, Christmas ideas for that college bound student of yours. But since it's a season of giving, we'll give you a bonus suggestion.

Invest in Kleenex. For you.

• Brian Underwood is the executive director of Sierra Lutheran High School, he can be reached at


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