Clark Howard

30 essential items for college students

Going to college usually means moving out of the house and into a dorm or apartment. Whether they’re just starting out or are returning for another year, college students inevitably need some supplies when they move into their temporary housing.

As a recent college graduate, I remember the excitement leading up to move-in day as well as the enormous amount of packing I did. That process was made a whole lot easier when my aunt gave me a laundry basket full of essentials (and some treats, too!). Here’s my guide to things that definitely come in handy in your home-away-from-home. Package all or some of them together for the most useful gift imaginable:

  1. Laundry basket – A laundry basket is a great place to start because it should be able to hold virtually everything else on this list. If you can access photos or floor plans of the place your college kid is moving into it's easier to find out what style fits best. Another option is to get a laundry bag with backpack-type straps for those periods when laundry doesn't get done for a while.
  2. Laundry detergent – What better to go with the laundry basket? Giving this will (hopefully) encourage your college kid to wash their clothes and sheets regularly.
  3. Hand soap – A sometimes forgotten essential, you could pick up a bottle of liquid hand soap or a bar or two. Bottles often go on sale for $1 at the grocery store or are the same price at a dollar store. Then just buy a big refill bottle for the future.
  4. Toothbrush – A reminder to take care of those pearly whites. Name brand toothbrushes are available at dollar stores for way less than you might pay normally at the supermarket.
  5. Toothpaste – A toothbrush is no good without the toothpaste! You can find a great deal on some here.
  6. Deodorant – You may want to throw in a regular and travel size so they can be fresh wherever they go.
  7. Shampoo – Your grad may have a brand they like, but you can always throw in a backup bottle from the dollar store.
  8. Body wash – Much like shampoo, a backup can always come in handy.
  9. Lotion – Boy or girl, everyone needs a little lotion to keep from drying out. If you aren't sure what type to buy, go for an unscented smaller bottle.
  10. Nail clippers – Everyone needs a tool to keep trimmed, so pick some nail clippers up at a pharmacy or in a beauty aisle to give to the grad.
  11. Razors – Help them tame unwanted hairs for a few months by throwing a pack of disposable razors into the gift basket with this deal!
  12. Shave gel/cream – While you could just use soap, shave gel often moisturizes skin to avoid irritation.
  13. Hand sanitizer – A little can go a long way. Give your grad a small bottle to put in their backpack for those fast lunches between classes.
  14. Small umbrella – Getting caught in the rain is the worst — especially when you have your laptop and work in your bag. A small portable umbrella is a lifesaver for those unexpected rain showers.
  15. Snacks – Your gift basket will feel extra thoughtful with the addition of their favorite treats.
  16. Earbuds – Most kids have this covered, but an extra pair a cheap earbuds like these is never a bad thing.
  17. Phone charger – Keep the juice flowing. Make sure to double check what kind of charger is preferred since iPhone, Android and Pixel phones all need different ones. Walmart has a deal on fast-charging wall adapters now, plus there's deal on android cables here!

Linens and basics

  1. Sheets/pillowcases – While the best time of year to buy linens has passed, you can almost always find sets on sale. Just make sure you double-check the bed size — many dorms have twin XL beds!
  2. Pillow – Everyone needs a place to rest her head!
  3. Mattress topper – Okay, so this isn't really an essential, but you — and your college kid — will sleep better knowing how comfortable the bed will be.
  4. Towels This incredible bargain on a 24-piece set shouldn't be passed up, plus it comes in a bunch of colors!
  5. Storage – They'll need storage for all these supplies. Aldi has these basket containers and these small cubes on sale now.
  6. Paper towel Read this article to learn how much paper towel you're actually getting for your money to figure out what's right for you.
  7. Toilet paper – Much like paper towels, unit price is important for toilet paper! Check ads to find out when and where this paper product it's on sale.
  8. Cups, plates and utensils – Pick up a set or two this week from Aldi or look for cheap alternatives at Goodwill or other thrift stores.

Beyond the dorm

  1. Backpack – Whether they're going to class or somewhere for the weekend, a backpack is a must. You can choose from so many retailers for great deals — like this one from Five Below or this clearance sale from High Sierra.
  2. Pens, pencils and highlighters – Those notes don't write themselves. Fill all your writing utensil needs with this Amazon deal while it lasts.
  3. Paper products including: notebooks, n otecards, l oose leaf paper – Even if you take notes on a computer, some teachers still go old school. Make sure you stock up and you'll be prepared for anything.
  4. Binders and f olders – You can find these at a dollar store or on discount from some retailers around this time.
  5. Cheap textbooks – Even though your student may be the one in charge of buying their books, you can always help them save a little with these Clark-approved websites and these quick tips.

Here's a comprehensive list of Walmart back-to-school deals.

Read more: 17 ways the dollar store can save you big bucks

Watch: How to save big money on textbooks