How to Get Your Kid Ready for College Living

college dorm room with bed

Like most things in parenting, getting a kid ready for college or their own apartment is easier the second time around. I know now what is important and likely to be helpful—and what isn’t as good an idea. I also know a little bit about what is safe to do now and what should wait.


When my older son was a senior in high school, I bought dorm room sheets and towels on Black Friday. Saved a lot of money. I’m not sure, though, that it was money well spent.

Tips for Planing for Your Kid’s First Apartment or College Dorm Room

  1. Most likely, your kiddo will have a roommate or two. And they’ll also have ideas about what would be great in their shared space. Waiting until roommates are assigned or chosen increases the likelihood that the purchases you make will be the right ones.
  2. Sharing the responsibility for big ticket items means everyone in the room is invested in keeping things in good shape. So maybe one person buys a coffee maker and another buys a microwave—and both roomies take good care of everything in the room.
  3. Dorm rooms aren’t usually very big and storage can be hard to find. The less stuff in the room, the bigger the room appears. Plan on taking a minimal amount of stuff and adding more things as needed.
  4. Dorms and apartment complexes have rules. Some limit the size or strength of an appliance. Others are strict about how things can be hung on the walls. Read the handbook and agreements provided to make sure you and your kid know what to expect.
  5. Twin XL. That’s the size of the mattresses in many college dorm rooms, but maybe not all. Make sure you know what sizes your kid’s dorm room will require.
  6. Bedding and bath sets are available. You’re probably already getting information about these sets from the college. They are pretty convenient and eliminate some guessing about sizes. In our experience, the quality isn’t great and the price is kind of high. We ended up replacing most of the bath and bedding items to get the colors and quality he wanted.
  7. Things disappear and get broken. Before packing an item for college, consider if it could be replaced. If not—and it is really valuable or deeply loved—maybe it should stay at home. Your homeowner’s insurance probably covers your child in most cases while they’re away at college. Check with your agent to be sure.

So what should you be buying now?  There are lots of lists available online with suggestions. This list from Good Housekeeping is pretty thorough.  Here are my two cents:

  1. Does your kid have a heavy coat? Choosing a cold weather college makes warm outdoor clothing a necessity. A hoodie may not be enough to walk clear across campus in December in Lincoln or Des Moines or Lawrence.
  2. Home décor items like cute pillows and darling picture frames. (I didn’t get to buy any of these for my kid!)
  3. Personal items like shower shoes and bathrobes.
  4. Gift cards. Buying a gift card for Home Goods or Target along the way will make it easier on your budget in the last weeks.
Beth is mom to a high school sophomore and a first year college student. After fourteen years as a professional writer and editor, she earned graduate degrees in counseling and play therapy. Now she exercises her creativity as a school counselor. Beth loves reading, especially mysteries.