Back to School: What your kid really needs for dorm life
Oh, campus-checklist and dorm-décor ads, you are so funny!
Especially when you show pimped-out dorm rooms with enough space for a big bed, a comfy chair and -- oh, help! -- a sofa next to a toaster-oven.
Let's see you wedge those things into a room that allots an average of 96 square feet per student. That includes the provided beds, desks, closets and in-room microwave/refrigerator units.
Now, we know -- especially those of us who've escorted a newly minted high school graduate off to her very own 96 square feet -- that those advertisers are targeting us, the parents, more than the newbie freshmen. How else to explain the annoying prevalence of college registries? (That's right. Like bridal registries. As if.)
"I do think the ads target parents, in terms of making parents think these are the things they need to get to make their students comfortable," says Sara Rotunno, assistant director for residential life at Colorado College. "Students don't actually use a lot of that stuff."
That's partly because either there's no room, or the items aren't allowed. Most on-campus housing forbids electrical cooking and heating appliances, which are considered a fire hazard.
"I think a lot of students bring things that they don't realize aren't allowed," Rotunno said. She ran down a list of extraneous or forbidden items: "Candles. Toasters. Dishes, all their CDs and video games, basic cookware. We provide (many of these things) at our front desk, along with board games they can check out and cleaning equipment, like mops and vacuums. A lot of student bring in too much stuff, and that stuff gets sent home with the parents."
What do students really need?
Here's one thing: Linens -- in that exasperating extra-long twin size that fits no other bed you'll ever own. And a blanket or comforter and pillow. Maybe a foam topper for the mattress. But not a bed-bug mattress cover.
Bed-bug barrier mattress covers are one example of something that's a triumph of marketing over necessity, says Jacob Marsh, owner of Bite Back Bed Bug Removal in Aurora.
"As a preventive measure, a bed-bug barrier isn't going to do anything," Marsh said. "If bed bugs are already there, usually inside the box springs, then a mattress cover keeps them inside the mattress if you leave it on for two years, because they'll die in there. But if you're not already having problems, a cover won't stop anything. The best thing to do is hope it doesn't happen, and live your normal life."
Like mattress covers, hanging shelves get a heavy marketing push, but University of Colorado senior Phuong-Anh Cai found them useless.
"I always look at those college checklist ads, but a lot of that stuff makes me roll my eyes," she said.
"The hanging shelves aren't durable. You can't stack shorts or pants on them because they're only cardboard. I just used regular plastic hangers. When I was a freshman, I wound up sending a lot of my clothes back home because I overestimated how much I'd actually need. I brought a clip-on light, but the bed frame was too thick for it."
Other advertised must-haves that Cai says are don't-needs:
-- Printer (available in libraries)
-- A tool kit (residence halls have common tools, including screwdrivers, wrenches and hammers. Major repairs are handled by campus maintenance staff.)
-- Kitchenware apart from a couple of cups, bowls and utensils What extras did serve her well? A bookcase that also served as a TV stand. A suitcase that fit under the bed, storing seasonal clothing and other things. A laptop, "a must in your college career," she said. "It's the one thing I can't lose in my life."
Which brings up something that's missing on most of those College Checklists: Renter's insurance. If a student can't pay the monthly fee ($7 and up), often that coverage can be tacked -- sorry, Mom and Dad -- onto a parent's insurance policy.
According to a study by Integrated Cycle Systems, maker of the Bad Bones lock, a four-year college student has a 53 percent chance of losing a bicycle to a thief. There's also an excellent chance that other personal property will be stolen from a dorm room.
Our daughter will be a college sophomore this year. Despite a sturdy U-lock and an expensive cable lock, her bicycle was stolen twice in her freshman year.
There's also an excellent chance that other personal property -- laptop, smartphone, cash, jewelry, credit cards -- will be stolen from a dorm room.
"Renter's insurance is so cheap for what it provides," Rotunno says. "When I was renting, I paid $7 a month, and my deductible was either $250 or $500. It's a really good idea for students."
Claire Martin is a reporter for The Denver Post.
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