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Freshman 15: Must-Haves for College

The “freshman 15” usually refers to the amount of weight first-year college students put on during their initial stint away from home. But while that 15 is unwanted, we've created a list of 15 dorm and school supplies every freshman definitely wants to make year one go smoothly.

“The biggest challenge is that there is just so much stuff to buy,” says Annalise Marcus, a Ridgewood, NJ, mother of three. “From bedding and towels to school supplies and dorm room decorating — plus packing all the clothes. You feel like it is a huge amount of stuff to assemble.”

And it is! You've got pens and pencils, staplers and scissors, plus all the other items that create a home away from home and keep your child organized and on task when you're not there.

That's why she suggests making lists — lots of lists. “We began the process early in the summer so we had plenty of time to think about what was needed and what my child really wanted,” she recalls.

To help all the soon-to-be freshmen, here's our list of 15 must-haves for college:

  1. Area rug: “Dorm room floors tend to be concrete or another very hard, cold surface,” says Darlene Molnar, a Washington, D.C.-based specialist in interior decoration, space planning and interior styling. “Look for rug options that have something in common with you and your roommate — a texture you both love or a pattern that works with both your styles.”
  2. Bedding & towels: Favorite sheets and blankets from home ward off homesickness, but some students prefer new items for a fresh start. (Some dorm rooms have extra-long beds requiring special sheets, so check first!) Pick up a set of risers to create plenty of room below the bed for additional storage.
  3. Chargers & charging stations: Never be without a charger! “Keep one set up in your dorm room/apartment and keep one in your laptop bag,” suggests Scott Shutter, product marketing manager for Dell® in Round Rock, TX. “You'll be happy you made the investment when you always have a charger while you're out and don't need to climb under the desk to plug in when you get home.” Charging stations make sense for multiple devices and portable chargers are great, too.
  4. Coffee & essentials: Stay hydrated with items like a Keurig® or other coffeemaker, or a SodaStream® for carbonated drinks. Don't overlook the functionality of an electric kettle that rapidly heats water. “I love to drink tea and make quick meals such as ramen or Easy Mac,” says Lydia Talen, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Having a water heater is very helpful.”
  5. Data storage: External data storage “is essential when it comes to backing up important files or bringing them on the go,” says Brian Kearney, a recent graduate of Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. A flash drive makes large files portable; use an external drive or cloud storage at the dorm. “There's nothing worse than writing a 10-page paper and having your computer crash the day before it's due. Trust me.”
  6. Desk & floor lamps: For desk lighting, choose an LED lamp that's adjustable to avoid glare. Select a dimmable floor lamp for additional lighting that allows just enough illumination without bothering sleeping roommates.
  7. Additional seating: Standard-issue dorm room furniture consists of a bed, desk and chair. You'll need extra seating for all your new friends or your late-night study group. Beanbags, futons or folding chairs are fun and useful and don't take up a ton of room. Consider upgrading your desk chair to increase comfort and productivity. “Choose one that offers good lumbar support for your lower back, and has adjustable armrests and seat-height adjustability,” advises Malandra Gibson, interior design department chair at the Sullivan College of Technology and Design in Louisville, KY. “Many chairs offer tilt options for leaning back, which can be good for long study sessions.”
  8. Heater & fan: It can be hard to find a temperature two people agree on, not to mention the lack of control over heating and cooling in a dorm room. Personal heaters and fans keep each roommate comfortable.
  9. Laptop or tablet: Most colleges require students to bring their own computers to campus, so check with the admissions department for specific requirements. Consider a 2-in-1 device for maximum functionality. “With full keyboard capabilities, these devices excel at quick and efficient data entry, while switching to a light and portable tablet mode for use in classrooms where table space can be a luxury or for when the school day is done,” says Peter Han, Microsoft® vice president of worldwide OEM.
  10. Bulletin board: It may seem outmoded in the age of texting, but a message board on your dorm room door makes it easy to post “Do Not Disturb” or “BRB” messages for visitors.
  11. Mini fridge & microwave: Some dorms provide these kitchen appliances and others prohibit them. Check before you buy!
  12. Organizers & storage: In the tiny confines of a dorm room, organization is everything. Desk, drawer and laundry organizers are crucial, of course. “I would also suggest getting a hanging closet organizer for shoes and other small items,” says Caroline Merten, a Chicago-based graduate of the University of Missouri. “You'll appreciate it later when you don't have to rummage through a cluttered closet while rushing to get to class.”
  13. Shower tote: Keep your shampoo, soap, toothpaste and other items together in a brightly colored caddy. Use permanent markers or paint pens to personalize it.
  14. Surge protectors, power strips & extension cords: Especially in older dorms, outlets can be few and far between. Pack a few of these items to power and protect your gear.
  15. Wall art: Dorm walls are boring. Bring a few posters, paintings and photos of friends and family. “Graphic decals are removable so you can change them around as often as you desire,” adds trend watcher Janet McKean of LOST & FOUND in Hillsborough, NC.

Now you've got a new way of thinking about “Freshman 15.” This one doesn't weigh kids down — it makes them feel lighter, more confident, and more prepared for the next heavy chapter in the (text)book of their lives.

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