College Checklist for Parents: 7 Things to Do and Pack

Skip the stress that comes with a mile-long college checklist and still be sure your teen is ready for their freshman year by focusing on these must-do tasks and things to pack.

Teens Walking Around University
Photo: Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Every fall, cars crammed with clothes, furniture, and cute dorm decor fill the highways headed to colleges around the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 3 million people will enroll in college for the first time this year, the majority of whom are recent high school graduates.

Parents who've spent the last 18 years prepping for this moment want to make sure their freshmen have everything they need for their first year away from home, but a college checklist may only list the things to bring not the tasks to accomplish before your teen unlocks their dorm room door.

To help cut down on the confusion, the stress, and the over-stuffed minivan, we put together a no-fuss college checklist full of must-haves and must-dos for your upcoming freshman. Learn what to take, what to leave, and what to do to ensure your upcoming freshman is ready to start the year right.

Things to Do Before the Big Day

Set up a bank account near campus

If your teen doesn't have their own bank account, now's the time to start one. Choose a bank that has a branch local to their campus (or even on campus) to ensure they always have access to cash and a live person to talk to in case of problems. Sit down with them to discuss budgeting, necessary vs. unnecessary expenditures, paying bills, and teach them how to balance a checkbook. You may also consider helping them apply for a credit card so they can begin building their credit history, but help them understand the dangers and pitfalls of credit misuse and the longterm implications of a bad credit rating.

Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of personal finance site Money Done Right suggests sitting down with your teen before the start of term and building a budget for the entire semester.

"By working together at the start of the semester to build a budget, your teen will have a better understanding of the consequences of their financial decisions. Deciding to take a weekend trip to visit friends at other schools sounds fun, but it could cost a lot and make it more difficult to cover rent later in the semester."

Book a doctor's appointment

Most colleges and universities in the U.S. require students to be fully vaccinated before attending. It's common for institutions to follow state-provided vaccine requirements. If your teen is heading to an out-of-state school, check with that state's department of health or the college or university to find out what vaccines are required and set up an appointment with your family physician or health department to have them administered.

Appointments for physical and gynecological exams should be scheduled before school starts and you should make sure your teen knows where the school's medical and mental health facilities are located and that they are familiar with and comfortable with making appointments and recognizing when they need to see a doctor.

The Biggest Priorities to Pack

Sleep essentials

A record number of college freshmen report experiencing symptoms of anxiety related to their transition to college life and according to tot he Better Sleep Council, "scientists have discovered that sleep disruption seriously impacts neurotransmitters and stress hormones which can lead to impaired thinking and the inability to regulate emotions – two of the most common symptoms of mental disorders." As anyone who's been to college can attest sleep usually falls by the wayside in the face of new routines, higher academic expectations, increased work-load, and new and exciting social opportunities.

But a restful night's sleep and strong sleep routine are some of the most vital aspects of maintaining our mental health. To help ensure your teen gets the sleep she needs, quality bedding, a mattress topper, white noise machine, and black-out curtains should be on the top of your packing list. Weighted blankets, like those from Sleep Number and Tranquility, are a great option for easing anxiety and stress and promoting a good, restful night's sleep.

A first-aid kit

Teens may not be used to fending for themselves when it comes to the aches and pains of life. Opening a cabinet at home for headache medicine that mom keeps stocked might leave them unprepared for handling these little health bumps and physical discomforts on their own. Packing a first aid/OTC medication kit for them will give you peace of mind and will give them the ability to treat themselves, which can build their confidence and their comfort in taking care of themselves. You might consider including adhesive bandages, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, antacid tablets, antihistamines, eye drops, a pair of tweezers, cough drops, and a thermometer.

Kitchen basics

Most dorms have a common kitchen area with an oven and microwave, but sometimes you just feel like staying in your room. A small microwave can be a life-saver when your teen wants to avoid a busy communal kitchen. They should also have access to their own cookware—at least one small pan, one small pot, a mixing bowl, a small measuring cup, a few cups and plates, and necessary cutlery. And let's not forget coffee, the lifeblood of college students everywhere. A single serve coffee maker like the Keurig K-Mini Plus is small, simple, and makes a great cup of coffee without taking up a lot of valuable shelf space.

Smart storage solutions

To say dorm rooms are small is like saying the Pacific is big—it doesn't quite capture it. Sending along a few space-saving storage solutions can help your freshmen stay organized and have more of what they need. The experts at Wayfair offered the following tips for maximizing space:

  • To doubles the amount of clothes that can fit in a closet snag a hanging closet rod
  • Utilize the space under your bed by bringing bed risers – a must-have for every freshman.
  • Consider under-bed bin options to store clothes, shoes, towels and more

What to Leave at Home

A great rule of thumb is if your teen can purchase an item after they've moved in, it's not something you need to load up and drive across the country with. Similarly, if it hasn't been used in over a year, it's probably safe to leave it at home. Amazon Prime is free for qualified students, so anything they need is a click and two days away.

Also, have your teen coordinate with their roommate prior to move-in. Dorm rooms are small enough without two microwaves, two mini-fridges, and two coffee makers!

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