This Side of Theory

Student Affairs Reflections and Musings

Five Things Not to Buy for College

My local big box store was swarmed with parents and young adults this afternoon browsing the college aisles. I love browsing those aisles annually to predict which things my students will move in with in the fall and which will likely make an appearance in the dumpster at the end of the academic year. I’m amazed at how many of the things that fill those shelves are poor choices. A quick Google search when I got home showed that there are other blog posts about what not to buy students in the realm of technology, but very little about their residence hall. After almost a decade of professional experience in residence life, I’m happy to share my Five Products to Avoid in a Residence Hall.

Disclaimer: Before you go shopping, review the residence hall policies and student handbook. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Big box stores don’t care about those nearly-universal policies; they want to sell you a room full of the comforts of home. But many items featured in those aisles are prohibited at schools — candles, coffee pots, string lights, electric grills, etc. You can save yourself time, grief, and maybe an incident report by reviewing the rules before you shop.

1. Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 4.18.33 PMBed Bug Mattress Encasements (or anything related to preventing bed bug infestations): Bed bugs are brought into spaces by people and can live in linens, clothes, stuffed animals, etc. While an encasement protects a mattress from infestation, it doesn’t do anything to protect a student’s assets. The best line of defense is to educate your student about signs of bed bug infestation and know what the process is on campus for reporting suspected infestation.



Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 4.19.10 PM2. Additional Furniture: Almost every residence hall room will come outfitted with appropriate amounts of furniture. While novelty furniture may seem like a good idea, it inevitably ends up cluttering an already tight space. This may be a better purchase after a student moves in and gets settled. Better? Wait until a fall semester or fall quarter visit and see if there’s a need for it.




3.  Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 4.56.33 PMDinnerware/Flatware Sets: A first year student will eat almost every meal in the dining hall or cafeteria. It’s the hub of social activity on most campuses. Besides, you’re paying for the meal plan. Use it. Skip the set that’s large enough for hosting a dinner party and grab two plates, two sets of flatware, and some cups and mugs. A student doesn’t have space to store much more than that. Don’t forget to pack the dish soap.



4. Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 5.04.50 PMWater Coolers: This has been a recent fad and one I don’t understand. There is no shortage of potable water on college campuses. Buying a cooler — or even participating in a water delivery service — is an unnecessary expense and takes up precious floor space in a room.






5. Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 5.09.26 PMPrivacy Pop-Up Tents: I don’t know when these became a thing, but they seem like a mostly unnecessary thing. Roommates should be having conversations about privacy and use of the room, which could avoid someone needed to zip themselves into a nylon bubble. Resident Assistants live in the residence halls and well-trained to help students have those conversations before the tent seems like the best option.



Many colleges and universities also have preferred vendors for items like sheets, rugs, refrigerators, futons, and lofts. Make sure you read and understand the literature; in some cases, the preferred vendor is the only method of having a certain item (microfridges and lofts most often fall into this category). In addition to being good partners with the school, many of these vendors offer in-room delivery of items and, bonus, the school receives a percentage of the sale to support residence hall programs and activities.


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  • Tim Lade

    In the three universities that I’ve worked at, all have had buildings that first year students live in and did not have a meal plan. While I would agree with everything else you noted, that’s an assumption that all first year students will eat all of their meals in a dining hall.

    • StacyLOliver

      Hm. And I’ve never worked on a campus that didn’t require residential students to have meal plans. Maybe an international difference?

      • Tim Lade

        Completely possible.

      • Grant Walters

        When I lived on campus at Simon Fraser, we had no meal plans to speak of and used communal kitchens to cook meals with tiny lockers to store plates, mugs and utensils. We shared kitchen cleaning and trash duty. It’s not as much the norm anymore – a few years after I left they built a dining center. It was a great way to build community and it’s where I witnessed countless culinary horrors. One of my floormates “made spaghetti” by putting a pot of water on the stove, tossing in uncooked pasta, raw ground beef and a jar of sauce and then they turned the burner on while asking what the word “simmer” meant.

  • Karen Gibson

    My favorite: “There is no shortage of potable water on college campuses.” This is full of gems. I saw a video at Bed Bath and Beyond the other day on how to get along with your roommate. It said the biggest disagreement between roommates was over food. This caused a raised eyebrow for me. I would not have thought it was food. I stood and watched the video all the way through. Cheesy, but not terrible advice.

    • Kathryn Magura

      I wish the biggest disagreement between roommates was food…

  • Kristen Abell

    Love this – well done. Maybe next a post about what they SHOULD bring? I’m sure you have some great insights.

    P.S. Don’t forget that they might want to talk with their roommate to determine shared belongings, like a rug for the room, a TV, etc.