Packing for College? Don’t Forget These 8 Items!

Excitement and anxiety are in the air as students across the country prepare to fly the nest and head off to college. Universities provide useful shopping lists for dorm necessities, while Pinterest and TikTok will add more mini-lights, tapestries and pillows to your list than you can count! So why am I adding to your list? Because as both a college mom & a college physician, I know the most common items that students forget or simply don’t think to pack…till they actually need them.

1. Prescription Glasses: if your student wears contacts, PLEASE be sure they take a pair of glasses with their current prescription-even if they “NEVER” wear glasses! We see scratched corneas (often from accidentally or drunkenly falling asleep in contacts) and eye infections (pink eye) all the time, and students need to be OUT of their contacts for at least several days when this happens. Trying to attend classes or study with blurred vision is miserable- especially during midterms or finals.

2. Prescription Medications: NOW is the time for that last appointment with your family doctor, pediatrician, dermatologist, or other specialist to get refills on ALL prescriptions, especially for ADD medications, birth control pills, asthma inhalers, allergy meds (including EPIpens) and acne medications (including prescription creams/gels/ointments.) Telehealth may allow your young adult to continue routine care with their current providers, but not all meds can be prescribed across state lines, and regardless, students should start school with at least a month’s supply.

3. Lock Box: If your student takes ADD medications (or any other med that has abuse potential), these should ideally be kept under lock or key to avoid temptation for others to “borrow” them. (They sell for $5-7/pill on the underground market on many campuses.)

4. Small Pill Box (for the backpack): Especially in the first semester, many college students forget to take their routine medications, which can result in decreased efficacy or possibly unpleasant side effects from missing a dose. I strongly encourage them to use an alarm or app reminder to avoid this problem! In addition, they may want to consider carrying ONE “extra” set of pills that includes most* of their daily meds (*think birth control, anti-anxiety/depression meds, allergy meds- but not any controlled substances like ADD medications) in a compact pill box that is “always” safely stored in an interior, zippered pocket inside the backpack for those hopefully RARE occasions that they forget and can’t easily get back to their apartment or dorm room till the end of the day. These small pill boxes are also a good way to keep a couple over-the-counter pain relievers on hand for unexpected bad headaches or cramps.

5. Heating Pad: Fantastic for menstrual cramps and sore muscles. Many kids use these at home but don’t think to pack one.

6. Fully Stocked First Aid Kit: Start with a couple ACE wraps and GOOD bandaids for blisters, fingertips and knuckles (first month campus injuries usually involve heel blisters and sprains!) Please include a thermometer! Add in fever/pain relievers (Tylenol and Advil), a non-sedating antihistamine, a decongestant, and cough drops. Include hydrocortisone (steroid) cream as well as an antibiotic ointment. Top off with several single-serving electrolyte powders (like Pedialyte or Liquid IV). For a complete list, see the bonus DIY First Aid Kit section in The ULTIMATE College Student Health Handbook.

6. Solid or gel odor absorber: Unless they are brand new, dorms are notoriously smelly! Having a couple of these immediately accessible on move in day will immediately upgrade your student’s room. Do NOT get floral or otherwise scented air fresheners- these may irritate the roommate’s allergies or simply annoy them. I’m talking about odorless, smell-absorbing solids.

7. Tool Kit and Trash bags: Also for move-in day, so pack them last for easy access! Make sure the tool kit includes scissors & add in lots of command strips for hanging pics, flags, tapestries, lights, towels, etc.

8. Sleep AidsSleep Mask and Sleep Bluetooth Headband. Control what you can control! These “turn out the light” and allow you to comfortably listen to music, sleep stories or meditations as you are falling asleep- whether or not your roommate is snoring or simply wants the lights on to study.

Bottom Line: Give your young adults the tools they need to make a smoother transition to independence and college life- it’s time for them to take the reins!

*I have no financial or other ties to any of the products linked above- these are simply brands I’ve purchased and use myself.

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