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The list of stuff you’re told to buy when sending your kid off to college is long, adds up fast—and some of it's unnecessary. Focus on the basics for a student living in a small dorm room or that first apartment to make packing easier and save money.

And parents looking for discounts may want to check their dorm room shopping list against the deals Amazon is promoting for the online retailer's annual Prime Day sale. Our editors scoured tens of thousands of deals available today and tomorrow—on everything from home goods to electronics—and noticed plenty of markdowns on bed sheets, bath towels, countertop appliances, and more.

Just don't be tempted go overboard.

"Most students bring too much stuff. Too many clothes, shoes, and comfort items," says Mike Glowacki, Assistant to the Director of Resident Life at the University of Maryland. "Parents want to have their children ready to go. But think of everything your child needs and cut it by 25 percent or so."

For dorm living, search the college's website to find out what each room offers and whether students have access to a communal refrigerator and microwave. Check the list of essentials and prohibited items, such as extension cords, halogen lamps, electric blankets, toaster ovens, and space heaters. Rule of thumb: Leave items at home if they present a safety hazard, an annoyance to others, or can damage a room or its furnishings.

Students should get in touch with roommates to find out what they're bringing and arrange to share things, when possible, to save space and money. 

For a student sharing an apartment off campus, save by divvying up the essentials with roommates (one buys the coffee maker, another buys a microwave). And keep this in mind: The more you buy now, the more you will have to lug back home at the end of the school year, or pay to put in storage.

Here's what you need and what you don't.

What to Buy

Bath towels.  Expensive towels that'll look great for many years might be wasted on the young. Choose thicker-but-affordable towels for their absorbency. If your child uses products for treating acne, buy inexpensive white towels. The benzoyl peroxide in acne creams and gels bleaches color towels, leaving orange blotches. Another option is towels that resist bleaching, such as the L.L. Bean Premium Cotton Towels that we tested. But know that bleach-resistant towels are not cheap.

Shop for Bath Towels on Amazon

Sheets.  For dorm living, check the size of the bed online. Most dorm beds are five inches longer than the standard twin, so regular twin sheets won’t fit. You’ll need XL twin sheets, and a longer mattress cover, too, along with a comforter or blankets. Sheets that are 100 percent cotton are your best choice.

Cotton-poly blends work well, but skip microfiber, as they aren’t as breathable as other fabrics and can make you feel hot while sleeping. Jersey sheets can stretch out after just a few washings.

Shop for Bed Sheets on Amazon

Microwave.  A dorm may offer access to a communal microwave, or not allow them, and the apartment may already have one, so check. We buy and test small, midsize, and large countertop microwaves, which may be too big for a small space.

Small microwaves tested do not heat as evenly as the best mid-size models, and they aren't as speedy. But if counterspace is limited, consider the Sharp SMC0710BB/BW, $80, and the Panasonic NN-SD372SR, $150. Both can handle basics like reheating, making popcorn, and defrosting. 

A midsized may work in an apartment if there’s enough room on the counter. Take a look at the options in Best Countertop Microwaves for $150 or less.

Shop for Microwaves on Amazon

Coffee maker.  For off-campus living, you'll find a number of impressive drip coffee makers in our ratings that are well under $100, like the Hamilton Beach 12-cup Programmable 49465, $25.

Single-serve coffee makers let you brew coffee right in your travel mug but keep in mind that replenishing the coffee pods can cost more than buying regular ground coffee or beans. All of our top-performing single-serve machines cost more than $100 with the exception of the Hamilton Beach FlexBrew 49988, $80. Our coffee maker ratings provide all the details.

Shop for Coffee Makers on Amazon

What to Wait On

Mini-fridge. A compact refrigerator may be a waste for someone with a good meal plan, but others put this in the essential category for a dorm room. If there isn’t a communal refrigerator, check the school’s policy—some only allow rentals. Your student could split the cost of a rental with a roommate, but consider waiting a few weeks into the school year to see if a fridge is necessary. If so, order online and have it shipped straight to the dorm.

Humidifier. If your child complains that the dorm room or apartment bedroom gets hot and dry in winter, order a small humidifier online, such as the $30 Honeywell HUL520. Remind your student that a humidifer needs to be cleaned after every use to prevent bacteria from building up.

What to Skip

Iron. There’s little time or space to iron, and you probably worry more about the wrinkled, rumpled look than they do. For the student who does seem to care, pack a spray bottle of Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus. It did the trick in our tests.

Expensive bedding and decorative pillows.  The extra pillows eat up valuable space. Fancy sheets and comforters may get ruined when washed or easily stained by food.  

Extra set of sheets. Buying them assumes the sheets will be changed regularly. From our experience, college students are busy and change sheets when they finally do laundry, then put the same set of sheets right back on the bed.

Alarm clock. Essential to you, but a relic to college students. Your child can set the alarm on his or her smart phone.

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2018, Consumer Reports, Inc.


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