Q: My neighbor’s son is going off to college this fall. It’s been a while since I lived in a dorm room, so I’m not sure what kids really need these days. What would make a good graduation gift for a college-bound kid?


A: Dorm life no longer means super-firm twin mattresses and built-in desk units. Today, college kids live a pretty suite life, courtesy of apartment-style amenities on campuses that even allow kittens, pooches and pet snakes to re-create the comforts of home. It’s a far cry from my freshman year in an all-girls dormitory that lacked air conditioning.

To help you make a smart purchase for your college-bound neighbor, I consulted Jared [skipwords]Washington[/skipwords], who just completed his freshman year at Coahoma Community College. “A lot of my family members promised to give gifts, and I was excited about receiving them all,” [skipwords]Washington[/skipwords] says. “Once I actually began my first semester, I realized there were only a few of those gifts that I depended on constantly.”

Here’s a short list of extremely practical gift ideas that your neighbor’s son will really use when he starts college in the fall:

Flash drives: [skipwords]Washington[/skipwords] says that pocket USB drives are a necessity. Professors frequently encourage students to download entire chapters rather than lugging textbooks across campus. It’s also a handy way to transport homework and share files quickly. [skipwords]Washington[/skipwords] plans to stock up on 16-gig drives when he returns to school in the fall. You can find 16-gig drives available for less than $40.

School supplies: From recycled copy paper to ink pens and notebooks, the need for school supplies doesn’t end with high school. Create a killer care package filled with the tools to help your student earn high grades in college.

Gift cards: Going green can be a good thing. From pizza chains to local grocery stores, [skipwords]Washington[/skipwords] says gift cards allow students to quickly pick up needed supplies. Since college kids tend to lose things as they learn their way around a new environment, I suggest keeping the dollar amount reasonable. $50 should do the trick. Who wants to deal with guilt over losing a $150 gift card?

Extra toiletries: Campus stores sell all the snacks, textbooks and T-shirts a college kid could ever need. But they don’t always carry toothpaste, toilet paper or other simple necessities. Supply your student with a box full of the basics, and those seemingly little things will mean a lot at crunch time.

Laundry products: You think he’s going to spend his hard-earned gift card money on laundry detergent? Think again. Make sure clothes smell fresh and clean by creating a care package filled with washing powder or perhaps a few rolls of quarters for students who have to pay for the privilege. Encourage your student to save a few pennies by using a laundry drying rack to air-dry items. Wooden versions cost about $20.

Let everyone else buy college tees and the plastic tumblers. These are what I consider smart investments in your neighbor’s academic success. All the best!

— Morieka

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