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 Washington, 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,” Washington 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: Washington 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. Washington 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, Washington 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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What are some good graduation gifts for a college-bound kid?
Morieka Johnson went right to the source to find out what a college freshman really needs.