Sunday, 19 August 2018

What stuff they really need for Uni

I've been inspired to write this practical post after having just moved my eldest daughter into a new student house for the second year of her degree. Her new digs are positively palatial in size compared to the cramped cell of the uni halls she endured for the first year. 

As a new undergraduate we thought it was important that she stayed on campus but had no real idea of what she might need and so went along with everything that was recommended. Needless to say, at the end of that first year, over half of the 'stuff' she took wasn't needed. So if you have reached that life stage where your son or daughter is about to start uni, and will be living in halls, here's a straight forward guide to what they really need.

Obviously, student accommodation varies hugely, from luxury hotel chic to grim rabbit hutch, so you should know that this list is based on the University of Stirling's mid-price range accommodation which is basically akin to a 1960s communist prison programme:

1. The soft stuff

Before - bare cell
A mattress topper is a must have if you want them to have a little comfort and to avoid thinking about the previous sweaty bodies that may have broken in that mattress! I splashed out on a sumptuous velvet 'enhancer' which did exactly that and improved a pretty ropey mattress no end.

On the topic of bedding you'd be wise to take all your own rather than use the duvet/pillows the uni may provide which in our case felt much like 40 tog porridge. Halls are often hot, even in winter, and so a summer weight duvet might be better, dressed up with cosy throw and cushions to provide a place to sit as well as sleep. 

Take plenty of towels/sheets/ covers; the laundry facilities might be miles across campus! 

Speaking of laundry - a bag for storing/transporting dirty/clean clothes is useful too. Avoid buying laundry detergent/conditioner until you've checked out the facilities - most unis have a card system but some machines work best with the all-in-one capsules. Still on the subject of laundry - colour catchers are great as they allow you to mix colours and save money on doing separate washes. 

2. Electrical stuff

After - much improved 
A laptop is an obvious must but a small printer that can also scan and copy is super useful too and cost saving in the long run. Chargers and at least one extension cable helps as an older style uni room will have limited plug sockets in the wrong place (many unis will insist that items are PAT tested unless new.) A lot of halls provide a desk lamp but it's nice to have some other lighting to create a more homely atmosphere - don't forget bulbs. Candles are generally banned but battery operated tealights and fairylights are a good alternative. 

Each uni will have a list of electrical items that students are not allowed to bring but that generally doesn't stop many from trying. When we moved our daughter in we saw parents attempting to squeeze microwaves and slow cookers into tiny rooms as well as irons and hoovers! You don't need any of these items. If you have room, then a small fridge is helpful; shared kitchens mean that anything left in a shared fridge for even the briefest amount of time is fair game!

3. Kitchen stuff

If you read the list provided on most student websites you'd think that everyone was planning a stint as resident chef; far better to bring less to start with and pool kitchen stuff with others. Even if self-catered, you don't need a whole saucepan set, scales or a mixing bowl (one medium saucepan may well be enough). A plastic measuring jug that doubles up as a microwave saucepan is a good idea too. There is little room in any communal kitchen so whatever can be cooked in one pot or pan is best and it needs to be simple and fast. For that reason a smallish wok is a pretty good investment as is a small rectangular oven dish and a baking tray. A tray so they can easily take stuff back to their rooms. Get your offspring to do the shopping and practise cooking now so they have a few dishes under their belt. 
The Dream
Only two plates, bowls and a couple of inexpensive mugs are needed along with a selection of cheap glasses and few pieces of basic cutlery (a tip here is to get something that is easily recognisable as theirs, i.e. coloured handles, as this discourages other students from claiming the odd fork and teaspoon as their own), a multi-purpose knife, tin opener, scissors and a bottle opener- A small chopping board, a small sieve is also useful for draining all those cheap meals of pasta. A few cleaning items - spray, washing up liquid, cloth, tea towels and oven glove etc. Final suggestion is some kitchen towelfoil, food sealer clips, tupperware and/or plastic storage boxes for fridge etc that they can put their name on (have a few Sharpies for naming).
The Reality

4. Food Stuff

It's tempting to worry that they're going to starve but try to avoid arriving with a semester's supply of food. There's little cupboard or fridge space so, again, just a few things to start off with - one bag of pasta and a few ready made stir in sauces, breadfruit, cereal, milk, yogurts etc.

It's useful to buy some of the more expensive store cupboard ingredients like oils/sauces for stir fry, dried herbs/spices as well as a some comfort/snack items: nutella, cookies, tortilla chips and dips. For drinks coffee, tea, hot chocolate etc. You may well be coerced into providing alcohol (I saw plenty of bottles of vodka and tequila being surreptiously brought in) but don't forget soft drinks too. It's worth buying a filter jug for water between hall mates or a small filter water bottle.

Buy some frozen food for ease as well. Packets of ready-prepared veg and rice are easy to do in the microwave and, let's face it, for the majority of students there's more chance of them actually eating vegetables this way (the fancy peeler we bought our daughter came back after the year still in the packaging!)

It's pretty common for most students to spend the first few nights (sometimes months) with takeaways and beer, getting to know their hall mates, so a Domino's or Nando's voucher/giftcard is a nice touch as is a homemade cake/brownies to share that first night. 

5. All the other stuff

  • Onesie/fancy dress items - the madness of Freshers requires suitable gear - a funny onesie, wig, mask, face paints etc. all comes in handy
  • Medicine/Vitamins - They are almost certain to get Fresher's Flu so make sure they have a medical box with all the possible stuff they might need: painkillers, plasters, lemsip, savlon etc etc. Multivitamin/Echinacea - Give their immune system a boost and stave offf scurvy!
  • Hot water bottle/ fluffy socks etc. - some kind of comfort item is appreciated 
  • Something smart/dressy - depending on likely events -  black tie, freshers ball, club or job interview - oh, and also - hangers!
  • Bath/shower mats & flip flops/sliders - shared bathrooms - that's is all I'm going to say on this point! 
  • Cheap loo brush/toilet rolls- if you have your own bathroom
  • Door wedge - an open door is an invitation to new friends
  • Bluetooth speaker - As above, nice to be able to share music rather than being in isolation listening on headphones and great for impromptu hall parties
  • Entertainment -  frisbee, beer pong, cards, favourite DVDs  etc. - also plastic cups for parties!
  • Bowl/Bucket, kitchen towel, cloths, cleaning wipes/spray, febreze, rubber gloves - for when there's a little too much partying!
  • Earplugs - for when it's all too much and the paper thin walls, and your noisy hall mates, stop you from sleeping 
  • Important documents folder - make sure bank details, national insurance number, certificates, passport etc. are securely together
  • Discount cards - many student accounts offer incentives such as a 16-25 railcard so it's worth shopping around. is also worth joining for money off favourite products
  • Emergency fund - if you can afford it give them some emergency cash to stow away for when they've gone through their loan or need a taxi etc. It takes time to work out how to budget if you've never done it before - often the whole of the first year!
  • Stationery - Obviously paper, pens, binder, stapler, hole punch etc. also a whiteboard, academic year wall calendar. A few blank-inside cards and a book of stamps; nothing beats a handwritten note especially for older relatives who aren't online, particularly if they've donated to the 'poor student fund'. N.B. Don't let them take all their A Level/Higher textbooks and notes - they will never look at them!  
  • Decoration -  Command strips are great. They can even be used for putting up coat hooks or fairy lights- get a selection of sizes. Washi tape is great on notice boards and for general decoration. Photos, posters are all good for cheering up a uni room but take care of paintwork. Space saving storage - stacking boxes, coat hooks, trolley, hanging organiser, under the bed boxes if there's room etc.
  • Amazon Prime - for everything else! Seriously, the best thing we did was have family membership - it meant I could send all manner of emergency items and my daughter could order books etc as well as watch movies online. 
It's a big step and that's not just for your young one; it's hard to let go of the apron strings. If you can, try and have that chat about all the potential problems, before they go and not on moving day, that includes all the usual safety issues. Being in halls creates a pressure cooker for anxieties and tempers - it's common to have fallouts and even more common to feel homesick. Try to discourage it when they want to run home after the first week and be clear and honest about how much financial help you can really afford to give. Lastly, once you've moved them in, it will be super hard to say goodbye and you'll want to hang around or even take them for dinner. DON'T! Say goodbyes cheerfully with a good hug and positive reassurances that they'll be fine and then leave! 

1 comment:

  1. What a great piece Helen - should be in every 'real' parent/student guide! For me in the late 70s it was an electric blanket - nowhere I lived ever had central heating