How to Shop for College

Seven Parts:TextbooksAcademic SuppliesBedding and Dorm RoomHealth and BeautyCleaning SuppliesEntertainmentCooking and Kitchen

Preparing for college can be an exciting yet overwhelming process, and the shopping portion of your preparations can be among the most stressful. Make the experience a little easier by following this guide when you go out to shop for college.

Part 1

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    Get your textbook list straight from the source. Federal law requires the college to provide you with a list of required textbooks once you register for classes, so you should be able to find out which books you need well in advance from either the registrar or your professors. You should not need to rely on the campus bookstore to tell you.
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    Skip the campus bookstore and shop online. You might be able to find the occasional good deal at your campus bookstore, but in the vast majority of cases, you can find the books you need for a much lower cost somewhere online.[1]
    • Check out websites like BIG and Campus, both of which direct you toward textbook sellers offering the lowest prices.
    • Also check out websites that allow users to sell their own used and new copies of a book, like Amazon or
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    Consider an old edition. For many textbooks, you can buy an old edition at a lower price without facing too much difficulty.
    • You might want to check with your professors before doing this, however, in the rare instance that there is a significant change in the new edition that you will need access to in order to survive the class.
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    Rent your textbooks. Renting your textbooks will not guarantee a lower price tag, but oftentimes, the price to rent a book will be cheaper than the price to buy. Look into both options and determine which will work best for any particular book.
    • You can check your campus bookstore for renting opportunities, but there are also online sources, including Chegg,,, and ValoreBooks.
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    Check for coupons. If you really want to pinch pennies, you can check for coupons that allow you to save money on textbooks bought online. These coupons will rarely be specific to the publisher, but you might be able to find coupons for various online stores.
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    Share the cost with a dependable friend. If you know a friend who needs to buy some of the same textbooks, consider splitting the cost in half with that friend and sharing the book.
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    Buy from upperclassmen. Upperclassmen who are done with a textbook for good will occasionally sell it, and the cost is usually pretty cheap since they tend to be more interested in making whatever they can on the book.
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    Check the cost of international editions. As long as the international edition is printed in the same language, this can be a viable option. Research carefully, however, since international editions can go either way in terms of cost.
    • Check the cost of shipping, as well, since shipping costs on international editions can sometimes cause the overall price of the book to shoot up.

Part 2
Academic Supplies

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    Stock up on writing utensils. Even if you plan to do most of your work on your computer, you still need a range of basic writing utensils for class time and study time.
    • Buy blue or black ball-point pens and pencils for taking notes and filling in exam papers.
    • Get highlighters to help you study.
    • Invest in a couple of permanent markers and a bottle of white-out.[2]
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    Buy supplies that keep your notes organized. Folders and notebooks are essentials, but there are a few other supplies that could come in handy that may not be quite as obvious.
    • Consider buying a three-ring binder and a hole punch to help you stay organized, as well as subject dividers and loose-leaf paper.
    • Buy a book bag or messenger bag that you can carry from class to class.
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    Keep your dorm desk organized. The desk in your dorm room will need to hold a large number of supplies and papers, so buy tools and supplies that can help you keep everything in order—including your sanity.
    • Consider buying:
    • Sticky notes
    • Personal organizer or calender
    • Dictionary and thesaurus
    • Calculator
    • Rubber bands, a ruler, scissors, a stapler and staples, thumbtacks, and tape
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    Invest in a good computer and other tech supplies. If you do not have one already, you should really consider buying a computer. Most of your classes will require you to type and print papers, and a computer can also help you with research and entertainment.
    • Aside from a computer, check into buying:
      • Printer
      • Printer paper
      • Ink cartridges
      • Flash drive
    • Find out if your campus has computer labs equipped with printers. If so, you might be able to skip the printer and save yourself the cost.
    • Protect your tech. Buy surge protectors to protect your computer from any unexpected electrical surges. You can also consider buying an external hard drive so you can periodically back up the contents of your hard drive.

Part 3
Bedding and Dorm Room

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    Find out the bed size before you buy. Most dorm rooms are equipped with extra-long twin beds, so when you buy comforters and sheets, you should make sure that the size of the bedding you buy will match the size of the bed you will have.
    • You will need pillows and pillowcases, bed sheets, a blanket, and a quilt or comforter.
    • Also consider buying a mattress pad to make your bed more comfortable.
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    Take a good look at yourself. Many dorm rooms are equipped with some form of lighting and mirrors, but it usually will not hurt to buy a few of these yourself.
    • If your dorm does not come with one, buy a full-length mirror.
    • Consider buying a desk lamp and floor lamp to supplement the overhead lighting installed in the room.
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    Get up on time. An alarm clock is an absolute must, unless you have an alarm on your cell phone that you rely on. Even if you do use your cell phone alarm, having a backup alarm clock can still be a good idea.
    • You should also buy supplies that can help you fall asleep faster so that you can wake up well-rested. These may include earplugs and an eye mask.
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    Know what clothes to bring. Odds are, you can just bring the same clothes you wore throughout your high school years. There might be a few instances in which you will want or need to buy new clothes.
    • Prepare for bad weather. Have a raincoat, rain boots, umbrella, and snow boots, as needed.
    • If the climate you are moving to differs from the climate back home, buy clothes that are more suited toward the climate you'll be heading to.
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    Clear storage space. Some items you need to bring with you will not stay out once you get to campus, so you should buy a few storage bins to help you store any excess materials until you need them.
    • Also consider buying temporary racks and shelving to store shoes, books, and other belongings that you need to access easily.
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    Decorate your space. While this is not a necessity, you should consider buying things to decorate your walls and door. This is the room you will be living in for the majority of the year, after all, so you'll want it to be comfortable for you.
    • Options worth considering include:
      • Bulletin board
      • Posters
      • Dry-erase message board and pens for your door
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    Buy more luggage, if necessary. If you have never owned your own suitcases, now is the time to buy a set. Purchasing your luggage in sets is recommended over purchasing it piece by piece, since a set will usually provide you with the best deal for your money.

Part 4
Health and Beauty

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    Buy shower supplies. You will need a large bath towel and small washcloth, at minimum, but there are also a few other shower-related items you should look into buying.[3]
    • Purchase sandals or shower shoes to protect your feet from the bacteria left behind in communal showers.
    • Buy shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.
    • If your room has its own bathroom, buy hand towels, a bath mat, and toilet paper.
    • Bring a shower caddy to store your soaps and other supplies.
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    Take care of your hair. As a general guideline, any product or tool you use at home should be brought with you to college. If you were using your parents' supplies at home, you need to buy your own, now.
    • Buy a hair dryer, flat iron, brush, comb, and curling iron, as needed.
    • Also consider buying a razor and shaving cream to take care of facial and/or body hair.
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    Make yourself presentable. As with hair care products, any skin care product you use at home will also need to be purchased for college.
    • Protect your skin with moisturizing lotion and sunscreen.
    • Keep your teeth clean with your own toothbrush and toothpaste.
    • Buy a new tube of lip balm.
    • Keep body odor in check with deodorant.
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    Bring along some first aid items. A first aid kit is a good idea for any college kid. You can buy a commercially-prepared first aid kit or buy the supplies separately.
    • Supplies worth including are:
      • Rubbing alcohol
      • Antibacterial ointment
      • Adhesive bandages
      • Hydrogen peroxide
      • Thermometer
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    Stay healthy. Aside from a first aid kit, there are a few other items you should consider having in case you get sick or otherwise feel less than your best.
    • A few items worth buying include:
      • Over-the-counter headache medicine, cold medicine, and allergy medicine
      • Prescription medications
      • Cough drops
      • Eye drops

Part 5
Cleaning Supplies

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    Know what you will be responsible for cleaning. In many cases, you will only need to worry about cleaning your bedroom or dorm room. In some cases, however, you might also be responsible for the dorm hallways, bathroom, or kitchen area, in which instance, you will need to buy cleaning supplies for these areas, as well.
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    Make sure you can clean the floor. A vacuum cleaner, broom, and mop should all be on your college shopping list.
    • Invest in a mini-vacuum cleaner, especially if you are only in charge of a small space like your dorm room.
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    Purchase laundry supplies. You will almost always need to wash your own clothes. Stock up on laundry detergent and invest in a hamper.
    • Buy a collapsible hamper to save room.
    • Purchase fabric softener in either liquid or dry sheet form.
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    Keep germs at bay. Disinfectant wipes are advisable, regardless of how much you will be expected to clean. Having disinfectant wipes and sprays can help reduce the spread of germs, which is very important in a compact space like a dorm room.
    • Also bring along dish soap and glass cleaner, as well as clean rags that can be used for scrubbing.

Part 6

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    Stock up on movies and music. Even the most studious college student will need to unwind every now and then. Now is as good an excuse as any to stock up on any CDs, DVDs, or Blu-rays you've had your eye on.
    • Skip the fancy sound systems, though, since you can get in trouble if you make too much noise and your neighbors file a complaint.
    • Also buy a small TV to watch your movies on.
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    Get a good pair of headphones. You might love your music, but that does not mean your roommate or your neighbors will love it as much as you do. Headphones are important, so if you do not own any, buy them now.
    • If you invest in noise-canceling headphones, you can also shield your ears from the music and sounds made by other people.
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    Bring books you actually enjoy. If you enjoy reading, purchase a few books you can look forward to reading. Doing so can restore some of the joy of reading that might otherwise get lost amidst all the textbook work.
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    Buy games and sports supplies. Indoor and outdoor games can help you relieve stress and make friends, so if you do not have any games you can bring along with you to college, buy one or two now.
    • Board games and card games are a great, inexpensive option. You can also bring a video game console, but do so at your own risk, since this could be stolen if you leave your room unlocked and unattended.
    • Buy supplies for outdoor fun, too, like rollerblades, a frisbee, or a basketball.

Part 7
Cooking and Kitchen

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    Know what you need and what you can bring. Many colleges have restrictions regarding the types of cooking instruments you are allowed to keep in your dorm room. Review these restrictions before making any big purchases.
    • Items you should check on before buying include:
      • Coffee maker
      • Blender
      • Microwave
      • Small refrigerator
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    Shop for a range of food storage containers. Resealable plastic bins and plastic bags are important since they allow you to store leftovers and make your food supply last longer.
    • Make sure that your plastic bins are microwave-safe.
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    Get your essential utensils. Forks, knives, and spoons are the absolute essentials you need to stock up on, so buy these supplies before you head off to college.
    • You should also consider buying a can opener, funnel, and any cooking utensils (like whisks and mixing spoons) you might need if you plan to prepare your own food.
    • Cooking supplies also include baking pans, saucepans, and frying pans.
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    Mind your dishes. You will also need plates, bowls, cups, and mugs when you head off to college.
    • Make sure that your dishes are microwave-safe.


  • Save money by shopping smart. Take advantage of any back-to-school or college sales offered by large stores, and shop in small thrift stores and secondhand shops for even better deals on the stuff you need.


  • Thoroughly review the guidelines and restrictions provided by your college or university before you shop. Doing so can prevent you from buying supplies that you do not need or are prohibited from keeping.

Article Info

Categories: Budgeting and Financial Aid for College