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

"There's not a lot of space in a dorm room, and in many cases, that's intentional," says Dave Isaacs, Communications Manager for the Office of Student Life at Ohio State University. "We want the rooms to be functional for sleep and study, but from a student's developmental point, we want them to get out and interact with other students and the campus community."

Many kids grow up having their own bedroom, and it's typically larger than a dorm room. "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, start by searching the college's website to find out whether the room has a desk, chair, and lamp. Learn if students have access to a communal refrigerator and microwave. Isaacs recommends checking the website for the school's list of essentials and prohibited items, such as extension cords, halogen lamps, electric blankets, toaster ovens, and space heaters.

Or as they say on the website of California's Sacramento State, a simple rule of thumb is to leave items at home if they present a safety hazard, an annoyance to others, or can damage a room or its furnishings.  

"Students should also get in touch with their roommates to find out what they're bringing. You can share things to save space," says Isaacs. 

For a student sharing an apartment off campus, ask the landlord or scour the property’s website to see what comes with the apartment. Save by divvying up the essentials with roommates, so that 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 and towels that look great for many years may be wasted on the young. With coupon in hand, 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've tested. But bleach-resistant towels are not cheap.

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 the most comfortable and 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. Get out your coupons and look online for sales.

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 midsized and large countertop microwaves, which may be too big for a small space. A midsized may work in an apartment if there’s enough room on the counter. Take a look at the top-rated LG LCS1112ST, $140, the Avanti MO1250TW, $130, and the Kenmore 73114, $105.

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 $25 Hamilton Beach 12-cup Programmable 49465. 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.

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 even though it eats up space. 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.

Among the compact cube models we tested, the $100 Danby DCR059BLE is the best of the four models now in our ratings. It's excellent at keeping food cold and very good at freezing foods. It's quiet too, but uses almost as much energy as a full-size refrigerator. See the compact refrigerator ratings for a look at how the other models performed. 

Humidifier. If your child complains that the dorm room or apartment bedroom gets hot and dry in winter, order a small humidifier online and have it shipped, such as the $30 Honeywell HUL520. Remind your student that a humidifer needs to be cleaned after every use to keep 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 probably has a cell phone and can set the alarm on that.