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Care packages are always welcomed by college students, but they are expensive to ship. Instead, I recommend trying gift cards or money. Then the student can get whatever he or she needs or wants. Also, Wal-Mart has a reloadable shopping card now that a parent can put money on and the student can have it within just a few minutes to use for whatever they need.
You are right it is cheaper to give your student a gift card but as a college student going to the mail room to find a care package, especially after a tough week is worth the shipping cost. Also my university sells care packages that parents can give their students. They distribute them the week before finals and deliver them right to your dorm room! The post office also has flat rate shipping boxes that you can use to place all of your students favorite goodies in.
Some suggestions for what to place in your care package...
Easy mac (if they don't have access to a full kitchen I recommend the individual serving kind that can be cooked in the container it comes in, just add water and microwave).
Oatmeal in a similar container to above. You would be surprised how many students skip breakfast.
Gift certificate to something on campus or right near the campus. For example to the campus book store to buy a university sweatshirt, or to a food place on campus (we have jamba juice etc). All students like to get off campus and out of the dorms, this allows them to do it without working about the cost.
Junk Food, as a parent (or grand parent) I know it's painful to hear this but college kids love junk food. Chips, candy, cookies, sugary drinks etc. But it's a nice treat to get, especially during midterms and finals when you are going to be up late studying.
Most importantly think of the person who is receiving the gift. Do they love coffee? Get them a starbucks gift card. Do they love your homemade cookies? Bake some and ship them in tupperware. Are they going to school in a different region of the country and are craving BBQ sauce, hot sauce, or special food from home? That would be a welcome break to the monotony of dorm food.
Hope that helps! I will never forget the care packages my mom sent me when I was a freshman. She would go to Target once a month and get me candy, and room decorations (for halloween, christmas, valentines day etc), as well as pajama bottoms or socks. The packages also included a check and a card. We also used to send these packages to my older sister when she was at college. Even though I love about 100 miles from where I went to college it was still a welcome reminder that someone was thinking of me. It is also great to time these around finals and midterms when students are huddled up in the library and in need of a spirit boost!
Hope that helps!
When my daughter went away to college, she was away from home for the first time and living with a total stranger roomy. I took a page from my Amish friends and made them each a "Sunshine Box." Whenever an Amish person needs a boost with a long recovery from illness or is down about something, the community and family make a Sunshine Box. There is a little gift to open each day for a month.
That is a small gift every day for a month. I wrapped up anything from a couple of packs of gum for each girl to Ramen noodles or spiced cider to pens, mechanical pencils and scratch pads. I put them all in plastic milk crates and they had a little shelf unit after the gifts were finished. It really helped break the ice between the two girls, helped with the homesickness, and they confessed that on bad days they unwrapped more than one little gift.
Great idea. Every 4-6 weeks my dad and step-mom woulc come to visit me at college. Each time they would bring a snack bag full of snacks, like Doritos, beef jerky, ramen noodles, and stuff like that.
Also (at Central Michigan U) at the beginnig of each fall semester, the dorm would give all of us a "welcome back box". This box had sample sizes of lots of things, like razors, shampoo, soap, lotion, coffee, deoderant, and lots of coupons. There was one type for guys, one for girls.
My sister-in-law and I both have kids in college this year and decided to pare down a little by purchasing consumable gifts for $15 or less. These Lifesavers Gift Packs are what I am planning to give everyone on that list.