Back to school

3 things you don’t need for college

Back to School Special Section 2023

It’s easy for anxious families to let their guard down and fall victim to the back-to-college marketing ploys, especially after the disruption that COVID-19 had, and can still have, on learning. But every “dorm essential” checklist has items that will still be unused or unopened at the end of the year.

Here are three things you likely don’t need.

1. New hard copy textbooks. Recently, hard copy textbooks have given way to digital e-books. According to Educause, a non-profit advocating for information technology in higher education, the number of college students using an e-textbook for coursework rose from 42% in 2012 to 66% in 2016.

Depending on the university, students may either purchase a subscription code for e-textbooks through their school, or purchase e-textbooks off of popular platforms such as Bookshelf, McGraw Hill-Connect and Google Books. With one subscription or account, students can access the textbook across multiple devices, including their laptop, phone or even a touch-screen tablet to take notes.

The shift hasn’t just been to digital; renting a hardcopy book — consider pioneer Chegg.com for this — has become just as popular as owning one, and it’s becoming easier to get by with used text as well. Sites such as SlugBooks.com, CampusBooks.com and BookFinder.com can help you comparison-shop for new and used books, e-books and rentals.

2. Campus health insurance. Students now covered under their family’s health plan likely won’t need campus health insurance, too, because they’ll be covered under that plan until age 26. Make sure that your plan covers out-of-network costs or that health care providers near the campus are in-network.

If your plan doesn’t cover out-of-network costs or local health care providers aren’t in-network, a campus health insurance plan may be a more cost-effective option. Compare the price of campus insurance with the cost of keeping the student on your policy and paying extra for any out-of-network care or clinic visits. “Be aware that many schools require kids to show proof of insurance before they start, and some will automatically enroll students in the campus insurance if they don’t actively opt out by showing proof of alternative insurance,” says Lisa Zamosky, senior director of consumer affairs for eHealth Inc.

Some college policies have low coverage maximums, which could leave you with thousands of dollars in uninsured expenses. Students can also buy an individual policy through the local health insurance exchange — search by state at Healthcare.gov.

3. A super-size meal plan. Unfortunately, meal points or money added to a meal plan usually don’t roll over from year to year — if you don’t use the money, you lose it.

If the school gives first-years an option to choose their meal plan, it’s best to start low and see how much your student needs. Many colleges give you the opportunity to replenish meal-plan funds midyear. You could also supplement a student’s meal plan with gift cards to local grocery stores or restaurants. You can buy gift cards at GiftCertificates.com.

Michaela Wang and McKenzie Richmond are contributing writers for Kiplinger.com. For more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com.

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