BOSTON (MainStreet) -- Back-to-school shopping is a chore no matter what school students attend, but at the nation's top prep schools it's as much about the culture as it is about computers or clothes.
The burden of back-to-school shopping in the U.S. is increasing slightly this year; market research company IBISWorld predicts a 2.6% uptick in sales, to $20 billion. Spending on school supplies alone is expected to jump 4.4%, to $3.6 billion, while demand for electronics such as computers, e-readers and other gadgets is slated to grow 3.9%, to nearly $5.2 billion.
That backpack is only half full, however, as clothing and shoe sales have inched up only 1.5% and 1.1%, respectively. Clothing still makes up the largest chunk of the back-to-school budget at $7.6 billion, or $137 per student, but sales have remained lukewarm since the recession as discretionary spending dives and consumer confidence collapses to a 30-year low. The National Retail Federation even suggests that despite an overall uptick in back-to-school shopping, the average spending per student in grades K-12 will decline from $606 last year to $604 this year.
While these fluctuations affect prep school students just as much the rest of the nation's student body, the consistency of the prep school packing list and the restrictions on what boarded students can and cannot have in their rooms create structure that can shape a family's back-to-school shopping routine through the end of college.
A few of the nation's top prep schools were kind enough to share their packing lists and offer insight into how the nation's elite students prepare for the year. Though significantly larger than lists offered by some of their public-school peers, the prep school lists generally eschew high-end toys and big-ticket clothing for items and rules that shape young students for the length of their stay:
Founded in 1797
Noteworthy alumni: Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, King Abdullah II of Jordan, tea party-backing billionaire David Koch and several members of the Rockefeller family.
Each Deerfield dorm room comes equipped with a small closet or wardrobe, an 80-inch twin bed, bureau, desk and chair, mirror, wastebasket and overhead light. The following items are up to the students to lug in on their own:
Appliances: Alarm clock/clock radio, camera, desk lamp with compact fluorescent bulb, floor lamp with compact fluorescent bulb -- Deerfield limits lamps to two, but feels one is sufficient -- fan, flashlight and stereo (with headphones to avoid disturbing others). A surge protector is recommended.
Bedding: mattress pad, pillow, bath towels (two to four), washcloths (two), hand towels (two), blankets (one), sheets (four, XL twin, unfitted and fitted), pillow cases (four) and bedspread or comforter (one).
Clothes and shoes: Deerfield recognizes that some of its guests are going to be a lot better about doing laundry than others and advises either packing accordingly or arranging for weekly laundry service through the school.
In the meantime, they're asked to bring dress code clothes, athletic socks ("10-plus" pairs), bathrobe, belts, dress pants, special skirt/dress, dress shoes ("at least one pair"), jackets ("casual and dress"), jeans, sneakers (two pairs), sweaters, T shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, turtlenecks, underwear ("lots"), winter coat, hat gloves, snow boots, rain boots and a raincoat or umbrella.
Students are also asked to bring along some wide lapels and high heels for the "DeNunzio Disco" after the first week of classes and some formalwear for prom and various semi-formal events.
Miscellaneous: Athletic equipment "as appropriate," backpack for books, small duffel bags for trips, reusable water bottle, rechargeable batteries, risers (for beds in certain dorms -- no cinder blocks) a bike with lock and helmet, a cup or mug, dictionary, envelopes, hangers ("about 40"), keychain, quarters for laundry machines, a laundry bag, "eco-friendly detergent," laundry marking pen ("please put your name on all of your belongings"), plastic hooks with adhesive, posters/pictures ("if more than four, they must be laminated or framed"), sewing kit, reusable bags for shopping, stamps, stationery, tissues and plants.
School supplies: Binders, calendar and planner, highlighters, loose leaf paper, notebooks, paper clips, pencils, pens, a ruler, whiteout fluid, scissors, tape, thumbtacks, "etc."
Toiletries: Shower caddy to hold toiletries, aspirin, adhesive bandages, hygiene products, hair bands, hairbrush, comb, nail clippers, soap with container, toothpaste, toothbrush, antiseptic ointment, razors, shampoo, conditioner, makeup, jewelry and hair items.
Items not permitted in dormitories: Upholstered furniture, polystyrene beanbag chairs, refrigerators, plug-in coolers, computer monitors "larger than 21 inches," projectors, coffee makers, hot pots, hot plates, candles, incense, hanging tapestries, string lights of any kind, high intensity/halogen lamps in excess of 100 watts, lava lamps, televisions, DVD players, electric heaters, air conditioners, irons, microwave ovens, toaster ovens, cooking grills, pets of any kind, weapons of any kind and liquor bottles or beer cans even if empty.
St. Paul's School
Founded in 1856
Noteworthy alumni: William Randolph Hearst, J. Pierpont Morgan, John Jacob Astor IV and several members of the Vanderbilt family.
Like Deerfield, the school provides students an extra-large twin bed, bureau, pillows, a desk, ceiling lights and a chair. Students are on the hook for the rest, but are asked to approach back-to-school shopping with the following student handbook caveats in mind:
Students are welcome to furnish their room to reflect their own personal style; however, student rooms are the property of the school and must be treated with respect and care. We value our residential life and strive to maintain high standards for residential spaces. Students have a responsibility to maintain those high standards when occupying or using these spaces ... Finally, any ostentatious display of lifestyle, clothing, possessions, or sexuality is inappropriate. We recommend that students bring either a trunk or safe deposit box, with a lock, to store valuables.
That said, students are also expected to bring the items below.
Clothing: Heavy coat, warm outer clothing, waterproof and insulated boots or shoes, hats, gloves, heavy sweaters or fleece-type vests and pullovers.
Items that students often bring include: Computers, lamps, radios. MP3 players, alarm clocks with batteries, power strips with circuit breakers for operating multiple electrical devices, headphones to keep music from disturbing roommate or neighbors, a phone ("Note: The use of cordless phones is discouraged, as they may not operate during power failures"), a lockbox, a bicycle and helmet and sunscreen and insect repellent.
In addition to personal items and clothing: Sheets (twin XL, if not rented from the laundry), blankets, toiletry kit ("please mark all clothing and blankets with indelible pen or sewn-on name tags").
Additional furnishings:In addition to the school-provided furnishings, students may have one piece of stuffed furniture and other furnishings as long as the room is not overcrowded. Before bringing or purchasing any item, check to make sure it meets with the fire regulations and is approved by the head of house. The head of house also must be consulted before changing or substituting any room furnishings.
Items that are not allowed include: Pets ("fish, hamsters, turtles, frog, or any other living animal"), appliances (water heaters, hot plates, toasters or microwave ovens or irons), electric blankets, televisions or pay cable services, halogen lamps, refrigerators ("except for prefects"), sofa beds, popcorn poppers, portable two-way electronic communications devices, fax machines, "laser directional lights," prescription medication, paraphernalia used to hold or consume alcohol or other drugs ("shot glasses, empty alcohol bottles, etc.") and "sexually explicit images or images glorifying alcohol and/or drug use (see your head of house for guidance)."
Just in case you think they're kidding:Students are responsible for the condition of their rooms and school furnishings. House and room inspections are carried out regularly during the year to ensure safety, cleanliness and hygiene. All rooms must meet a final year-end inspection; diplomas will be awarded only to graduating students whose rooms have passed year-end inspection. Any damages beyond normal wear and tear are the responsibility of the student.
Phillips Andover Academy
Founded in 1778
Noteworthy alumni: Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and several members of the Kennedy family.
Philips Academy also offers a standard room and gives students and parents a fairly standard packing list to match.
Appliances: Stereo, fan, reading lamp
Bath supplies: Towels, shower tote, flip-flops for the showers, toiletries, shampoo, razor, soap. Optional: Hair dryer, mirror.
Bedding: Pillows and pillowcases, twin sheets, mattress pad, comforter, quilt or bedspread.
Clothing: Casual clothes for class, jeans, T-shirts, shorts, sweaters, khakis, underwear, socks, athletic socks, sneakers, bathing suit, rain jacket, umbrella, hat, gloves, scarves, boots, winter jacket, one or two pairs of heavy socks, one or two nice "dress-up outfits" and pajamas. Optional: Bathrobe, slippers.
Computer supplies: Computer, printer, printer paper, ink cartridges, "blank discs or CDs," surge protector, "mouse/mousepad."
Laundry supplies: Laundry bag/basket, laundry soap, clothes hangers, fabric softener, quarters for machines.
School supplies: Assignment book, backpack or schoolbag, bulletin board, calendar, dictionary/thesaurus, subject notebooks/organizers, Texas Instruments TI-83+ calculator ("available for purchase through math department"), paper, pens, pencils, pencil sharpener, ruler, compass, stamps, envelopes, file folders, small file.
Odds and ends: Mug, bowl, plate, spoon, knife, fork, paper towels, tissues, flashlight. Optional: Stuffed animals, small bookcase, area rug.
No matter where you child goes to school, there is some great free technology out there to help him or her do well in class. Check out MainStreet's look at the best (and mostly free) smartphone apps for back-to-school season!