College requirements

For many students, a laptop and a few mementos just aren’t enough

Alexandra Kaplan (right) of Los Angeles gets help from a personal concierge, Vyctoria Thwreatt, to move into her Suffolk University dorm. Alexandra Kaplan (right) of Los Angeles gets help from a personal concierge, Vyctoria Thwreatt, to move into her Suffolk University dorm. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
By Bella English
Globe Staff / October 17, 2009

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Before they had stocked up on groceries or bought their books, the four Boston University students had pressing business to attend to: They had a Comcast technician come to their Allston apartment to hook them up with digital cable that would provide MTV, On Demand, HBO, and a hundred more high-definition premium channels. In this apartment shared by four students are three flat-screen TVs, not to mention eight video game systems including Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and PlayStations 2 and 3.

It used to be that the college essentials included clothes, books, bedding, maybe a stereo or mini-fridge. But nowadays, dorm rooms and student apartments sport flat-screen TVs, elaborate sound systems, PlayStations, and all manner of Things They Cannot Live Without. Stores such as Target and Bed Bath & Beyond market every possible creature comfort to college students, who used to simply take their parents’ cast-offs to college. Despite the recession, college students have more than $200 billion in spending power, and much of their discretionary funds goes to electronics, says Matt Britton, chief executive of Mr. Youth, a youth marketing agency in New York.

Cable companies know students are a lucrative market. This month, Comcast did thousands of installations for students at dozens of colleges in the Boston area. The “Big Deal’’ student package includes digital video recording, lest students are in class - or at a party - during their favorite show, plus high-speed Internet service. “Boston students refuse to live without their DVR and On Demand entertainment fixes,’’ says Mark Adamy, marketing vice president for Comcast’s Boston region.

At the Allston apartment, one of the students explained why. “We did a lot of research into the student bundles,’’ says Paul Bonner, a junior from Beverly. “We need the Red Sox, we need the Celtics, so we had to have cable.’’

Michael Roncarati, a senior and resident adviser at Northeastern, has seen students haul in all sorts of sound systems, televisions, and electronic games. “Guitar Hero is a big thing here,’’ he says. His own 42-inch flat-screen TV fits in his single dorm room just fine.

But with all the studying and extracurriculars, how do students find time to watch television or play games? “Before you go out, when you get back, when you’re doing homework, while you eat,’’ says Vilva Maheudraraja, a senior at Northeastern who helped pitch Comcast’s “Big Deal’’ to fellow students from a Segway. He and his team were looking for students and parents with packed vehicles and nabbed them as they were moving in. Many signed up on the spot.

At Boston University, David Zamojski has watched students move into housing for more than 25 years. “When I went to college, I had two items that you plugged into an outlet: an electric typewriter and a clock radio,’’ says Zamojski, assistant dean of students and director of residence life at Boston University. “There were no bells and whistles. It’s a different world now, with computers and televisions and game systems.’’

But the new necessities of life go beyond electronics. Colleges have long recommended that students personalize their rooms with posters, photographs, and other touches to make a plain, cell-like space feel homey. Generation Y has taken things a step further with help from their boomer parents who try everything to ease the difficult transition for their children, many of whom have never been away from home.

At Suffolk University, Alexandra Kaplan has her own “concierge,’’ hired by her parents at $45 an hour to help settle her in and act as an all-around trouble-shooter for whatever needs might arise. Kaplan, a freshman from Los Angeles, says Vyctoria Thwreatt, owner of Vyctoria’s Answer - a self-described “lifestyle management and personal concierge service’’ - is as much for her parents’ comfort level as it is for her own.

“I think it gave my mom just a little easier time leaving me,’’ Kaplan says. “It’s security that I’m not so alone here.’’

On a recent weekday, Thwreatt and Kaplan unload Thwreatt’s car near her downtown dorm. Kaplan shares a suite with four other girls; each has her own bedroom, and they share the bathroom. Kaplan’s room is tiny; she can’t fully open her desk drawers because the bed is in the way. Several of the 10 boxes of stuff she had shipped from California went back home.

Thwreatt helped her move in, keeps her supplied with snacks, sets up laundry service, and checks in on her every week. On the recent visit Thwreatt laid out several colors of pillow shams she’d bought: Kaplan chose the red. She also produced the items on Kaplan’s wish list: a jumbo sack of peanut M&Ms, a half-dozen Snickers bars, a variety pack of chips, Sour Patch Kids, three packs of her favorite Pepperidge Farm cookies, and some Halloween-themed mini-Oreos.

In the bathroom, Thwreatt wiped the mirror with Windex she’d bought, and stashed other cleaning supplies in a cupboard. Finally, she put together a new cordless vaccuum cleaner and showed Kaplan how to use it.

Kaplan asked if she could get two more pillows. No problem: Thwreatt would drop them off the following week when she picked up the dirty laundry.

“Her parents want to make sure she’s comfortable and has everything she needs,’’ says Thwreatt, who has just started adding students to her client list.

For two Northeastern sophomores, creature comforts this year include a Brita water filter for their dorm room. Emily Foster of Scituate and Cate DeMarco, who lives on Long Island, say it’s a necessity, not a luxury. “What are you going to drink in the room?’’ Foster asks. “There’s no sink in the room, and water bottles are inconvenient.’’

The girls also feel that their cushy feather mattress covers are essential. “The beds are so uncomfortable, and you spend more time in them than you think,’’ Foster says.

For Dan Gurmankin, a freshman from Pennsylvania, it’s chocolate he can’t live without. So he brought 10 pounds of it to his Northeastern dorm room. Erin Conrad, another freshman, brought 18 pairs of shoes, including “zebra boots,’’ three pairs of Converses, and a pair of black stilletos.

At Harvard, four suitemates in Quincy House bought a 6-foot-tall inflatable monkey and named it “Henry Kissinger.’’ It sits on their futon. “It’s really like our fifth roommate,’’ says Beatrice Franklin, a junior from Rome. She and her friends say they have seen flat-screen televisions, champagne glasses, and oriental carpets in other suites.

None of that stuff for Aneliese Palmer, a sophomore from Eagle River, Alaska. The one thing she couldn’t live without? Salmon that she caught and smoked herself.

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