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College Dorm Essentials Checklist

By Lisa Freedland

Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: September 7th, 2023
College Dorm Essentials Checklist

Going to college for the first time is an exciting, but new and somewhat intimidating experience. Living alone for the first time in one’s life can be challenging, especially when you’re not quite sure what you should bring. To help make your move into college a little easier, we’ve compiled a list of college dorm essentials, from sleeping necessities, to hygiene products, to room decorations, and more.

Also see: First year of college: How to prepare

Sleeping Necessities

Luckily, sleeping essentials are essentially the same no matter where you’re planning on going to college. Whether hot or cold, tired or not, here are a few things that you should bring to college to make your sleep (and naps) as comfortable as possible:

  • Mattress cover
  • Mattress topper (or mattress pad)
  • Sheets
  • Blanket
  • Comforter
  • Pillows
  • Sleep mask 

Hygiene + Toiletries

Staying clean is always important, but is even more so now than ever before due to COVID-19. So, how can you keep yourself feeling fresh, looking good, and most of all, staying safe? Well, you can start by making sure you bring some of these hygiene (and toiletry) essentials to your college dorm:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Hair styling products
  • Body Wash
  • Lotion
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Mouthwash
  • Hand soap
  • Face wash (+ other skincare products)
  • Hairbrush/comb
  • Hairstyling tools (hair straighteners, curlers, dryers)
  • Razors + shaving cream
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Make-up
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Nail clippers
  • Nail polish + nail polish remover
  • Eye contacts + solution
  • Glasses
  • Toilet paper
  • Deodorant
  • Retainer
  • Perfume/cologne
  • Shower caddy
  • Shower shoes
  • Bath towels
  • Bathrobe

P.S.: To know what COVID-19-related supplies we recommend you bring to campus, keep on reading!

Medicine

On a similar note, making sure to take medicine (as you need it) is a great way to keep yourself feeling healthy and safe. While we are listing all types of medicine, from prescription to those you can get at your local CVS, keep in mind that we are not saying that you have to bring all of these. Just bring whichever you normally use (especially prescriptions), and you should be good to go! With that said, here are some types of medicines (and related health items) we recommend you bring to college:

  • Prescription meds 
    • Make sure you have a plan to refill them as well! You have a few options for this: ask your doctor to order your next refill to a pharmacy near your school, or have your pharmacy transfer your prescription to a local branch
  • Inhalers
  • Over-the-counter medicines you regularly use (e.g., acetaminophen, cold/flu meds, antacids, cough drops, etc.)
  • Vitamins
  • First-aid kit
    • For more information on what you might want to put in your first-aid kit, we recommend checking out “Make a First Aid Kit” from the American Red Cross!
  • Tissues
  • Allergy medication
  • Birth control

Related: How to decline a college acceptance offer

Laundry

Part of feeling good is looking good, and having clean laundry can definitely help you with that! And, luckily, the type of laundry supplies you’ll need are very similar no matter where you’re headed. So, here are some of the top laundry supplies we recommend you bring to college:

  • Hangers
  • Laundry basket
  • Laundry detergent
  • Dryer sheets
  • Stain remover pen
  • Laundry bag (for washing delicate clothes/items)

Storage

Not all college students need extra storage – it ultimately depends on how much stuff you’re planning on bringing down. However, if you will be bringing a lot and expect that you’ll need extra storage, here are some popular storage options that you can bring to your dorm:

  • Storage bins
  • Hanging closet organizer 
  • Storage ottoman
  • Under-bed storage bags

Food/Kitchen items

Many college freshmen have a meal plan, in which they have access to fresh meals and food whenever they like. Ultimately, though, sometimes you’re not in the mood for a full meal, or don’t want to make the trek to the closest dining hall. For this reason, it’s always nice to have some food, snacks, and kitchen supplies in your dorm. Here are some food and kitchen items you may want to consider bringing to college:

  • Food/snacks you can only get at home 
  • Cereal
  • Easy-to-make meal options (e.g., soups, ramen, microwavable foods)
  • Snacks to give you a boost of energy (e.g., granola bars, bananas, trail mix, nuts)
  • Can opener
  • Toaster
  • Microwave
    • There is likely already a microwave somewhere in your dorm – so we recommend only getting one if you anticipate you’ll be needing it a lot
  • Dishes
  • Utensils
  • Cups/mugs
  • Kitchen sponge
  • Dish towel
  • Paper towels

Room Essentials

When you’re not on-the-go, in class, or hanging out with friends, you’ll likely be in your dorm. So, it’s important that you have everything you need to make your “home away from home” as comfortable as possible. With that said, here are some useful room essentials to have, whether you’re living 5 or 2,500 miles away from home:

  • Trash can
  • Desk fan
  • Desk lamp
  • Minifridge
    • Many universities provide these in dorm rooms already – so we recommend checking whether your room will have one or not before buying a new one!
  • Vacuum (or handheld vacuum)
  • Water bottle/tumbler
  • Rug

Don’t miss: Top 10 books to read before college

Desk/School Supplies

College is fundamentally a place of learning, and when you’re there, you’ll want to be sure that you have all the school supplies you need to keep yourself on track and excelling in your classes. Here are some of our top recommendations for the school supplies you should bring to campus:

  • Desk lamp
  • Desktop organizer
  • Backpack
  • Planner
  • Pencil case
  • Stationery (pencils, pens, paper, tape, glue, etc.)
  • Laptop
  • Folders
  • Notebooks
  • Stapler

Electronics/Appliances

In the 21st century, having electronics has essentially become a necessity – especially in college. With the vast majority of students using laptops to get work done, you’ll want to be sure that you have the chargers and power strips necessary to keep your electronics alive. So, here are some of the electronics that we highly, highly recommend you bring to college:

  • Phone
  • Chargers (for phone, laptop, etc.)
  • Power strip
  • Extension cords
  • Earphones/headphones
  • Portable phone charger

Related: How to pay for housing

Clothing

This one seems pretty obvious; you bring clothing everywhere you go, after all (hopefully). However, in the hectic packing and preparing for college, you may forget to bring a thing or two. So, to make sure you bring everything you need, here’s our list of some clothing items you should be taking to college:

  • Undergarments (underwear, bras, sports bras, etc.)
  • Tops (shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, etc.)
  • Pants (jeans, workout pants, leggings)
  • Shorts
  • Socks
  • Pajamas 
  • Jackets/hoodies
  • Shoes (sneakers, sandals, boots, dress shoes, etc.)
  • Rain jacket
  • Hats
  • Belts
  • Cold-weather wear (e.g., hats, gloves/mittens, scarves, snow boots)
  • Bags (purses, tote bags, etc.)
  • Watches
  • Jewelry
  • Wallet
  • College merch!

Miscellaneous

Onto the miscellaneous items! These are all items that don’t necessarily fit into any of the categories we’ve mentioned thus far, but would still be useful (or fun, depending on the item) to have. 

  • Umbrella
  • Flashlight
  • Safety whistle
  • Pepper spray (keep yourself safe!)
  • Video game systems
  • Sporting equipment
  • Journal
  • Duffel bag or small suitcase (for short trips)
  • Bicycle
  • Skateboard
  • Gym bag
  • Board/card games

COVID-related necessities (just in case)

And, last but certainly not least, are the COVID-related supplies and necessities! These are all items that will help you stay safe:

  • Vaccination card 
    • If you’re not vaccinated, consider bringing an explanation/letter from your doctor as to why you can’t be vaccinated
  • Hand sanitizer (for your dorm and on-the-go)
  • Masks (a lot of them!)
  • Disinfectant spray/wipes
  • Thermometer
  • Air purifier
  • Knowledge of nearby hospitals that will accept your insurance (in case of emergencies)
  • A backup plan if students are forced off campus and have to return home

One last packing tip

Before we send you off to college, we have an important tip that you should keep in mind. If your college is somewhat far away and you’ll anticipate that you’ll have to take a long plane or road trip to get there (i.e., it’s not easy to go back and forth between your dorm and home), we recommend waiting until you’re at your college town to stock up on some of these items! 

In my experience, many students choose to drop off the items that they’ve brought to their dorm. They then  pick up whatever else they need with their parents or friends at stores in the local area. This way, you’ll save the hassle of having to move so many items (especially bigger ones or appliances) so far away. Also, this is a good time to stock up on other items too (snacks, school supplies, etc.) that you’ll want at college.

Time to pack up!

And with that, we’re done! That’s about everything you’ll need to (or should) bring to college. Keep in mind that if some of these don’t apply to your particular college environment, feel free to ignore them (e.g., if you’re going to school in a warmer area – you might not need any “cold-weather wear)!

And, if you have any more questions or concerns about preparing for your first year of college, feel free to check out First Year of College: How to Prepare.

For now, though, good luck, and have fun in college!

What should you not bring to a college dorm?

Great question! Many incoming college freshmen tend to overpack, not knowing exactly what one needs when living alone for the first time. So, to help you avoid making that mistake, here are some things that you should probably not bring to your college dorm: 

  • Too many kitchen appliances (besides a minifridge, the rest can definitely already be found in your dorm!)
  • A printer (printing can be done at most any campus library)
  • A TV (can normally be found on your residence hall floor)
  • Any prohibited items (these vary by school – so make sure you’re not bringing something that your college prohibits)
    • You can likely find out what these are on your college website

Besides these, however, bringing anything in excess might not be the best choice. Oftentimes, bringing too many of the same thing (whether it be shoes, stuffed animals, or even room decorations) can make you have regrets once you realize you left too little space for everything else.

Frequently asked questions about what to bring to your college dorm

What are you not allowed to bring to a dorm?

Each school differs, but nearly all prohibit anything that is a fire hazard. This would include items such as hot plates, indoor grills, toasters, toaster ovens, and the like, not to mention candles with a real lit flame. 

What is something that college students often forget to pack?

The answer to that question varies, but when it rains on campus for the first time, there is usually a shortage of umbrellas!

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