I’ve just updated this college dorm must haves article for this year’s class of students going back to college soon. It includes
46 48 college dorm must haves.
I’ve covered college dorm lists for guys as well as college dorm must haves for girls. In fact, there is quite a bit of overlap for dorm must haves whether you’re sending someone to college.
In writing this article, I’m sharing what I believe to be are dorm room essentials. I’ve included products that can help with dorm storage ideas as well as dorm hacks and decorating ideas for dorm rooms.
Shopping for college dorm room essentials
I still remember how helpless I felt the first time I had to go shopping for a dorm room. I wasn’t sure how to make head or tails of the college dorm room essentials checklist. Since then, though, I’ve learned a lot. After all, I’d spent six years moving my daughters to college. That’s why I wanted to write this blog post about dorm must-haves.
Have you read my article with advice on paying for school?
Best places for college dorm shopping
Before I get into the nitty gritty of a college dorm shopping list, you may be asking: what are the best places for college dorm shopping? In our six years of back to college shopping, we did most of our buying for a college dorm in two places:
Why is Amazon one of the best places for college dorm shopping? One word–convenience.
Target, on the other hand, might just be the best place to buy college bedding. It’s one of the reasons we set our daughter up with a Target college dorm registry, as part of the Target gift registry program.
What you need to know about college bedding
In case you didn’t know, college dorm beds require extra long, twin sheets. Target carries a knit jersey version of extra long twin sheets that my daughters loved.
In fact, my daughters kept using these jersey knit twin XL sheets after they moved out of the dorm and no longer needed the extra long.
This tells you two things about why Target is one of the best places to shop for college bedding:
- Your college student will love the bedding so much that they’ll actually use it in college and beyond.
- The Target bedding holds up so well that when you buy a few sets for freshman year, you might not need to replace them until long after your student graduates.
Important note about dorm room shopping sites
An important note about places you might go for college dorm shopping. Do not, I repeat, do not shop off the store’s list. Yes, these store lists tend to include what college students need to bring to college, to be sure.
But these lists also tend to include “nice to haves” which might actually be banned in your child’s college dorm. For example, a slow cooker. Unless a slow cooker has a timer. chances are it is on the banned list. Slow cookers and other appliances overall might be banned.
Don’t take any chances. Instead, have your child contact their college’s housing department and get the official college dorm shopping list from them.
OK, now that I’ve got those caveats aside, let me explain how I put together this post on dorm must haves. What I’ve included is based on my own experience sending two daughters to college as well as my years as a shopping expert.
I also picked the brains of friends with sons in college. Because I wanted to ensure that any dorm must haves list I put together wasn’t daughter specific but also included what to bring to college for guys.
College dorm must haves
Here is a numbered list of the
46 48 college dorm needs for guys and girls. These are listed in no particular order so please be sure to read all the way through to the end.
- Foam mattress topper
- Twin extra long sheets
- Mattress cover
- Pillow covers
- Portable air purifier
- Box fan
- Bed risers
- Underbed storage bins
- Twinkle or fairy lights
- 3M Command strips and hooks
- Lock box for personal items
- Area rug
- Noise canceling headphones
- Sitting bed pillow
- Reading lamp
- Phone charging cords
- Skinny hangers
- Bath towels
- Clothes drying rack
- Laundry detergent pods
- Collapsible laundry basket
- Gopuff membership
- Keurig and K cups
- Mini refrigerator
- Crock Pot slow cooker or Instant Pot
- Blender or magic bullet
- Pots and pans
- Cooking utensils
- Food storage containers
- Cleaning wipes
- Swiffer floor cleaning kit
- Portable vacuum cleaner
- Roku TV
- Chromecast or Fire Stick
- Power strip or surge protector
- Bathroom caddy
- Velcro towel wrap
- Microfiber hair towel
- Makeup eraser
- Waterproof flip flop sandals
- Amazon Prime Student
- Reusable coffee cup and water bottle
- Hand sanitizer
- Febreze spray
- Loft bed rail
- COVID tests
Now, onto the numbered list with descriptions.
1. Foam mattress topper
Mattresses in a college dorm are likely the most uncomfortable things your child will ever sleep on. For starters these dorm mattresses have a waterproof cover and they’re made from fire-resistant materials. So they’re slippery and quite uncomfortable
To get a good night’s sleep, I would recommend investing in a foam mattress topper or any kind of mattress topper. Sleepyhead mattress toppers come with a five-year warranty, which is why I’m recommending them.
2. Twin extra long sheets
As I mentioned earlier, dorm beds require twin extra long sheets. I’ve never been clear on why dorm beds are extra long, but here’s what it means.
You cannot bring the sheets from your child’s bedroom to college. Therefore, you must buy new. I’ll put in another plug for Target’s jersey knit twin XL sheets.
How many to buy? Get at least two full sheets of twin extra long sheet sets. Maybe more if you don’t think your student will be good about washing their college bedding.
3. Mattress cover
I’d mentioned that those college dorm mattresses come with a waterproof cover. However, you might feel better putting a bed bug resistant mattress cover or allergy resistant mattress cover on as well.
This mattress encasement product from SureGuard works to block both bed bugs and allergens.
4. Pillow covers
While you’re at it, getting the same kind of pillow covers from SureGuard is added protection against bed bugs and allergens.
My younger daughter is a germ- and bug-a-phobe. So having a mattress cover plus pillow covers that blocked bed bugs and allergens helped put her mind at ease and her to sleep at night.
5. Portable air purifier
Chances are your son or daughter will be moving into a dorm without air conditioning. Buildings without air conditioning tend to be filled with allergens.
We discovered this first-hand when my daughter Annie was a college freshman. As soon as we got her this Germ Guardian air purifier on Amazon, her allergy symptoms went away. We also stocked up on extra filters so she could continue to keep her air clear throughout the year. She continues to use this air purifier years later.
6. Box fan
Given the aforementioned lack of air conditioning in many college dormitories, an old fashioned boxed fan can go a long way towards cooling your kids down on hot nights.
7. Bed risers
This falls under the category of dorm storage ideas since storage space is tight in most dorm rooms. So to get extra areas for storage, we invested in bed risers for our girls’ dorm room beds.
These lifted the beds off the floor just enough that we could slip stuff underneath. In one dorm room we were even able to get a small refrigerator under the bed. Some bed risers come with integrated USB ports and plugs.
College pennant pillows
The picture, above, is from my daughter’s freshman year dorm room, as I mentioned in the photo caption. You’ll notice the college pennant pillow from Lehigh on her bed.
We got her sister a similar pillow saying Barnard when she enrolled in college there. Since then we’ve also gotten college pennant pillows for their graduate schools.
Perhaps you’d like to get a college pennant pillow for yourself. While we had our custom made, the person who made them is selling already made college pennant pillows on Etsy. Here is a link to her Etsy shop.
8. Underbed storage bins
Sterilite makes great underbed storage bins. They slide right under a dorm bed and are great for storing off season clothes, extra school supplies or whatever else your college freshman can’t fit into a closet, desk or dresser. Another essential in the list of dorm storage ideas.
How many to buy? Depends on how much storage your student’s room has. No closet space but plenty of room under the bed? Get two to three storage bins.
9. Twinkle lights
I would put twinkle lights under the category of college dorm room decor or ideas on decorating dorm rooms as well as college girl dorm room ideas. Because, let’s face it–most dorm rooms are plain and ugly. Many have bright overhead fluorescent lights.
If your daughters are like mine, they’re going to want to “soften” the look and the lighting with twinkle lights. These are the white or other colored string lights that you might put on a Christmas tree.
10. 3M Command strips and hooks
Here’s another given with college dorm rooms. It’s nearly impossible to hang things on the wall. Either the walls are made of cinder block, or you will be fined if you put nails into a wall.
Your best bet for decorating a college dorm room is investing in 3M Command strips and hooks. So while not very sexy, I’d say Command strips and hooks are essentials when thinking about decorating ideas for dorm rooms.
11. Lock box for personal items
Things can go missing at college. Since college dorm rooms are not like hotel rooms, with built-in safes, it’s smart to get your student a lock box for personal items. A fireproof box with a key should do the trick.
Since these boxes tend to be heavy and awkward, you minimize the chances that someone walks off with it. Our daughters used their SentrySafe boxes to keep personal items, including prescription medicine, locked away and safe.
12. Area rug
A plush area rug can make a dorm room feel more like home and be more comfortable for bare feet. We had great luck shopping for area rugs at IKEA.
13. Noise-canceling headphones
Libraries on campus might be the most quiet place to study. But sometimes your student may want to stay in their college room to study.
To block out noise, get them a pair of noise-canceling headphones. I know that my younger daughter swears by these Sony Bluetooth noise-canceling headphones.
14. Sitting bed pillow
Speaking of studying in your room, a sitting bed pillow can help make studying more comfortable. Again I’ll go back to my own daughters: both got sitting bed pillows when they went away to college. Even now, after graduation, they continue to use their sitting bed pillow for hanging out in their rooms.
15. Reading lamp
A bedside or reading lamp is a good idea. Why? When they are having late-night study sessions when maybe their roommate is sleeping, and therefore the overhead light is off. A clip-on type of reading lamp gives your student options for where to put the lamp–I like that.
There are two gifts we gave our daughters when they went off to college.
- Money to see a ROTH IRA
- A toolkit to take to their dorm room
A toolkit isn’t something you might automatically think of as a college dorm must have, but you should. There were plenty of times when our daughters (or their roommates or their hall mates) needed a tape measure, screwdriver or cordless drill.
We like toolkits that pack flat (again, limited storage space) and come in their own carrying case like this one from Black and Decker. In addition to Amazon, you can look for portable tool kits at your local Ace Hardware location or by using your Costco membership to shop online.
(Note: Valid only for nonmembers for their first year of membership. Limit one per household. Nontransferable and may not be combined with any other promotion. You must join in person with a Costco representative. New members will receive their Costco Shop Card by mail in 4 to 6 weeks. Costco Shop Cards are not redeemable for cash, except where required by law. A Costco membership is $60 a year. An Executive Membership is an additional $60 upgrade fee a year. Each membership includes one free Household Card. May be subject to sales tax. Costco accepts all Visa® cards, as well as cash, checks, debit/ATM cards, EBT and Costco Shop Cards. Departments and product selection may vary.)
17. Extra phone charging cords
Smartphone users go through phone charging cords like water. Send your student off to college with extras, assuming they’ll lose or destroy one a month. You can restock over winter break.
How many to buy? Six to 10 charging cords
Dorm closet and laundry must haves
18. Skinny hangers
We’ve already established that space is at a premium in a college dorm room. In a dorm closet you don’t need bulky hangers taking up a bunch of space.
When it comes to dorm storage ideas in the closet, I would recommend investing in the skinny “huggable” hangers that take up less room.
How many to buy? At least two dozen.
19. Bath towels
Normally, I prefer all white bath towels. But if your student isn’t adept at doing laundry, then go with dark color towels. That way when they do the old college wash, you don’t have to worry about colors running into one another on white towels. Also, dark towels hide stains better.
Once again I would recommend shopping at Target for the best bath towels for a college student. And choose those darker colors like navy blue, dark gray or black.
How many to buy? Just like college bedding, it will all depend on how good (or terrible) your student is at doing laundry. At the very least, buy four bath towels for going to college.
20. Clothes drying rack
This is probably one of those dorm essentials for girls as I’ve never ever seen a guy use a clothes drying rack. Nonetheless, the dryers in college laundry rooms can be brutal on clothing. So any delicates are best dried on a clothes drying rack.
21. Laundry detergent pods
There are no excuses for your college student not to do their laundry when you send them off with laundry detergent pods. Enough said.
22. Collapsible laundry basket or hamper
Not only is a collapsible laundry basket or hamper lighter to carry but it takes up less space in a college dorm room. If it isn’t clear yet, any must-haves you get for your son or daughter’s dorm should be those that are efficient with their use of space.
23. Gopuff Membership
My daughters could not have survived dorm life–and then adulting afterwards–if they didn’t have Gopuff to rely on. Never heard of Gopuff?
Gopuff is a delivery service for everyday essentials. Food, toiletries, cleaning supplies and more. Delivery is always (and only!) $1.95. Gopuff delivers to 1,000+ cities in the United States, the UK and France.
Dorm kitchen or suite must haves
If your college student is going to be cooking their own meals, then you should set them up with everything they need for their dorm or suite kitchen–or their first off-campus apartment. When our daughter moved off campus, these were some of the things we set her up with. This article explains everything you need to buy for a college apartment.
24. Keurig and K cup pods
If your child loves coffee, investing in a small Keurig and a supply of K cup pods will be super helpful with caffeinating for early-morning classes and late-night studying. Our daughter had this in her dorm room freshman year and then took it with her to her apartment.
25. Mini refrigerator
Unless your college student is living in a suite with a kitchen, a small refrigerator is a great investment. As I mentioned earlier by using bed risers, we were able to put a small refrigerator under my younger daughter’s dorm bed.
She was able to stock the refrigerator with Greek yogurt and other healthy snacks. This helped when she was running late to class or up studying and didn’t have time or the ability to make it to the dining hall. However, if your son or daughter will be living in a suite with a kitchen, I’ve added some additional dorm suite essentials.
26. Crock Pot Slow Cooker or Instapot
The great thing about having a Crock Pot or Instant Pot at college is this: your student can put everything in it that morning for dinner. Then, by the time they get home from class, dinner is served. Both appliances are money-savers, too. They cut down on eating out expenses.
Important note: our daughters’ dorms only allowed these appliances if they had an “auto-off” timer on them. I believe they required this for fire safety reasons. So look for one that says programmable on it.
27. Blender or Magic Bullet
My daughters love making smoothies. They didn’t want to miss out on making them when they went away to college.
So we got them a Magic Bullet to use. You can also get your student a traditional blender if they’re a foodie and want to use it to cook.
28. Pots and pans
If you invest in decent cookware, your college student will never need to buy another set as an adult. You can find plenty of cookware options on Amazon. They range from the really cheap (under $15) to the very expensive.
29. Cooking utensils
A set of wooden spoons, spatulas, tongs, measuring cups and spoons, a slotted spoon and one chef’s knife could be all your student needs in the cooking utensils and gadgets category. Of course, rather than buy new, you could always send them with hand-me-downs from home.
30. Food storage containers
We raised our girls to love eating leftovers. In fact, I think it’s one of the reasons that our older daughter is big into meal prep now.
She doesn’t want to have to cook every night. So with meal prepping, she cooks once a week and then heats up leftovers the other days.
If you’re a leftover kind of family, your college student is surely going to want to have storage containers at the ready. We’re partial to the kind with “snap on” tops. Even better, glass storage containers so you don’t have to worry about BPA.
Dorm cleaning must haves
31. Cleaning wipes
Just as laundry pods provide no excuses for not doing laundry, having tubs of Clorox, Lysol or another brand of cleaning wipes on hand makes it easier for your student to keep their dorm room clean. This assumes they’ll actually use the cleaning wipes.
Another option: natural clean wipes. I recommend these Wipex wipes (which I first recommended in this post about how to clean your Peloton). They can easily be substituted for other wipes.
32. Swiffer floor cleaning kit
A college dorm room with smooth floors is bound to get dust bunnies and dirty. Send your kid off with a Swiffer bundle starter kit so they can use both the dry and wet Swiffer pads to keep the floor clean. You can find Swiffer starter kits on Amazon.
33. Portable vacuum cleaner
A portable vacuum cleaner will be a lifesaver for keeping a dorm room clean. Plus, when you invest in a good brand, you know it will last long after college is over. In fact, both our daughters took the vacuum cleaners they got in college with them to their first apartments.
Dorm entertainment must haves
34. Roku TV
My friends with sons told me that taking a TV to college these days was definitely a dorm must have. Even though they are going to college to study and get a degree, many of their sons relaxed by playing videogames. Therefore, they needed a TV.
I would invest in a Roku TV because of all of the flexibility that allows. If your student has a MacBook, they can even cast their computer to the Roku and use it as a second monitor.
35. Chromecast or Fire stick
If you decide to send your child to college with a TV, you might want to invest in a Chromecast or any cast device, or Fire stick if you don’t have a Roku so they can watch more than just videogames on their TV.
36. Power strip with flat plug
A power strip with a flat plug–so it was flush to the wall–was actually a requirement at my older daughter’s college. Turns out it was a real space saver for her in a small dorm room. If you can find a surge protector with a flat plug and USB ports in it, that’s even better.
Dorm room bathroom supplies
I was lucky enough to have a bathroom right in my college dorm room. Neither my husband nor my daughters were so lucky.
That meant that in addition to buying college bedding and the like, they needed dorm room bathroom supplies that they could take to the bath down the hall. Here are some items you may want to add to your student’s college dorm bathroom checklist
37. Bathroom caddy for college dorm
The best bathroom caddy for a college dorm is the one that can fit a ton of stuff and has holes on the bottom or is made of mesh. Why holes or mesh? So that if you bring it into the shower with you, the water can drain out the bottom. Otherwise, soon enough you’ll have a soupy, moldy mess.
38. Velcro towel wrap
Since chances are your son or daughter will be walking to and from their college dorm bathroom after a shower, you might want to get them a Velcro towel wrap that wraps around you and stays put is a must have. There are even Velcro towel wraps designed specifically for men.
39. Microfiber towel for hair
Another must have for the college dorm bathroom checklist for those with long hair–a microfiber towel for wrapping around wet hair. It helps to pull moisture from your hair after washing. Plus, the microfiber material dries really quickly.
40. Makeup eraser
If you’ve got a daughter who wears makeup like mine do, then you probably go through a lot of disposable makeup wipes in a week or a month. I know we used to buy ours by the case at Costco, thanks to our Costco membership.
However, all that stopped when my daughters discovered the Makeup Eraser. I know–it sounds like the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. But rather than an abrasive sponge, it’s a washable cloth that does an amazing job taking off makeup. Even waterproof mascara. That’s why I think adding the Magic Eraser to your college shopping must haves is a no brainer.
41. Waterproof Flip Flop Sandals
Flip flops can help your college student avoid picking up a foot fungus in a college dorm bathroom. That’s not to say that dorm bathrooms are dirty, but why risk it? Target has super cheap flip flop sandals for men and women.
Other must haves on what to bring to college
While this article has focused primarily on college dorm must haves, there are many other must haves that guys and girls should bring to college. So I’ve created this additional section on other must haves on what to bring to college. Some of this is tangentially related to a college dorm room. The rest of it is just smart advice to share on college shopping.
42. Backpack with lifetime warranty
Our family has been devout customers of companies that provide lifetime warranties for their products. Here is my article about bookbags, luggage and other bags with a guarantee.
My daughters have both done quite well, in high school and college, with Jansport backpacks. Jansport is one of those companies that provide a product guarantee.
43. Amazon Prime student
One of the first services we invested in when my older daughter went to college is Amazon Prime student. Prime Student costs half of what a regular Prime account is and provides the same free, two-day shipping that a regular account does. My daughters both saved a ton of money on textbooks. Plus, you can try out Prime Student for free for 30 days.
44. Reusable water bottle and coffee cup
Your student will be able to send a ton of money with a reusable water bottle and coffee cup. Most college buildings have filtered water dispensers for free. Rather than spend $1 or more on plastic water bottles, your student can use a reusable water bottle and stay hydrated for free.
45. Hand sanitizer
We’ve all become accustomed to using hand sanitizer often. But even before this became a necessary evil of daily living, I always sent my daughters back to campus with plenty of hand sanitizer. If you can stock them up before class begins, the better.
What can I say: dorm rooms tend not to be the best smelling places on campus. If your child isn’t good about cleaning up or doing laundry regularly, help them mask those smells with a semester’s supply of Febreze spray.
47. Loft bed rails
A friend suggested I add this item to the list. And that would be a bed rail made for adults, not toddlers.
Why a bed rail? Because if your student ends up in a dorm room with a loft bed–and no sides to the bed–they are at a risk of falling. Each year some 36,000 young people fall out of bunk beds and lofts.
Don’t let your student become a statistic. This bed rail on Amazon appears to be the perfect option.
48. COVID tests
Even though the government has sent us COVID tests–and there may be testing on campus–you can never have enough COVID tests. So, add COVID tests to your student’s college packing list. When my daughter got COVID last winter, she needed a half dozen tests on hand. That way she could keep testing until she got a negative result and could end her isolation.
Personalized decor on Etsy
OK, so shopping for personalized decor on Etsy doesn’t quite fit the must-have category. But it sure would be fun to surprise your college students with, don’t you think? There are some 250 pages of college-related gifts on Etsy. This includes monogrammed designs for a dorm wall, personalized laundry bags and plenty of “call your mom” decor.
If I’ve forgotten to include anything on this list of things to bring to college, please write a comment and let me know. I’m sure I’ll be updating this blog post during the back to college season this year and in the years to come.