Dorm Room Essentials: Everything You Need for College
Ahhh, college – a young adult’s most exciting adventure and typically a parent’s biggest budget challenge. Whether your child’s new school is a drive or a plane ride away, it’s a huge step for everyone in the family. Offer support and encouragement — and set them up for success — with dorm room essentials for this next stage of (very) compact living.
The right clothes, the right shoes, the right computer and the right smart phone are, of course, top-of-mind for your child when they begin packing for college. As your sort-of grown-up is filling suitcases with these must-haves, we know you’re thinking of those less-exciting items — sheets, comforters, towels, a shower caddy and so many other items you know they’ll need.
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Begin by picturing the dorm room itself. Most likely this space holds a bed (mattress, no pillow), a closet, a desk (and a roommate!). Space is usually at a premium and you can probably assume housekeeping is going to be less of a priority than making friends, attending classes and exploring their new community (that’s a nice way to say “going to parties”).
What’s Furnished and Allowed?
Start by first checking with the school’s student housing office – typically on the school’s website — to learn what is provided in the dorm room and what students are expected to bring. Some dorms have elevated beds with dresser drawers and storage space underneath. Others have a closet and storage or drawers there. Equally important, you’ll want to know what “extra” items are allowed and which are restricted. This is especially important regarding appliances, mini-fridges and microwaves and other electrical appliances.
Determine the Shipping Window
Whether you’re shipping just a few things to your child’s dorm room or everything across country, be sure to find out the earliest dates you can start shipping things. Many colleges will even deliver items directly to your student dorm room, as long as it arrives within a certain window of time. Otherwise, items shipped outside of that time frame simply have to be picked up at the school or dorm’s mailroom.
Tip: If you’re planning a night or two in a hotel for the big drop-off-at-school adventure, call the front desk to see if you can ship a box to their address, if there are issues shipping to the school.
Coordinate Big Purchases with the Roommate
Once your student has been assigned a roommate, reach out to him or her and start talking about who is bringing what. For bigger items such as a mini fridge that you might want to share and keep when your student moves from the dorm to an apartment, you might want to split the cost. Most colleges also rent mini fridges for the year through housing.
Secure Your Move-in Date and Time
Many schools have a rolling move-in dates, so freshmen typically move in first, followed by sophomores and upperclass students. Schools also often assign a specific date and timeframe during which your student can move in to stagger traffic and elevator usage.
Dorm Bedding Basics
- A sleeping pillow
- Sheets and pillowcases (most dorm room beds are twin or twin XL)
- A blanket for the bed (depending on climate) and a throw blanket to cuddle up with
- Comforter and comforter cover
- A small plastic garbage pail (surprisingly necessary)
- Mattress protector
- Mattress topper — while optional, students love these to soften a bed and add more padding to the usually thin dorm mattresses.
- Throw pillows
- Bed risers (to elevate the bed and allow for storage underneath. Note: many schools have height limitations for these items.
- Bedside storage caddy
Tip: The next four years will likely involve four different dorm or apartment addresses with lots of storage, shipping and moving logistics. Keep this in mind as you make the packing list for college — and seek out light, compact, collapsible and value-priced items.
Bathroom and Laundry Essentials for College
Now, take an imaginary stroll down to the hall to the bathroom. Your kiddo may not be accustomed to traipsing along a rather public hallway to the shower (or ferrying their clothes to a communal laundry room) but, alas, that’s the style for most freshman dorms.
- Shower caddy
- At least two towels (the dream is that they’ll wash ’em in rotation). Consider a lively pattern or color to make them easily distinguishable from other towels on nearby hooks — or in nearby dryers.
- Shower shoes (to protect from athlete’s foot)
- Shampoo, conditioner, soap and toiletries
- Skincare products
- Hair care products and tools
- Vanity mirror
- A laundry basket (a pop-up style makes a great choice!) or a cloth hamper with backpack-style straps for easy carrying.
- Laundry detergent
- Clothes-drying rack
If your student is assigned to a suite-style dorm with three or more roommates, they may be asked to provide the following:
- Toilet paper
- Cleaning supplies
- Hand soap
Essentials for Tiny Dorm Closets
Your student will be lucky if they get a closet in their dorm room. Many have wardrobes with a small space for hanging clothes. You’ll need to supply:
- Shoe storage (consider an over the door option to share with a roommate)
- Bin with stacked drawers, if space allows
Dorm room dining essentials
You might remember the hot-pot days of your dorm years. Modern appliances have come a long way in the last couple of decades, allowing for a few more comforts of home for your student.
- Water bottle
- Reusable thermal coffee carry cup
- A small supply of plates/silverware/cups/napkins
- Mini-fridge. You’ll be amazed what you can fit in this when it’s well organized. This is often available to rent through the school.
- Microwave. Be sure to check with the housing office to learn what type you’re allowed to use. Not all dorms allow microwaves in the room, but they often are available in a common room.
- Single serve coffee maker. Space is at a premium, so you’re going to want something compact.
- Electric kettle to boil water for tea, or make ramen or mac and cheese. What can’t you make in one of these?
If you’re assigned to a suite with a kitchen space, you’ll also want to get:
- Dish towels
- Drying rack
- Paper towels
- Dish soap and sponge
- Some shelving or organizing bins
Desk and tech dorm must-haves
Space is at a premium and things typically can’t be drilled into walls, so think vertical.
- Desk lamp and bulbs
- Monitors. Your student may be used to working (and let’s face it, gaming with dual monitors). Thankfully, modern slim styles save space and are easy to set up on a desktop.
- Ethernet cable
- Mouse pad
- Desk organizer
- Notebooks and folders
- Lap desks for bed-top study sessions
- Stamps and stationery. Well, you can at least hope they will write home!
For tech, don’t forget to order:
- Surge protector
- Extension cord
- Computer and phone chargers
- Portable speakers (there’s always a party somewhere)
- If your student is living in a suite style dorm with a living space you may want to also consider a television, especially handy for group gaming sessions.
Dorm Decor Essentials
Most dorms don’t allow nails or pins in walls, so adhesive patches, tape and hooks usualy do the trick when hanging photos and posters. But even those don’t always stick to the walls in some dorm rooms depending on the paint, so you’ll want to be see what works and then shop for what you need locally. Other dorm decor items might include:
- Area Rug. Not sure which size to get? Consult our rug buying guide.
- Posters and pictures
- String lights
- Message board
- Lounging chair
Dorm Room Odds and Ends
- First Aid Kit
- Flashlight and batteries
- Small tool kit
- Air purifier (doubles as a white noise machine)
- Small fan
- Chip clips (trust us, your student will use these!)
Bring, ship or buy there?
As exciting as planning and packing can be, there’s really no big rush to buy some of the things on your list. Make sure there’s a towel and a set of sheets in the suitcases if you’re sending your student alone, but make the trip a little breezier by shipping second sets, next-season necessities and many of the basics either during the dorm shipping window or once your kiddo is settled and has a better sense of their space and routine. They likely they won’t need that parka in September.
Tip: Wait until you see the room and desk to buy study and office supplies and storage solutions. It’s a fun thing to do at local shops as you explore the area before saying goodbye to your student. And don’t forget the campus bookstore. Those mascot sweatshirts can be pricey but a pencil cup or banner with the college logo is a fun, affordable way to add school spirit to room decor.
Where To Put Everything for the Summer
Most dorms expect students to move out over the summer. If your student is coming home for the summer and moving into another dorm or apartment in the fall, finding a storage space for their things is key. Many colleges have contracts with storage companies but they are typically more expensive than if you were to find one on your own. You will have to transport your things yourself, but you’ll save significantly in the process.
Yes, sending your kid off to college is overwhelming in so many different ways, but it’s also such an incredible time of growth for you both. Remember, you’ve got this. And more important – your kid’s got this, too.