The good news is your teen is GOING to college. The bad news is your teen is LEAVING for college. There may be a long list of things they WANT to buy, but here is the short list of what every college student needs to bring with them — the absolute dorm essentials.
To help you only buy what you need, we have cut straight to the basics and listed only the 11 must-haves they’ll need on day one.
In a few instances, we added extras for you to consider while shopping but have deliberately kept this college packing list short. Consider this a solid starting point and layer on the items your college student knows they will use, not the myriad things retailers and schools identify as “essentials.”
11 Dorm Essentials to Put On Your List
We recommend that you read this post, Dorm Room Shopping: 50 Questions to Answer First, which will guide you through all the Q&As you want to discuss with your teen BEFORE you shop.
The next step is to gather as much insight as possible from their college’s dorm checklist on the website under “Residence Life.” Find out what things are provided for freshmen (e.g., desk lamp, trash can) and what might be prohibited (e.g., extension cord.) If your student is assigned a dorm with air conditioning, they won’t need a fan — so there’s no need to load up on things you’ll have to return later.
Then your teen will want to coordinate with their roommate if they are planning compatible decor and/or want to share a mini-fridge, microwave, or coffee maker, as most dorms are too small to accommodate duplicate appliances. An area rug is also popular, but no need to get more than one.
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1. Twin XL Sheets: Target 400 Thread Count Sheet Set and Pottery Barn Teen Twin XL Bedding
There is no place other than a college dorm where your teen will need Twin XL sheets, which means you will need to get a new set. Target sells a 3-piece set with a fitted sheet, top sheet, and pillowcase. These sheets are top-rated by the New York Times Wirecutter product reviewing team for being affordable, soft, and durable. The set comes in 12 pretty colors, making coordinating it with almost any comforter easy.
If your student wants something with a little more flair, PB Teen has a fantastic selection of twin XL bedding that would satisfy any style.
Expert Tip: While shopping for sheets, your teen might also want to get a comforter, duvet, or blanket if they do not already have something to bring from home. Twin XL will fit the best, but consider choosing a regular or Queen size to fit future, larger beds.
2. New Bath Towels: Pottery Barn Teen Towels
You can bring bath towels, hand towels, and washcloths from home or buy a new set for your teen. Getting them in a unique color or monogrammed will help your son or daughter not mix up their towels in a shared bath and laundry room.
Students will want two sets of towels, and these Hydro-Cotton quick-drying towels from Pottery Barn Teen are an “Editor’s Choice” in Consumer Reports. They are available in 8 nice colors, but remember that acne medicine containing Benzol Peroxide can stain a colored towel.
3. Surge Protector: Accell Power Air Surge Protector
Surge protectors will protect expensive electronics from a power surge and they typically offer multiple outlets and/or USB ports for all the electronic devices students bring to college. They are preferable to extension cords, which many schools ban.
Wirecutter included it as one of their top picks for college dorm use. It has six outlets, two USB charing ports and a 6 ft cord, making it very convenient to use if an outlet is not close to a desk area in the room.
4. Mattress Topper: ViscoSoft Select High-Density Mattress Topper
Help your student sleep like they never left home by sending them to campus with a ViscoSoft Select High-Density Twin XL mattress topper. They are super comfortable, easy to clean, durable, and provide an ick-safe barrier between your teens and the old dorm mattress that’s typically provided. You can choose between three or four inches of gel-infused memory foam. The covers are washable and come with adjustable straps and slip-resistant mesh for a snug fit.
Expert Tip: A waterproof mattress encasement that goes over the mattress and topper but under the sheets can protect against spills, bedbugs, and allergens. We like the Allerease brand for pillow and mattress encasements.
5. Good Bed Pillows: Coop Home Goods Bed Pillow and Amazon Basics Bed Pillow
This is another item that your teen can bring from home. However, if buying a new one, consider the Coop Home Goods pillow that Consumer Reports AND Good Housekeeping Institute rated the best bed pillow. With an additional bag of fill with each pillow, it is entirely customizable based on individual preferences.
The Good Housekeeping Institute suggested the Amazon Basics Down Alternative as a more inexpensive option and named it the best value option. It comes in a two-pack and is nice and cushy with a down alternative fill. Two pillows can be beneficial as most dorms have no headboards to lean back on. Another excellent option for back support is a bed rest pillow.
Get the Coop Home Goods Bed Pillow:
Get the Amazon Basics Bed Pillow:
Expert Tip: Consider getting a hypoallergenic pillow protector to keep pillows clean and protect against household allergens, such as dust mites, pollen, and pet dander, from collecting in your pillow. It is also antimicrobial and bed bug bite-proof (yuck!).
6. Laundry Bag: Azhido Backpack Laundry Bag
Your teen will (eventually) wash their clothes and need a laundry basket or hamper to help transport a mountain of dirty clothes to the laundry room. Consider how much they’ll need to carry and how far they must travel to do laundry. Are the machines on the same floor as their room or in another building?
This backpack laundry bag is a great dorm essential that will work for most students and has padded straps, and is adjustable to accommodate regular and extra bulky loads. Available in 13 colors, it is made from durable Oxford cloth and can also be used as a travel or storage bag.
7. Storage Solutions: IRIS Weathertight Storage Bin
Dorm rooms only have so much built-in storage. That’s why under-bed storage containers are necessary to store bedding, extra socks and underwear, and toiletries, but before buying, find out as much as you can about the room to maximize this precious space. Some schools provide dimensions for the furniture and how high the bed is lofted to give you a sense of the size you’ll need, and these IRIS bins come in 12 sizes for your perfect match.
8. Shower Caddy: Pottery Barn Teen Shower Caddy
For students who share a bathroom with suitemates, this item can be left off the list if they can leave their toiletries in the bathroom. But anyone making a trek down the hall with shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, soap dish, soap, deodorant, and a towel needs to bring a shower caddy to college. This one from PB Teen comes in multiple colors, is waterproof, and has four exterior pockets for extra storage.
Expert Tip: Women students, in particular, might also want a bathrobe or towel wrap to wear for the walk to the communal shower rather than trying to keep a towel wrapped around them as they carry a shower caddy filled with all of the above. A waffle or terrycloth robe will help with drying off as they walk back to their room.
9. First Aid Kit: Johnson & Johnson First Aid Kit
We suggest that parents put together a medicine/first aid kit and fill it with what they know their teens are used to taking at home when they have colds or sore throats. Students seem to get sick at 2 a.m., and having a thermometer, cold remedies, and basic first aid supplies is essential. It is also vital to ensure your student can renew any prescription medication they are currently taking.
BTW, here is a list for preparing an ULTIMATE first aid kit suggested by a pharmacist/college mom.
If you want a ready-made first aid kit, this one has all they need. With 160 pieces, it is stocked with standard first aid supplies, Neosporin, Benadryl Itch-Stopping topical cream, Tylenol Extra Strength acetaminophen pain reliever caplets, and a Bengay Non-Medicated Instant Cold Pack.
10. Shower Shoes: Nike Slides
Whether walking down the hall to the bathroom or using the one they share with suitemates, shower shoes are a must-have dorm essential. Dorm and bathroom floors are gross; students must protect their feet from germy surfaces. These shower shoes from Nike have a 1-piece foam design that feels soft and comfortable, and traction patterns on the sole help with wet surfaces. They dry quickly too.
11. Water Bottle: Hydro Flask Water Bottle
Hydro Flask bottles are our favorites, and they are available in numerous sizes and designs, all with a lifetime warranty. They are made of stainless steel and keep drinks cold and hot drinks hot for hours. Wirecutter agrees they’re the best water bottles for students, particularly the 21-ounce size. They can all cover their new bottle with the stickers they grab from various clubs and organizations.
Other Dorm Essentials to Consider:
Your student can bring their backpack from home, but getting a new one that does not have years of crumbs and grime from high school is a little luxury that they will appreciate. We recommend the North Face Pivoter, but here are our picks for a new backpack.
Students may use different methods for reading, taking notes, and completing school assignments at college than they did in high school. Don’t buy a semester’s supply of bulky printer paper, sticky notes, notebooks, binders, pens, pencils, index cards, highlighters, scissors, folders, etc., if your student plans to use more digital resources. Additionally, dorms have printing facilities, so students don’t need their printers and paper.
If your student can use a microwave or coffee maker in their dorm, they might need a few things like a mug, bowl, utensils, dish soap, and paper towels. But those can all be purchased once they know what they’re allowed to use and where they can be stored.
How to Save Money On Dorm Essentials
Many retailers have free shipping and other special savings for college students, so read the fine print and take advantage of every offer. Your student may have to provide their .edu email address to be eligible, which seems like a fair ask to unlock the savings.
- Target Circle members can unlock savings when shopping. Here are some of our favorite dorm items at Target.
- Amazon Prime Student — receive a six-month trial with FREE Two-Day Shipping on eligible purchases.
Once you’ve taken care of these 11 basic dorm essentials, here are other items to consider:
Prices were accurate at the time of publishing.