How to Shop for College: 30 Bestselling Dorm Essentials for Freshman 2021

Ever wonder what’s on the checklist of the most popular college dorm essentials for freshmen? Here are some of the bestselling off-to-college items that Grown and Flown parents are buying for their teens.

An important first step is to search the college website in the section under “Residence Life” to see what is prohibited, the dimensions and layout of the dorm room and closet space and what furniture is provided.

Before you go shopping for dorm decor or essentials, install the free Capital One Shopping browser add-on. It will automatically compare prices on Amazon, Target and Best Buy to other popular retailers. It will also instantly search for available coupons across thousands of sites and apply them to your cart at checkout. When you shop with Capital One Shopping installed, you can also earn Capital One Shopping Rewards which you can redeem for gift cards. While an app is available for iOS and Android, the extension cannot be installed on a mobile device so for the best savings, make sure to shop on your laptop.

Note: We are a reader-supported site and receive compensation from purchases made through some of the links in this post. Additionally, Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the browser extension using the link provided.


1. Laptop

One of the most important decisions your student will make is which laptop they need for college. To make the decision they will need to consider price, the field they hope to study (STEM majors may need more computing power) and whether they prefer an Apple or Windows environment. Some popular choices include the lightweight (this laptop gets carried everywhere) Apple MacBook Air with Retina display, Windows Dell XPS 13 and the lower priced Lenovo Chromebook.

2. External Battery Power Bank 

Having a phone fully charged is truly the very best safety device your teen can have in college. This one by Anker is well-priced, lightweight, small and charges super fast.

3. Belkin Surge Protector Power Strip 12 Outlets and 2 USB Charging Ports

Extension cords are banned in many colleges, so pack one of these, instead. Your teen will need plenty of outlets for their electronics and this Belkin charger comes with a 6’ft cord, too.

surge protector

4. Printer

The choice of a printer is very much a personal one. Students turn in most of their assignments electronically and many colleges have printers available in dorms, computer labs and libraries for public use. While it is very convenient to have a printer handy in your room, especially a compact and wireless one, some students tell us that they take up space and can sometimes be found under the bed gathering dust bunnies.

Epson wireless printer

Dorm Bedding

5. Twin Xl Bedding

Typically, dorm rooms have Twin XL beds and your teen will need to have sheets that are sized to match. At the very least, they will need a fitted sheet to cover the mattress supplied on the frame.

Three of our favorite places to shop for sheets, duvet covers, blankets and comforters in this (or any) size are Pottery Barn Teen/Dorm, Target and the Bed, Bath & Beyond college website. Pottery Barn has a real emphasis on sustainability with their product line and, if you have not taken a look there, you will be pleasantly surprised at the selection, style, and price points.

All three of these retailers offer ways to save:

Pottery Barn has The Key program with member rewards of 3% back at ALL their family of brands, including William Sonoma, West Elm and Pottery Barn.

Bed, Bath & Beyond offers 20% off with their College Savings Pass for all purchases through 9/30/21.

Target dorm bedding

6. Bed Pillow

This is another item that your teen can bring from home. However, this top-rated pillow can be adjusted to their preference by removing some of the foam. Make sure to get a washable, hypoallergenic pillow protector to keep pillows clean and protect against bedbugs, dust mites, and allergens.

Coop pillow

7. Mattress Topper

Dorm bed mattresses are rock-hard bricks encased in vinyl so adding a mattress topper will be something your teen will thank you for.

Pottery barn mattress topper

8. Dorm Bed Shelf

Nightstands are not supplied in most dorm rooms so having a bunk shelf like this one can be a convenient space for students to have their phones, glasses and other necessities close at hand when they go to bed.

dorm bed shelf

Alternatively students can use a bed pocket from Uncommon Goods which is more compact but offers a place to store a phone, glasses, airpods, books, pencils and pens.

bed pocket

9. Backrest Pillow

So much studying takes place on a dorm bed and a pillow like this will help make it much more comfy, especially since there are typically not headboards on dorm beds.

10. Bed risers

Risers are a great way to create more under-bed storage and there are many models available. We caution two things. First, make sure your student is not in a bunk bed. And second, many schools have beds designed to be lofted and bed risers are unnecessary.

target bed risers

11. Rug

A small dorm room rug can be warm in the winter and create a cozier room. Look at the rugs at Pottery Barn Teen/Dorm that are washable – a great feature for a dorm rug.

pottery Baarn rug

12. Project Repat T-Shirt Quilt

Gather your teen’s t-shirts from camp, school, sports or family trips and send them to Project Repat. They will create a very personal keepsake quilt that can be used on the bed or hung on a wall. A Project Repat quilt is one of the most popular dorm items in the Grown and Flown community and they get rave reviews.

Project repat T-shirt quilt and teen girl

Want to learn what Grown and Flown parents think are THE most helpful tools and tips for Move-In Day? Here are the 12 things that saved their lives.

13. IKEA Frakta Bag

Nothing is better for move-in day than these inexpensive IKEA bags (available at Amazon, too.) They are the #1 most popular dorm item for Grown and Flown students. During the school year they can be used under the bed as storage containers and can keep dorm items all in one place during the summer.

IKEA bag


14. Shower Shoes

All students living in dorms with communal bathrooms need shower shoes. Havaianas may be a little more expensive than others but we love the variety of colors and designs which make them less likely to get confused with hall mates’ flip flops.

Havianas flip flops

15. Quick Dry Hanging Toiletry and Bath Organizer

Most dorm bathrooms are communal and your son or daughter will need a way to carry shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush and everything they need with them down the hall and back.

pottery barn bath caddy

16. Towels

You can give our freshmen some of the towels from around the house or buy them a few new ones. Either way they will only need two sets, not the stack they seem to go through at home! Here are gorgeous and durable towels from Pottery Barn Teen/Dorm. These will last for all four years.

17. Bath Bundles

We have sort of fallen in love with these bath bundles that include coordinating towels, caddy and robe or wrap. BTW, using a towel as a wrap for the trek to the communal bathroom in an option, but a robe or bath wrap is much easier to manage, especially when juggling a second bath towel and caddy.


18. Set of 5 Mesh Laundry Bags

Your teen can deposit face masks they have worn into a mesh laundry bag for later washing, keeping clean and used ones separate. These are also great for washing delicate garments.

lingerie bag

19. Laundry Bag

Depending on how far away the laundry room is from their dorm room, teens will want an easy to cary bag, hamper or backpack-style bag when they finally run out of clean socks. This one is pretty cute but there are infinite styles and colors to consider.

20. Clothes Steamer

Taking a bulky iron and ironing board to college isn’t practical if your teen is living in a dorm. Consider a handheld steamer, instead. This Connair steamer gets great reviews.

Other Useful Dorm Items

21. Hydro Flask Water Bottle

Hydro Flask offers TONS of styles and sizes of water bottles that are perfect for your college student. For long days on campus, studying at the library, sports practice, bike rides, workouts, hiking, or walking to class, Hydro Flask water bottles are excellent for your teen – keeping drinks cold or hot for the entirety of the day.

The Grown and Flown book has all you need for college shopping, move-in day, and… preparing to say goodbye. Available in paperback!

Grown and Flown paperback

22. Keurig Mini

At 5″ wide, this Keurig is just the right size for a dorm room and comes in black, silver, rose or a pretty mint color. Pair it with a couple of mugs that remind them of home.

Keurig mini

23. First Aid Kit

This bag has all the basics and more! But you can also assemble your own bag with a few first aid items – bandaids, antibiotic ointment, thermometer – and the pain reliever your teen is accustomed to taking. Add some cold and flu meds and your freshman will have the basics.

first aid kit

24. Command Large Utility Hook

Inexpensive, incredibly strong and truly useful, these command strips are favorite dorm essentials.

command hooks

25. Hand Tool Set with Tool Box Storage Case

A tool set is something that every teen will eventually need, especially once they move off campus into an apartment.

Apollo Tool Set

26. LED Desk Lamp

This lamp has a charging USB port on the base and can be dimmed when your teen is up studying when their roommate is asleep. This model is equipped with a wireless charging port.

27. Over Door Organizer Hooks

One thing that your student will need is a place to hang a wet towel, jacket or hats and this set of hooks is perfect for that.

pottery barn over the door hooks

28. Door Stopper

Use this for move in day and leave it behind so your new freshman can prop up their door to more easily meet their hallmates. This is a one of the smallest, least expensive dorm essentials.

door stopper

29. Clorox Wipes

College students may not do a great job cleaning, but we can make it easier by sending them with Clorox wipes and paper towels for small cleanups.

clorox wipes

30. Backpack

Is it time for your teen to replace their grimy high school backpack? Here are 8 of the most popular backpacks for teens and college students.

We think that the Herschel backpacks are pretty amazing and your teen will want to look through all the styles and colors offered. They can search for ones that are water resistant and have padded sleeves for backpacks, both great features. Check out the “collections,” too, to see everything from Hello Kitty to Major League Baseball with MUCH in between.

We love the Fjallraven laptop backpacks as well.

Fjallraven backpacks

A final note: Each college has different items that it will not allow (eg some colleges have restrictions around microwave ovens) and some colleges provide things like desk chairs and trash baskets, while others do not. We also urge close communication with roommates to avoid buying items that can be shared and, if desired, to coordinate decor. 

More to Read:

There are the 12 Things All Freshmen Need to Bring to College


If you're looking for more things you need to stock up your college student's dorm room, then you'll want this list of popular dorm room essentials your teen must have. These dorm must haves are the perfect addition to your college prep shopping list. #college #collegedorm #dormroom #dormideas #dormlife #collegeprep #teens #teen #collegeessentials

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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