College Shopping Guide: 6 Steps to Simplify Your Dorm Shopping Trip

Dorm shopping is a rite of passage for parents to help their teens prepare for college life. It requires much more planning than any previous back-to-school shopping trip that’s ever come before.

We’ve been down the dorm shopping road with our own five kids. We shopped with them as freshmen, then later as sophomores, when they moved into college apartments and then finally when they moved, again, into first apartments.

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Six Steps to College Shopping Sanity! 

Here are six steps to help you simplify the off-to-college shopping you want to do with your teen.

Dorm Basics

1. Dorm Discovery

Look on the website of your teen’s new college under “Residence Life” and find out as much as you can about the specific dorm room they will soon occupy. It is much better to learn all you can about their new space BEFORE you shop to avoid mistakes and the need to return items that were the wrong size or prohibited.

Here’s what you can find out on most college websites:

  • What furniture is included
  • What items are prohibited
  • Floor plan showing if the bed is lofted and, if so, how high
  • Location of the bathroom
  • Location of the laundry facilities

Once you have a better idea about how your teen’s dorm room is configured, you can simplify the shopping list to meet their needs and fit their living space.

2. Make the bed
There is a reason why everyone makes such a fuss over dorm beds – they will soon become THE space where your teen sleeps, studies, and hangs out. Making it a comfortable refuge is worth the effort and expense. Here are the pieces that go on the list:

Mattress topper
One of our kids said that he would give up his backpack before giving up his mattress topper. It was what made all the difference to him in getting a good night’s sleep. There are options at every price point and any topper will vastly improve the brick-like mattresses that colleges supply. This memory foam mattress topper gets top reviews.

memory foam mattress topper

Sheet set 
Look for sheets that are soft and durable and come in colors that coordinate with a comforter. Dorm rooms typically have beds that are Twin XL, which may be the only time you will shop for that size. Poppy & Fritz has adorable patterns from crisp blue and white stripe to avocados, llamas and more.

sheet selection

Pillow
Dorm rooms quickly become dusty messes and sleeping on a clean pillow can help your teen stay healthy. Nest pillows are the top rated ones and you can learn more about them here.

Nest pillow
3. Where’s the bathroom?
If the bathroom is down the hall, they will need a shower caddy to transport their toiletries. This mesh shower tote has pouches for all their shampoo, shaving and bath items and gets top reviews for durability.

shower caddy

Shower Shoes 
Regardless of how near or far the bathroom is, your teen will need a pair of shower slides or flip-flops  to wear when they shower. We are big fans of Havaianas flip flops and love the range of styles offered.

Havaianas flip flops

Towels:
We are partial to these Wamsutta towels that are available in over four dozen gorgeous colors and can be monogrammed. With their initials sewn in, your teen is much less likely to misplace or switch their towels by accident in the communal laundry room.

monogrammed towels

4. Laundry
The number one thing to know before buying a hamper is how far away the facilities are. For one of our teens it was across the quad making the choice of an easy-to-carry and durable hamper a must.

laundry hamper

5. Storage and organization
Help your teen create a system to organize their clothes, toiletries, shoes, extra sheets, towels and “stuff.” If you’ve found the dimensions of the furniture on the college website, this will be much easier to do than if you have to guess. Take a tape measure when you shop for under bed storage and plan this real estate space together to maximize every square inch.

6. Electronics
Most students have at least a phone and laptop and many will have other electronics or appliances like a blow dryer or coffee maker. All dorm rooms are short on outlets.

Surge Protector
A surge protector, NOT just an extension cord, is what most dorms will require for extra power. This one comes with two USB ports and a six foot cord, a feature your teen will appreciate when they want to charge their phone near their bed and the outlet is on the opposite wall.

surge protector

Desk Lamp
Some colleges supply a lamp or a desk with built-in desk lighting but, if your teen needs one, this lamp is has multiple brightness levels and a USB charging port to keep their phone fully charge while they are studying.

Tao Tronics desk lamp

Dorm Extras

Bedside Shelf

bedside shelf

Back Rest Pillow

back rest pillow

Coffee Maker
coffee maker

Over the Door Hanger With Hooks 

door hooks

Steamer

clothes steamer

You Might Also Be Interested In:

The Grown & Flown book is available NOW with our best tips for college shopping, move in and …preparing to say goodbye.

Grown and Flown book

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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