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. This topper has 3″ of memory foam and gets great reviews. There are other less-costly options and any topper will vastly improve the brick-like mattresses that colleges supply.

mattress topper

Here is where you can find a wide range of toppers at all different price points.

Sheet set 

These 400 thread count 100% cotton sheets are soft and durable and come in an array of great colors to coordinate with a comforter. They have gotten excellent reviews and are specifically recommended for college dorms.

twin XL sheets Pillow

Dorm rooms quickly become dusty messes and sleeping on a clean pillow can help your teen stay healthy. This one is down alternative, with a breathable fabric cover that blocks dust mites, allergens, pollen, and keeps stains from penetrating the pillow. Best of all, it’s machine washable.

anti-allergen 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 strong 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. These have tiny drainage holes so they do not soak up water and are slip proof.

flip slops


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.

If the laundry room is close to your teen’s dorm, this laundry hamper is lightweight and has handles for easy carry. Best of all? It collapses flat when not in use.

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

dorm bed tray

Back Rest Pillow

back rest pillow

Coffee Maker

coffee maker

Over the Door Hanger With Hooks 

door hooks


clothes steamer

Here are six steps to help you simplify the off to college shopping you want to do with your teen. We turned to Bed Bath & Beyond where we knew we could get EVERYTHING in one trip.

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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

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