Top 12 Dorm Room Essentials for Freshmen

Here are our top 12 things all freshmen need for their college dorm. (Shutterstock Dejan Dundjerski)

The good news is your teen is GOING to college. The bad news is your teen is LEAVING for college. To help them get ready for dorm life, 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 streamline your shopping, we’ve cut straight to the basics and listed only the 12 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.”

Besides, this is not 1992. Your student can easily order other furnishings and dorm decor after moving into their new space.

Three MUST-DO things before you shop

First, we recommend that you read 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.

Second is to gather as much insight as possible from their college’s website, typically 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, coffee maker.) Look for the floor plan of the actual dorm your teen is assigned to and make note of any dimensions provided. Pay special attention if the bed is lofted and, if so, how much space there is under the bed that can be used for storage.

Third, your teen will want to coordinate with their roommate if they’re planning compatible decor and/or want to share a mini-fridge or microwave as most dorms are too small to accommodate duplicate appliances. An area rug is also popular, but no need to get more than one.

12 dorm essentials to put on your list

Note: We are a reader-supported site and receive compensation from purchases made through some of these links. 

1. Twin XL Sheets: Mellanni TXL Sheet Set  (Amazon)

There’s 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 or, at least, a fitted sheet in that size. These highly-rated sheets are stain, shrink, fade, wrinkle, and pill-resistant and can withstand the dorm washer and dryers. Good Housekeeping gives these sheets top marks. $34.62 set of fitted and top sheet plus pillowcase. 

Expert Tip: While shopping for sheets, your teen might also want to get a comforter, duvet, or blanket if they don’t already have something to bring from home. Twin XL size will fit the best, but consider choosing a regular or Queen size to fit future, larger beds.

2. Bath Towels: Threshold Towels (Target)


The Target Threshold line of bath and bedding products are well-priced and are also available in many colors. This six-piece set of two each – bath towels, hand towels and washcloths – is a bargain at $24. 

3. Mattress Topper: ViscoSoft Select High-Density Mattress Topper (Amazon)


Help your student sleep like they’ve 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 teen and the old dorm mattress that’s typically provided. You can choose between 3″ or 4″ of gel-infused memory foam. The covers are washable and come with adjustable straps and slip-resistant mesh for a snug fit.

The quality construction and innovative design of this mattress topper helped Viscosoft become recognized as a highly-rated mattress topper brand by Consumer Reports and the New York Times Wirecutter product reviewers, too.

Limited Time Offer: Exclusive Grown and Flown Code for 20% Off ANY Select High Density Toppers on AMZ: GAF20VSSHD


ViscoSoft Dusk Mattress Topper Twin XL (Amazon)


If you’re interested in a lower price mattress topper from a trusted brand, ViscoSoft has just introduced a high quality topper with two features that make it more than a “basic piece of foam.” It comes with a machine washable cover and an anti-slip bottom so it won’t slide around on top of the college-supplied mattress. Available in 2″ and 3″ thickness.

Limited time offer: Exclusive Grown and Flown Code for 20% Off ANY Dusk Toppers on Amazon GAF20VSD


4. Beckham Hotel Collection Bed Pillow (Set of 2) (Amazon)

This is another item that your teen can bring from home. However, if buying a new one, consider this highly-rated down alternative pillow which is number one in the bed pillow category on Amazon and the best value pick on Good Housekeeping. They are machine-washable which is a big plus when living in dusty dorm rooms.


Expert Tip: Two pillows can make the bed much more comfortable as most dorm beds do not have headboards to lean on. Another excellent option for back support is this faux shearling bed rest pillow at Target or this one by ComfortSpa at Amazon.

5. Laundry Bag: Azhido Backpack Laundry Bag (Amazon)

backpack laundry bag 2023

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.

This backpack laundry bag is a great dorm essential that will work for most students. It has padded straps and is adjustable to accommodate regular and extra bulky loads. Available in loads of colors, it is made from durable Oxford cloth and can also be used as a travel or storage bag.


6. Shower Caddy (Amazon)


Students who make the trek down the hall with shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, soap dish, soap, deodorant, and a towel need to bring a shower caddy to college. 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.

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 bath wrap or terrycloth robe will help with drying off as they walk back to their room. 

7. Shower Shoes: Havianas Top Flip Flops (Amazon)


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 and these water-proof flip flops have slip-resistant rubber soles. Available in many colors.

8. Storage Solutions: IRIS Weathertight Storage Bins (Amazon)


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. Before buying, find out as much as you can about the room to maximize this precious space.

9. Surge Protector: TrickleStar Surge Protector (Amazon)


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. t

This TrickleStar surge protector is highly rated, has 12 power outlets and two USB ports, an eight foot power cord and a 10 year warranty. 

10. Water Bottle: Hydro Flask Water Bottle (Amazon)


Hydro Flask bottles are our favorites, and they’re 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.

11. First Aid Kit: Johnson & Johnson First Aid Kit (Amazon)

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.

12. Move-In Bag (The Container Store)

The Container Store

Packing up for college and moving into the dorm can be made much easier with a light-weight, durable bag like this one. Bonus is that it has straps so it can be worn as a backpack and it’s foldable and easily stashed in your student’s room to be used for moving out.

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.

School Supplies

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 often have printing facilities, so students don’t need their printers and paper.

Dorm Cooking

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.

The Container Store offers special promotions, sweepstakes and savings when you text 28222 and/or by providing your email address. Learn more here.

Target Circle members can unlock savings when shopping. Here are some of our favorite dorm items at Target.

Amazon Prime Days are July 16-17, 2024 and you can find amazing savings when you shop then. Here is where you can find all the Grown and Flown dorm picks on Amazon.

Why You Can Trust Us

I have dorm and apartment shopped with my own two kids and nephew and have also learned from thousands of other families (actually 290,000 members!) in the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group. Our parent members compare notes about what things their college students cannot live without and which things stayed in their boxes, collecting dust under the bed.

We also research consumer guides such as Consumer Reports, The New York Times Wirecutter, Good Housekeep among others to learn about the top brands for students.

We feel strongly that it is a big mistake to overbuy for your teen for their dorm but know that, as parents, we want to make sure we’ve done all we can to help them settle into dorm live, especially since we will not be nearby to help!

Other Great Reads for Dorm Shopping

Dorm Decor: Cute New Ideas

32 Bestselling Dorm Essentials

About Mary Dell Harrington

Mary Dell is the co-founder of Grown and Flown, the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. She started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and is co-author of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

Read more posts by Mary Dell

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