Dorm Room Shopping: 50 Questions to Answer First

Stop. Slide that credit card into your wallet and set down that dorm room shopping laundry list. Yes, you are facing the mother of all back-to-school shops. And, yes, your freshman needs a million expensive things.

But before you wander through the endless (and, we promise you, they are endless) aisles of plastic under-bed storage containers, laundry baskets, and Twin XL sheets, look at these 50 questions.

Then, fix a snack for your off-to-college teen, sit down, and try to tackle these together. Open your laptop and drill down to the “Student Housing” section on the college website to see what you can discover. Look for the dorm your teen has been assigned to and take note of the room dimensions and any specifics provided.

One warning, as you go through these questions, the college will begin to seem very, very real.

Note: We are a reader-supported site, and we receive compensation from purchases made through some of the links in this post. 

What should you buy for a college dorm room?

College Dorm Rooms and Storage

1. Are the room dimensions available on the college website for the specific dorm room to help you plan how to use the space?

2. How much hanging space is available in closets or wardrobes? Would a hanging clothes bar help optimize the closet?

3. How much floor space is in the closet, and will a shoe shelf be practical or fit?

4. Are the beds elevated or bunk, or traditional? Do you need bed risers to raise the bed to make room for storage space? These bed risers might be useful since they have 2 plugs and 2 USB ports. (Note: many beds are already elevated, so risers are unnecessary. Plus, if there are bunk beds, do not get risers!)

5. Are desks and desk chairs provided?

6. Does the dorm room come with a dresser?

7. Does the room have a lamp, trash can/recycling bin? Is there overhead lighting? Is a light by the bed something your student could use besides a desk lamp? The one has a USB port and wireless charging platform, too.

8. Is there a bookcase, or do you need a folding hutch for the top of the desk for book storage?

9. Will your student have roommates, and if so, how many? Will they coordinate on decor or share things like a TV, computer printer, and mini-fridge — perhaps with a compact fridge cart to sit it on? This cart is indestructible and is an efficient way to store non-perishable snacks and supplies like paper towels, silverware, plates, and bowls.

10. How cold/drafty are the rooms, and how much extra bedding is needed for the winter?

11. Is there air conditioning, and if not, will it be hot, and what size and type of fan would work best? WOOZOO fans have become very popular.

12. How much room is there for under-bed storage drawers, or what size storage bins will fit best?

13. Is there any room for suitcases, or must they be returned home? Can you use duffel bags that can be slid under the bed?

Download our FREE Off-to-College Checklist here. 

14. How heavy a sleeper is your student? Does he have an alarm clock he depends upon, or will a cell phone alarm suffice?

15. Will your teen take valuables (passport, jewelry, money, credit cards, prescription drugs) from home that could require a small safe or lockbox?

16. Is your teen taking a pillow from home, or do you want to get them a new pillow?

17. Is the college mattress provided dirty and feels like a brick? Will your student sleep better on a mattress topper? There is a wide range at many price points and styles.

18. How many outlets does the room have, and what power/strips or surge protectors will be helpful? Many colleges prohibit regular extension cords. It is much safer to have a surge protector with a long power cord as plugs are often scarce and may be inconveniently positioned. (Make sure you check the outlets to see if they match your students needs – they one by Belkin has 2 AC Outlets, 2 USB-A Ports, and 1 USB-C Port plus has 4000 joules of protection.)

19. Does the weather turn cold early, so winter clothes go with your student in September, or will they have a chance to switch out shorts for a heavy coat during fall break?

Dorm Decor

20. What bits of home does your student want to take with them?

21. How much wall space does your student have, and will they decorate it?

22. Does the school allow decorations to be hammered or stuck on the wall? Are there any wall hangings that are outlawed?

23. Do the windows have blinds, or must they be provided?

24 Is the floor carpeted, or would an area rug be practical/desirable?

25. What is the square footage of the floor for the best rug size?


26. Is your student in a suite of rooms with a shared bathroom, or is it down the hall or nearby?

27. Does your student need a robe or towel wrap for modesty when walking to the bathroom from her dorm room?

28. Can toiletries be stored in the bath on a cart or carried back and forth in a  shower caddy?

29. Where can a wet towel be hung to dry?

30. Does your student already have flip-flops that can be worn in the shower?

31. Are you sending towels from home or buying new ones?

32. Would adding a monogram to new towels keep them from getting lost in the laundry room?

Dorm Common Room

33. Would a coffee maker be permitted, or is it (or other) appliances forbidden? We LOVE this Keurig mini that is 5″ wide and comes in six colors.

34. Does the common room have furniture, or are students expected to provide it?

35. Will your student have siblings/out-of-town friends visiting, and do they need extra sheets and blankets?

36. What rentals, if any, does the campus provide, such as microwaves, water coolers, and mini refrigerators?

37. Are there kitchen facilities, and does your student need to bring pots, pans, plates, silverware, etc.?

Laundry and Cleaning

38. Will your student drop off her laundry and be given a bag for that?

39. If they do their laundry, how far away are the machines from their dorm room, and is it easier to carry a bag, get a bag that can be worn as a backpack, or use a basket with handles?

40. Is there a vacuum cleaner that can be borrowed on occasion?
41. What cleaning are students expected to do in their room, bathroom, kitchen, and/or standard room, and do they need their supplies?

Shopping: College Checklist

42. Is there a retailer where you can take advantage of college shopping discounts, either in person or online?

Target has a College Shop and Circle Week is 4/7-13 where there will be loads of deals for Circle members. 

Look for more deals later this spring. 

43. What are the relative costs of shipping or using the “buy here/deliver there” programs?

44. What box stores are closest to campus? Will you be able to shop there or pick up previously ordered supplies?

45. Is getting to a drug or campus store easy, or should your student bring extra toiletries?

46. Is a package delivery location close enough to receive packages, and can your student carry heavy ones back to their room?

47. Will the student have access to a car to buy additional items he might need during move-in?

48. What are your student’s electronic needs, and does his college offer discounts for computers purchased through the bookstore?

Move In Day

49. Is there an elevator or only stairs in the building?

50. Are you driving or flying with your student on the big day?

You Might Also Want to Read: 

12 Things All Freshmen Need for College

10 Packing Hacks for Your College Freshman 

About Lisa Endlich Heffernan

Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan 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. Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author.
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.

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