College Dorm Checklist: All The Essentials!

Nikki's Freshman Dorm

I have had many requests for a good solid checklist for sending your kids off to college.  So, I turned to my daughter Nikki to make a list.  And that she did. So without further ado, here is a complete dorm checklist from the eyes of a college junior.

College Dorm Checklist:
What to Bring for Your College Dorm Room

by Nikki Livesey

Leaving for college can be a stressful yet exciting time for students as well as parents; saying good-bye to home and going off to start a new life, in a new place, with all new people. For incoming freshmen, knowing what to bring to create a comfortable living environment at school can be a whole challenge in itself. I know that every new student wonders, “How can I possibly fit ALL of my stuff in this small 12’x15’ room while sharing it with a total stranger?” Well, I am here to tell you that it’s not that difficult, and fitting all of the puzzle pieces into place is half the fun. Here is a little guide to help parents as well as students know what the essentials are for a college dorm room and how to make it all fit comfortably.

1. Bedding

  • Comforter: A good sturdy comforter is a must. This thing will not only be used as a blanket to sleep under, but also as a couch for guests to sit on, a table cloth to eat off of, and a study spot to spread your text books over. Having a comforter that can with-stand all that college living has to offer is crucial. I would recommend staying away from white, or any other very light colors because when you spill a whole bowl of Ramen Noodles on your bed (as I have) you’ll be glad you bought the navy blue instead of ivory bedspread.
  • Sheets & Padding: Also invest in two sets of sheets. When you do have a spill, you’ll be able to recover quickly and not have to walk all the way to the laundry room right away. You also definitely want to invest in a foam egg crate and a mattress pad. These make your bed much comfier than it is, which you will appreciate later. Also, don’t forget to buy twin XL bedding. If you get twin then it probably won’t be long enough because most college bed are oversized.
  • Pillows: Get a comfy pillow, or even two! You’ll be glad you did when you hit the sack after writing a paper until 4 AM. Also consider getting a body pillow such as this one. They are great when you use your bed as a couch to watch TV and when you don’t want to roll over and hit your head against a cold concrete wall at night.

2. Desk

  • Draw Organizer: Most dorm rooms come with a standard desk, which is great! Organizing it is another story. This is basically where all you junk will wind up. Getting a drawer organizer may help some people.

3. Electronics

  • Laptop: Every college student needs a laptop. Don’t let anybody or a website tell you that you can just go to the library and use their computers and everything will be fine. This is just crazy. Yes, library computers can be very helpful if you have to do some spur of the moment research or need to print out a 25 page paper (twice), but every student needs to invest in their own personal laptop where they can save documents, write papers, do research, and even take notes during class.
  • Printer: A printer is a personal choice. I would recommend getting your own printer/scanner, but if you think you wouldn’t mind walking to the library every time you need to print, that’s fine too.
  • TV: A TV is also important. If you have certain television programs you have to watch then you definitely need a TV. Also, at college watching movies is a bi-weekly activity so getting a TV with a built in DVD player is a good idea.

4. Lighting

  • Lamp:You will definitely need a bedside lamp and/or a desk lamp. You most likely do not need a floor lamp. You will most likely have a ceiling light which will be more than enough to light the room.

5. Windows

  • Curtains: You do not need to buy these. Most dorm rooms do not even allow you to take down the existing curtains. If you know for a fact that your school does not provide curtains then find simple ones that are cheap because they’re probably going to get pretty dirty.

6. Organizing

  • Storage bins: Under bed storage is key. If you’re wondering where you’re going to fit all of your stuff, this is where. There are a few routes you can take with storing things under your bed: big bins, stackable drawers.  I would recommend stackable drawers. They take up the least amount of space, store things very neatly, and make it easy to access things when you need them. These also make great night stands. Also if you’re a girl, getting a small version of the stacking drawers is good for holding jewelry and make-up.

7. Closet

  • Shoe Organizer: Most dorms provide you with some sort of closet or armoire which has hanging space and a few drawers. There is also most likely a small chest of drawers provided. This is more than enough room to store the average person’s clothing.  If you can find a small shoe organizer either one that hangs or if you’re handy with a hammer you could always build a small two shelf shoe holder which you can stick in the bottom of your closet. Don’t forget to buy hangers to hang your clothes up.

8. Fan

  • YOU NEED A FAN. Whatever you do, buy a fan. It is a great investment. Everyone I have talked to says that freshman and even sophomore dorms do not have air conditioning. You will boil to death without a fan. I recommend one like this that rotates.

9. Alarm Clock

  • An alarm clock is essential. If you don’t wake up for class or practice then why are you at school?? Here is a good alarm clock that also doubles as iPod speakers which are great for listening to music in your room.

10. Bathroom/Towels

  • Towels: You will need anywhere from 2 to 4 towels. It just depends how many times you reuse your towel and how often you do your laundry. I think that 3 is more than enough. I recommend getting a towel that is a bit oversized. If you have a communal bathroom and your room isn’t right across the hall then having a bit more coverage will make those long walks back after a shower all the more comfortable. Here is a good set of two large towels, two hand towels, and two wash cloths.
  • Caddies: Also, you’ll need a shower caddy to hold all of your shower needs. These make it easier to carry your stuff to and from the shower.
  • Shower shoes: Don’t forget your shower shoes, flip-flops from Old Navy work perfectly.

11. Furniture

  • Seating: If you plan on bunking your beds or that your room is a bit oversized, then invest in a futon. These are great for friends to sit on and watch movies and for guests to sleep on when they come to visit. If you don’t have the money, or can’t fit a futon in your room then think about getting a chair like this one. They are super comfy for reading and watching TV.

12. Floors

  • Carpets: Most dorm rooms come with ugly linoleum tile floors. These get very dirty and gross throughout the year. Getting a carpet is good idea to keep your feet warm in the winter and to vacuum and keep clean. Find a carpet that fits the size of your room so it covers most of your floor. If you don’t want to spend as much money then buy a few small sized carpets and push them together. Don’t get white because as I’ve said before, they can get pretty gross.

13. Appliances

  • Refrigerator: If your school doesn’t automatically supply you with a refrigerator/freezer then you definitely need to buy one. This is a cool one with a dry erase board without a freezer. If you think you’ll need to be storing some frozen pizzas or hot pockets for late night snacks, then here is the style of one with a freezer. If you’re buying a fridge then you most likely will be eating food. If you want to be civil then think about buying a small set of plates, bowls, cups, and utensils so that you won’t be eating out of a can all the time.
  • Microwave: Some schools supply a micro-fridge, which is a microwave and fridge put together. These are awesome. If your school does not give you a microwave you will definitely need to buy one. How will you pop popcorn and heat up your Ramen Noodles without a microwave?
  • Vacuum: Buy a cheap vacuum. People will even ask to borrow yours after they realize how dirty their floor is and want to clean it but forgot to buy a vacuum. Even consider a Swiffer sweeper/vac, they work just as well.

14. Laundry

  • Clothing Care: Also look into a ironing board and iron. You can even find mini ones that fit in your room perfectly.
  • Laundry Basket: A hamper (I recommend the pop up type), that you can just carry to the laundry room is best.

15. Other

  • You will also need to buy some windex or other cleaning supplies, air freshener, extension cords, a surge protector, a waste basket, small over the door hooks or removable sticky hooks to hang your towel up or anything else really, a white board to keep your To-Dos organized or to hang on your door for friends to leave messages, an over the door long mirror if your school doesn’t have one already, and of course any posters, or other wall decorations that make you feel like you’re at home.

So, as you’re getting ready to head out for school and you’re wondering if you have everything you need, just remember that even if you forget something the bookstore will have stuff for you to buy throughout the year, or mom will send you packages with socks that you left at home. Don’t forget to bring your favorite stuffed animal, the blankie you’ve had since you were born, and all of your favorite snacks which you should store under your bed where your roommate can’t find them!

Have a great time moving in and don’t forget college is the most fun time of your life. ENJOY IT!

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  • Michelle

    That’s a great list filled with stuff I never would have thought about, thank you!

  • Jacquelne

    Having two college seniors, I was amazed at the accuracy of Nikki’s list. A few other suggestiions- buy all your school supplies before you go. School supplies are so much cheaper anywhere except the college bookstore. Chances are if you read this blog you have already done so. Paper towels are a must along with those mentioned cleaning supplies. Bring all the OTC meds and HBA stuff. If you can get a list of the texts you will need in advance, you will save a lot by ordering online instead of purchasing in the bookstore.

    • Cindy

      That is for sure. One set of books down and another set to go. The funny thing this year is I have been having better luck with buying the textbooks through Barnes & Nobles this year. Used of course. Prices have been far better then, where I have always gotten good deals before. Go figure. We’ll see how the second set of books pan out.

      And, my kids have already raided the stockpiles. I now have bags of groceries & HBA products sitting in piles along side bags of bedding, fans, microwaves, etc. You get the picture. 🙂

      • Even crazier? Most of my daughter’s books were cheaper at the school this term.

  • Anonymous

    wow, very impressive! at least, i won’t be wondering what is it, how it looks, and why is it needed :). this is surely very helpful. thanks a lot to you and nikki, GOOD JOB!


  • Just a note about lighting, most colleges will not allow you to have lights that use Halogen bulbs (fire hazzard, because they get so hot). Why retailers continue to sell those small lamps with halogen bulbs, marketed as “back to school” I dont know?

    And a note on printers. BUY ONE! When the line to print your finals is around the block, you’ll be glad you bought one. I once had a professor who said he would not accept a final paper, even one minute late. Several students came in 5 minutes or less late (because the printers at the library were backed up) and he tore their papers in half. Printers are cheap now, just buy one, you’ll be glad you did 🙂

    • Tom

      I graduated in 2007 from Rowan. I had my own printer, but rarely used it. I figured why spend money on ink and paper when I could use the school’s for free. I never had a problem and if you go early in the morning or late at night you usually don’t have a problem with lines waiting to print. Of course, that is if you don’t procrastinate, which I never did.

      • C

        I lived in a dorm as recently as 2005. I definitely recommend having your own computer. I don’t agree that it has to be a laptop or that it has to be new. I did just fine with a desktop computer “the beast” from my Dad’s house for my entire freshman year of college. That saved me a lot of money I truly didn’t have to spend on a computer at the time. I would recommend some type of securing device for a laptop as well, (I guarantee no one could have had a speedy getaway in the dorm for “the beast”) and I second the library printing options.

  • Cheryl

    Thanks for such a great list. My daughter is a freshman this year and I’ve managed to get almost everything listed. I questioned if she’d need everything I purchased. This list confirms it. I didn’t think about the desk drawer organizer, so thank you again for sharing your ideas.

  • Great post Nikki!

  • Christina

    My name is Christina and I am going to be a junior in college this upcoming semester. I have read this list and agree with Nikki almost completely. However there are a few things I would like to suggest as well.

    As Nikki said, choosing to buy these items is a personal choice….however if you are a procrastinator(like me) you will find that the idea of using the library’s computers is absolutely RIDICULUS….these places CLOSE and then what are you supposed to do? So before choosing to save money by skipping the laptop/printer PLEASE look ask yourself honestly….are you going to finish your 25 page paper before the library closes? (side note: my school charges $0.10 per sheet you print)

    In addition to all of Nikki’s great suggestions, I would also like to suggest a robe. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have dropped something and must bend over to pick it up you do not want to find that you have lost your towel in the process.

    Microwave: Make ABSOLUTELY SURE you buy a 700w, most microwaves are higher wattages and almost EVERY college requires a 700W

    Vacuum: Although having a vacuum is convenient (I will admit I have one) they can take up precious space even it is a small vacuum. Also, if you are looking to save a few dollars ask your front desk if they rent them….Most dorms have 3 or 4 and will loan them to you as long as you are willing to allow them to hold onto your student ID as ransom.

    • Cindy

      Good stuff Christina. I especially like the tip on the borrowing the vacuum.

  • Christina

    A few after thoughts:

    Two more things to share in regards to laptops….Check with your school to see what types of computers are supported. My school only supports Macs. I’m not entirely sure what they mean by “supported” but I can tell you that I have a Dell and everything is so much more complicated because it is not supported. ALSO, if you know you will be very homesick having a laptop is great for face to face conversations with the Fam via Skype or something similar.

    Moving away from home is hard for alot of students, especially if the family is very close. My Aunt did something that made me feel so much better about this. For the entire first semester she sent me all kinds of cards and letters. Some were simple “thinking of you’s” others were letters about birthday parties and family outings I had missed, along with copies of pictures for me to hang on my walls. Even though these things can be sent through email, there is something so much more special about getting a real letter….They always made me feel alot less homesick, even though I cried a little because I missed everyone. Knowing that your family is thinking of you makes it less sad that you are missing out on things at home.

    Also, alot of schools offer special welcome boxes and holiday boxes that parents can send to students….While these are awsome they can be expensive and the stuff is very generic, so instead I suggest creating your own. Fill it with goodies that you know your student will love(bought on sale of course :)) Make sure to always include a special note of love and encouragement. Pack light things so that shipping isnt a bear.

    Alot of students dont go away to college but instead stay home and go to community college…make sure to make them feel special as well. My cousin decided to go to a community college her first 2 years of school and moved in with my grandma, she shared with me that she felt like she was missing out. So I decided to make her a welcome box that I left on her bed….she came home after her first day of school to find it waiting for her, and it just made all the difference.

    Its the little things my family did for me that I remember the most. I still have all the letters and cards from my family and I hang them up on my walls at school each year.

  • Katherine

    Reading this brings back many memories of college =)

    Just wanted to make some suggestions for those going to college far from home. In many cases, its actually easier (and possibly cheaper) to just order things online and have it delivered to your dorm. I went to college with just one suitcase of essentials and everything else was ordered online. I bought things as I needed them to avoid wasting money on items I would never use. Sites such as Amazon were great – I would order everything from books to ramen and they would be delivered to my building.

    I would caution against buying big, heavy items for those unable to bring their items back home in the summer. Many universities have these items for rent. For example, I had a small refrigerator freshman year and discovered that the storage fee for it was the same price of the fridge. I ended up donating the fridge and just rented one every year instead. At the end of every year, I would see piles of refrigerators by the dumpsters…such a waste.

  • As a recent college grad who lived in dorms for 4 years. I second the idea that a bath robe is a MUST considering the relative low cost. I also suggest white towels so they can be bleached or color towels that can be bleached. Towels are what is most likely to get germ-y. A sturdy hamper or laundry bag is key. I still use the one my college gave me.

    I think a TV is optional because of the availability of online shows and being able to watch dvds on your computer and you probably only need one per room so check with your roommate. Also make sure you have all the cords you need for cable and internet and make sure they are long enough to wrap around the room if necessary (campus stores run out of these quickly in my experience).

  • jill

    Wow, so helpful. Thanks Cindy. Now I am really wishing there was a”print” button for this post 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Most people remember the hot pot, but don’t forget the colander, available at any dollar store, for those impromptu mac and cheese nights. I put together a gift basket ( in a laundry basket) for all graduating relatives in my family and never forget to include it. Out of all the things they never thought they needed, this is the one that gets the most kudos

  • Lynne

    A colander, available at most dollar stores, is a staple. I include it in my gradutation basket(placed in a laundry basket) that all my relatives got. Most people know to bring the hot pot for mac and cheese but how do u drain the noodles? Rolls of quarters are a nice gift for graduates with a few bottles of laundrey detergent and softener.

  • trish

    omg – when i was in school i could never put anything under the bed. we used to have those creepy crawler bugs on the floors from time to time!! eewww! a small rug does come in handy. and a small coffee maker!!! we used to eat out of tupperware bowls too. you know what else is great, those bins that offices put on walls to hold papers – they can be magnetic now as well. they are great for hot cocoa packets, coffee, tea bags, sugar etc.

  • Laura

    This is the best list I have ever seen! The vacuum is a GENIUS suggestion. My daughter is going into high school this year, but I am saving this list, because I know college is right around the corner! Thank you!

  • Frances

    This list is pretty accurate, my daughter is starting grad school in a few weeks and we purchased way to many things her first undergrad year. Every year she would leave more and more stuff behind, only taking the bare essentials.
    Thanks Nikki

  • There are some cool websites where you can buy used textbooks if you are able to get a list of texts ahead of time. One of these websites I love for used books is which was purchased several years ago by ebay. It’s also a great place to make a little spare money for college expenses too if you have old video games, books, CDs or DVDs laying around that you haven’t used in a year or more.

  • Julie

    Another great idea is to purchase your things from and choose the “ship to store” option (free shipping). Choose the Walmart store at your destination and it will be ready for you to pick up!

  • Ashley

    This list was very helpful! I’m going to college in about a month. Most lists I’ve found were full of a bunch of stuff I knew I would never really need or just no-brainers. This had some things I never would have thought of, but definitely will need! I think it helps that it was written by someone actually in college, not just some random person who graduated a long time ago. Thank you very much!

    I’m bookmarking this!