Unless they’ve already been away to boarding school, everyone worries about their first college packing list. It’s normal. You don’t know what to expect. On the bright side, millions of other people have gone through the same thing — and we’re here to help.
Narrowing Down What to Bring to College
You don’t need to (and, practically speaking, can’t) bring your whole life with you. Instead, start with your basic needs and work outward from there. Once you’ve got the must-haves fulfilled, you can start checking off nice-to-haves.
But there are a few things almost every freshman does need, so we’re going to address them as the 6 Big Essentials:
- Dorm Room Essentials
- Bathroom Essentials
- Clothing and Storage
- Cleaning Supplies
- Food and Cooking Essentials
- Class Essentials (AKA school supplies)
An Almost Comprehensive College Checklist
1) Dorm Essentials
Every college supply list starts with bedding:
- Twin XL sheets (sometimes full sheets)
- Mattress topper
- Pillows with pillowcases
- Comforter, quilt, or duvet (your preference)
- Throw blanket
- Mattress cover (optional)
- Extension cords and power strips
- Organization and storage: bins/containers, desk organizer and pen/pencil cup, desk shelves or standing corner shelving, a small table
- Garbage pail + trash bags
- Full-length mirror
- Lighting: bedside clamp light, a desk or floor lamp, or maybe some string lights for decor
- Comfy chair
- Clock, speaker, fan, tissue box, etc. (These are personal choices; things like these may or may not be necessities.)
- Decor: posters, pictures, plants, drapes, knick-knacks (This is where you begin to make your college dorm room homier. It’s absolutely a necessity, although to what degree is up to you. Just don’t forget the removable adhesives to hang your stuff with!)
2) Bathroom Essentials
All your potential toiletries, in the broadest sense imaginable:
- Soap: hand and body soap
- Haircare products, including shampoo, conditioner, brushes, flat irons, hairdryers, etc.
- Oral care
- Razors and shaving cream
- Tweezers and nail clippers
- Lotion and skincare
- First aid kit
- Supplements and medications
- Feminine hygiene products
- Towels: body and face/hand towels; washcloths optional
- Shower Caddy
- Shower Shoes
- Bath Robe
If you have a private or semi-private bathroom, you can skip the shower shoes if you give the shower a deep clean instead or put down a rubber shower mat, but a caddy is still useful. You’ll also need a few extras that community bathroom goers don’t have to worry about:
- Shower curtain + shower hooks
- Toilet paper
- Plush bath mat (So that the bathroom floor isn’t covered in puddles whenever someone gets out of the shower.)
3) What Clothes to Pack and How to Store Them
Now, we can’t tell you literally what clothes to bring to school. But college dorms aren’t known for their spacious walk-in closets. Bring what you like wearing the most, and keep in mind you’ve got to have everything you need to work and play.
- You should try to keep one-hit-wonders at home and leave out most overly bulky items (unless you’re dedicated to shrink bags). So a thick cold-weather coat is good, but packing every piece of outerwear you own is overkill (unless you own, like, two).
- On the other hand, you may not be planning on a semi-formal occasion, but they do happen, so you’ll want a few pieces you can dress up.
- Don’t forget pajamas, swimwear, socks, underwear, or headwear.
- Bring shoes that are durable, comfortable, and versatile. As a baseline, you’ll want:
- House shoes- something you’d be happy to wear every day
- Winter or rain boots
- Dressy- for a semi-formal or recruitment, interview, or presentation
Once you’re at school, you’ll need hangers for your clothes, plus you may want drawer/shelf liner for the clothes you’re going to fold and store. A useful trick is to keep the bulky or out-of-season or least worn clothes packed inside your suitcase to save room.
Finally, hanging closet organizers add extra space; there are different kinds of shoe shelves and racks to keep your kicks organized and not piled on the floor.
4) Cleaning Supplies
You’ll want some general items for your own living space:
- Broom + dustpan or lightweight vacuum
- Disinfecting wipes
- Paper towel or reusable towels
- Glass cleaner
- Laundry detergent
- Hamper and laundry basket
- Dryer sheets/fabric softener/stain remover
Aside from that, what you’ll need here depends on your living situation.
Areas that need deep cleaning are bathrooms and kitchens. You don’t have to clean up communal bathrooms or kitchens, but if you’re living in a house or apartment, for example, the kitchen and bathrooms are your shared responsibility. Have on hand:
- All-purpose cleaner
- Microfiber cloths
- Disinfecting wipes with a scrubber side
- Toilet cleaner + toilet brush
5) Food and Cooking
If you’re going with a full meal plan, you won’t need any cooking supplies. Get some snacks and drinks you can keep in your room. Everyone should have a drink tumbler and/or reusable water bottle, plus a couple of plastic cups, utensils, and paper plates.
Consult your campus rules/dorm room checklist to find out any restrictions or guidelines on:
- Microwaves and/or toaster ovens
- Rice cookers
- Coffee makers/electric kettles
- Mini refrigerator
If you will be cooking some meals, consider what you’ll make. Big on pasta? You will need a strainer. Do you just love to bake? Bring mixing bowls and your cake tins, but forget the pots and pans. Instead of bringing or buying everything possible, get what you’ll absolutely need.
With that in mind, here are some general suggestions:
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Dishware and silverware
- Dish soap and sponges + dish towel
- Microwave-safe containers
- 1 medium pot and 1 medium pan
- Baking sheets + aluminum foil
- Cutting Board
- Oven mitts/potholders
- Cooking Utensils: spatulas and mixing spoons, a large knife, tongs, can opener, bottle opener, etc.
- Storage containers and plastic storage bags
6) Essential School Supplies
- Laptop + external storage
- Pens + pencils + sharpener
- Notebooks + binder + loose-leaf paper + folders
- Push Pins + rubber bands + paper clips + binder clips
- Hole punch/3-hole punch
And of course, you’ll need to purchase your textbooks and other assigned reading, any required software or online access, and whatever other things are specified on your syllabi when you get them.
Consider what you need to get through school successfully: maybe it’s a highly detailed planner or giant calendar, index cards, sticky notes and sticky flags for books, a corkboard for reminders, or a whiteboard for studying.
Moving onto campus for the first time is never going to be a stress-free experience. But when you’ve got your college dorm essentials all squared away, it can be…well, a little less stressful.Packing List
Although we don’t know what your living situation will look like, dorm checklists and college apartment checklists are pretty similar in the end. Things only get more complicated if you’re living off-campus/out of student housing.
So, whether you’re moving into a community dorm, or a campus house or apartment, be sure to consult this list — at least for the gist of what you’ll need!