The summer before college is one of the most exciting yet SLOW times of your life. It’s time to get ready for school and start packing for college! Here is our recommended college packing list, from an experienced college packer. 😉
You’ll need lots of stuff for school but at the same time you have to pack as light as you can because you’re liking sharing your already very small dorm room with a roommate. Although this list is very long, it is basically everything I needed for college. You may find that you can do without a lot of it or that you want to add more – it’s up to you.
College Packing List: Everything You Need and Nothing You Don’t
Usually the college packing lists you see in stores like Bed Bath and Beyond are a good starting point but tend to not cover everything in detail or might add some items you don’t need just because they want to make more money. You can save a lot of money if you just bring the stuff you already have, and you probably have most of this at home (though you should probably buy your own for things like laundry and cleaning supplies instead of taking it from your house..).
I wrote this blog post a few years ago when I was an out-of-state college student who attended a public university in the South and majored in business entrepreneurship, just so you have my perspective (for example, I brought lots of business clothes but you may go for a very casual wardrobe. Keep the weather and climate of where you’re attending in mind too because you might need a lot more winter clothes and ways to keep warm. Also, if you’re in state you can bring more furniture and large appliances, otherwise I recommend buying most of what you get in town.)
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Kitchen Packing List – College dorm kitchen packing list
Reusable water bottle, like Nalgene bottles
I thought I would use this a lot but I ended up just using a big coffee mug in my room for water and not usually taking water to class, but you might want a reusable water bottle in your bag.
Useful for cereal, soup, dinner, and all sorts of things. Plastic is better than ceramic for breakability reasons. Just make sure it’s microwave safe like these cute ones from Ikea (So, NOT melamine).
Coffee cup / travel mug
I used my coffee mug all the time, mostly for water but sometimes for coffee. I also bought an insulated travel mug at the student stores so I could take out coffee from the dining hall and tote it around.
Get a metal version of at least one each of a fork, knife, and spoon, preferably a few each. You don’t need a lot, but washing and reusing metal utensils is better than constantly throwing out the plastic ones.
Just some kind of manual can opener if you plan on bringing any cans of soup, etc, to school.
You can either buy chip clips, or use rubber bands or twisty ties or those clippy balloon weights.
Room Needs / Storage Packing List – Packing list for general college dorm items
If you’re lofting your bed, this is a must so you have somewhere to put your cell phone (or mini alarm clock – don’t just put an alarm clock on your desk way out of reach, do both), books, flashlight, tissues, chapstick, and whatever else you might use. If you loft your bed you’re going to get tired of getting in and out of it by means of a ladder so it’s a good idea to have storage next to your bed.
Bookcase/shelving if your dorm doesn’t have it (buy in your college town)
Mirror (buy in your college town)
Small ones are ok but if you have the room for it a full length mirror is invaluable.
Your dorm room will probably come with some kind of desk chair but you may want a comfy chair or your own office chair. I got one of those sphere chairs and put it under my lofted bed along with a shelf for food and kitchen stuff and a side table.
Optional if you want to decorate your room or if you want a desk lamp. Usually multi-bulb lights are not allowed in dorms.
Kept it in my bedside caddy and was very useful for crawling in and out of a lofted bed when the room lights are off and you don’t want to disturb your roommate, power outages, walking around campus at night, etc
If you’re bringing any jewelry to college you can store it and keep it out of easy access with some kind of container. I had a little tray for some cuffs and earrings on the shared dresser and hung necklaces inside my closet with a whole section of mini Command hooks.
Only if you’re keeping your bed on the ground.
If you’re keeping your bed on the ground and want more room for under bed storage.
Not really necessary if your dorm has air conditioning, but in some older schools there are dorms with no A/C.
For hanging things without causing damage!
Dry erase wall calendar/board
Electronics Packing List – Everything electrical and technical you need for college
You can use the alarm clock on your cell phone, but there is something to be said for having multiple alarms and you get the benefit of a clock in the room. Personally, I used a cell phone alarm and lofted my bed and then had an alarm clock on my desk, so I was forced to get down out of bed in order to turn off my desk alarm. Guaranteed way to wake up.
If you don’t have a camera or a reliable cell phone camera, seriously consider asking for a camera for high school graduation, or you’ll regret not taking enough pictures of all your years at college when you get older if you don’t. Also, unless you break it or you want to upgrade to something fancier, a good digital camera is something that could last a long time and is a worthy investment.
Laptop and case
Laptops are very important at college. Sure you can use computers at the library, but you need a reliable laptop that you can size your own files onto and do research, write papers, etc. Most assignments are also done or turned in online. Strongly recommend against a desktop. I never got a case because I had a hardy Dell laptop but if you have something like an Apple computer, PROTECT IT. I now have a Macbook Pro with a case and a keyboard cover and it’s so much better than a PC. 🙂
Ethernet cord / wifi adapter
Colleges usually have included wifi but it usually sucks so you might want to at least get an ethernet cord on the cheap end to plug into the wall directly for the fastest speeds, or set up your own wifi for something pricier.
You should get headphones or earbuds in case you have to watch a video for class or something and don’t want to disturb everyone else. If you live in a dorm, I wouldn’t recommend playing videos or music out loud. Use earbuds. 🙂
Get a power squid or pyramid or whatever shape you want and then you can protect your electronics and plug in lots of things while only using up one electrical outlet. A must-have in a shared dorm room with limited electric outlets.
You probably already have a cell phone, but if not, you really do need one. Dorm rooms don’t have phones. Preferably a smart phone with unlimited talk and text and some data. To save on data, make sure you connect your phone to the school’s wifi as soon as you can and use that instead of data. Also be sure to keep some music on here with iTunes or Spotify or whatever for enjoyment.
Linens / Laundry Supplies Packing List – The section of stuff you’ll never use 🙂
Sheets and pillowcases (2 sets)
I’ll be honest and confess that I never once washed my sheets or comforter my freshman year of college (my bed was lofted! And how many washers would they take up?), so changing to a fresh set of sheets after a whole semester was.. better than nothing.
2-3 each of bath, hand, and face (or washcloth)
I got one really nice memory foam pillow to sleep on and another cheaper fluffy pillow to put underneath so I was more propped up. Plus you’ll have a pillow case from the sheet set and the comforter set so you might as well get two (or more!).
You may be tempted to go on the cheaper end and get one of those egg crate foam mattress toppers, but stop right there! Your mattress topper is the single most important dorm room investment you can make all year. College mattresses suck; they are basically like sleeping on a plywood box if you don’t put anything on top of them. I spent around $200 on my mattress topper (prices have gone down since) and I regret nothing because of all the items in your room (besides maybe your laptop) this is what you are going to use the most (to sleep!) and it affects you more than you think. If you are sleeping poorly because your back hurts or the bed is hard, etc, you’re going to wake up for class in a bad mood or just not get as much sleep as you should. Also, a good mattress topper can be used for many, many years unlike the eggcrate toppers that last maybe one year. Just check to see if your college has long or extra long twin beds so you get the right size.
I had one fuzzy blanket to stay on my bed and one just for staying warm and throwing on my chair or walking around in. You will definitely find that having an extra throw blanket is awesome, especially in the winter.
It doesn’t have to be great but it should be decently warm and something that you are ok with the whole world seeing on your bed and possibly using as the couch.
Get more than you think you need. Also, these take up a LOT of space so it’s something you should buy once you get to school rather than ahead of time.
I used two white and black cheapy mesh stand up baskets and by the end of the year they were in shreds. Bags or laundry backpacks are better for college when you have to walk quit a ways to your laundry room. If you have stairs, don’t get a plastic bin or anything with wheels. Anything fabric will also inevitably get dirty.
Use some kind of Sharpie or waterproof pen to write your name on all your clothes so if they get lost or taken out of the washing machine by someone else, you’ll know they belong to you.
Because stains happen.
Those rollers with sticky sheets work well for both clothes and clearing off the wads of hair and fuzz that will absolutely accumulate on your rug and bedding. You can also use tape wrapped around your hand, but it’s probably not cost effective.
I got a little sewing kit for like five bucks at Bed Bath and Beyond, thinking I would never use it, but I actually ended up using it many, many times to sew buttons back onto dress pants for networking events and such at the business school, hemming some pants, fixing various shirts that got ruined in the washing machines, using the measuring tape for measuring things, and using the safety pins for all sorts of things (and disasters).
Toiletries / Miscellaneous Packing List
Allergy medicine: Claritin or Benadryl or other anti-histamine
Nail polish and remover
Hair bands/scrunchies/bobby pins/clips
Makeup / lip balm
Mints / gum
For handwashing your dishes, unless you plan to use all paper
Perfume / body spray
Because sometimes you just don’t have time for showers. Or you just want to smell nice. Or there’s 97% humidity and you’re really sweaty.
I got sick a few times my freshman year of college and I went through a lot, a lot of cough drops. Especially during big lectures when you don’t want to cough or you just have a sore throat.
Shower flip flops
You don’t know what’s been in that dorm shower. Wear flip flops. They’re cheap.
Shampoo & conditioner
Bath and face soap
Get plastic, not fabric. College showers are full of gross things and even a plastic shower caddy will inevitably start growing mold and mildew just because it’s going to constantly be wet. At least get something that you can wipe down and clean easily. I put my shower supplies and toothbrush, etc in this caddy (aka things that could get wet without a problem) and left other bathroom supplies like hairbrushes and makeup safely in dry drawers.
Toothpaste and toothbrush
Hair dryer/straightener/curling iron
I brought a hair dryer to school and I think I used it one time in a year. On the other hand, I also brought a curling iron that I used primarily to straighten my hair (and curl it for a few special occasions) and used it at least a couple times a week. Whatever your current hair routine is, just bring the supplies necessary for that and not extra things (and expect yourself to probably get lazier about it too).
Lotion and/or facial moisturizer
Office / Desk Supplies Packing List – Office supplies for your dorm room
I got a Targus backpack because it seemed pretty heavy duty, had comfortable shoulder straps (important), and had a separate pocket to protect your laptop, which I almost guarantee you will bring to class at some point. If you want to look stylish you can go for some kind of oversized bag or tote but your shoulders (or more likely, one shoulder) are going to hate you for it.
Graphing / scientific calculator
If you’re really organized go for the binders, or do what I did and get a couple of those notebooks that are split into a few different subjects and have pocket dividers. Takes up much less space and if your classes are only a quarter or semester long you really don’t need as much paper as you think for taking notes. Especially if you take notes on a laptop.
Photos and picture frames
To remember everyone from back home and to decorate your room.
Bins and boxes for holding papers
I just used a few folders for organizing papers from past classes. If you already have notebooks or binders you probably don’t need much here.
For some reason I went through several rolls of scotch tape during my first year of college. It’s pretty useful.
3 Hole punch
You may get an agenda during your school’s orientation, but otherwise buy your own and stay on top of things.
Heavy-duty stapler and staples
Pens and pencils, blue, black, red / Sharpies
Pencil holder and sharpener
Get a bajillion of these and cut them in half if possible so you can make lots of flash cards. Useful for art history classes.
These can be infinitely useful.
Just throw a few in with your school supplies, though you’ll probably never use them.
Highlighter pens (multiple colors)
Really only used this for drawing graphs in a microeconomics course. It’s nice to have one around though just in case you need it and it doesn’t take up much space.
Clothing Packing List
I thought I would end up living in my fluffy robe but I ended up living in my zebra blanket instead and just dragging it around even though it was too long. Personal preference.
10-20 pairs of underwear
10-20 pairs of socks
5-10 pairs of pants/jeans
2+ sweatpants/yoga pants
Pajamas (multiple sets)
5+ Sweaters/long-sleeve shirts
After sitting on a closet full of a dozen hoodies, zip-ups, and other weird jackets from middle school and high school that I ended up never wearing, I finally got two peacoats (one grey and one black so I could get away with wearing them almost everyday in fall and winter, and made of machine washable cotton, not wool) and a thick, waterproof Northface jacket. And those three coats were all I needed.
I only wore gloves a few times but if you’re going to a college that gets a lot of snow, you need these. I also only wore a knitted hat a few times but the same rule applies. On the other hand, I accumulated several scarves while at college and wore them every single day in the fall and winter. I recommend getting the Pashmina style scarves (you can get polyester or cotton versions for about $10-20) because knitted scarves usually shed fibers everywhere.
1 pair of boots
I would definitely recommend a pair of waterproof boots (not necessarily rainboots, but those would be useful too) for fall and winter, especially when it gets rainy and snowy. I found ones made out of vinyl rather than leather so they were naturally cruelty-free and waterproof, but the only downside is they have somewhat of a heel and flat boots are definitely easier to walk in. I just couldn’t find any flat ones. Go for riding boots rather than cowboy boots, in terms of the style.
I wore running shoes most of the time just because they had more padding than any of my other shoes and were more comfortable for walking the few miles a day I walked between classes and around campus.
1 pair of dress shoes
1+ sets of business attire
I probably have at least three dress shirts, a few pencil skirts, a few pairs of slacks, and several blazers of varying colors and sleeve lengths at school, but I’m a business major so it makes sense. If you don’t expect to be going to a lot of networking events or interviews, one dress shirt and one black pencil skirt or pair of slacks is perfect.
1 set of semi-formal attire
You might think that you’re going to spend your college days in t-shirts and yoga pants, but at some point you’ll probably have a reason to dress up a little bit. Bring at least one fancy blouse and some bottom to go with it just in case. Also, on this note, coming from someone in a sorority, if you’re planning on rushing Greek life you should come to college prepared for recruitment and the subsequent sorority events with some nice dresses (solid black dress, solid white dress, a few sun dresses, and a few nice tops. And a few pairs of heels and sandals to match).
Cleaning Supplies / Miscellaneous Packing List
Get the room refresher and the fabric refresher. Actually, get lots of lots of the fabric refresher. Not like I sprayed it on my clothes instead of doing laundry or anything… And from my personal experience, these are pretty much interchangeable. I recommend getting the fabric spray so it’s safe for clothes and you can use it as air freshener too!
Glasses / contacts / case / cleaner
Collaborate with your roommate on this one. 5′ by 7′ is a good size to cover a decent amount of the room without getting in the way of furniture.
Decorate your room with classic college posters! Or just print out cool stuff online from sites like Pinterest.
Trash bags / trash can
You don’t necessarily need trash bags if you just go shopping enough and get plastic bags from stores, but you do need a decent-sized trash can. And get one in solid plastic, none of that meshy stuff that can only hold paper. This is your trash can for everything. It should be able to hold anything.
All-purpose cleaner / Windex / Lysol / wipes
Mostly for cleaning your room at the beginning and end of the year, or maybe during the year if you’re clean like that.
Even though I went to school with like ten boxes of Kleenex, I probably only went through one or two boxes because your dorm’s bathroom will have toilet paper and if you have paper towels also, you really won’t use tissues that often.
Phew, that’s a long list! Feel free to print out this page and check things off as you go or copy and paste it into a Word doc like I did and use the “strike through” text style to digitally cross things off. 🙂