Dorm Essentials Hand-Picked by College Students

As a parent, seeing your kids go off to college is an emotional milestone. It honestly doesn't feel like it was that long ago that I was the one full of excitement and nerves headed off to live in the dorms with a roommate I'd never met before! As a parent you're probably filled with a little nostalgia and a lot of worry! You want to make sure they have everything they need to thrive before starting this next chapter of their lives. I sat down with my daughter who is headed into her senior year of college, and made a list for her brother who is heading off to live in the freshman dorms. This is the comprehensive list of TRUE dorm essentials that you've been looking for!

dorm essentials list

Dorm Essentials Hand-Picked by College Students


I've created an easy shoppable dorm list over on Amazon. Everything is easily linked there and there are items that are listed that aren't listed in this post. If you have time to shop, keep checking back on occasion. You know Amazon, a few of the items tend to go on sale and you can snatch up a bargain when it does! And use this as a guide when shopping for deals. Some of my favorite stores to look for dorm supplies are Target, WalMart and thrift shops!

1. College Dorm Bedding

A comfortable bed is the foundation you need to help your students get refreshed and rested so they are focused on what they actually came to college for! All dorm beds that I know of are twin XL. Don't forget the XL! Regular twin sheets won't fit! You need at least one set of sheets. Two if you think they are actually going to wash them and want to make their bed while they are simultaneously doing laundry.

It feels excessive, but dorm mattresses are standard in the room. They may be fine or they may feel like a prison mattress! Consider getting a mattress topper for extra comfort and support. 

If your kiddo has a roommate, they may want to coordinate comforters so their room looks cohesive. Or not. It's a dorm room, not a magazine set! This is a great package set with a comforter and sheets all together

Every single parents message board I've been a part of has recommended a small fan for dorm rooms. Even for dorms with air conditioning. If your student has a shared space, the white noise can be helpful for sleep and it might help them be more comfortable when they have to negotiate on the perfect room temperature. 

Protip: Skip excessive amounts of pillows! Space in a dorm room is often at a premium and throw pillows take up space! 

Don't miss this: 10 Ways to Help Your College Student Survive and Thrive Freshman Year

2. Smart Dorm Storage Solutions

Dorm rooms are notoriously tight on space, but with some smart and strategic storage solutions, you can help your college student maximize their space. There will be furniture that is provided by the dorm that often can't be removed, so you will need to know what you are working with. One of the benefits of the pandemic is that there is a lot more information with virtual tours of everything, but especially of dorm rooms, online. Use those to your advantage!

Every dorm will be laid out differently. Some will want to maximize underbed storage, others will want to take advantage of lofted beds. Because it varies so much from dorm to dorm and school to school, here are a few of the storage items my kids have used and recommend for any dorm.

Storage cubes are great for staying organized. They can easily be tucked into or on top of any flat surfaces the dorm room has.

This storage cube doubles as a step stool or as an ottoman for extra seating. My daughter swore by this in her dorm room! 

Students can maximize closet space with hanging storage organizers like this shoe rack and this hanging organizer

This slim cart is great for holding school supplies on the side of a desk, for makeup and hygiene supplies or for organizing small food and pantry items. 

These drawer carts are great for extra storage for everything from clothing to school supplies. They are really sturdy and have lasted each of my kids throughout college and they often come home afterwards and I use them to organize my craft supplies! 

If your student has the room, this is a great storage essential that will help their dorm room look tidy, but will also take them through their undergrad days if they move into an apartment too. 

You'll need to do some measuring with this one, but if your child will have a microwave and refrigerator in their room, having a storage cabinet over it will be incredibly helpful. The fridge will likely need to be up against a wall and while you can buy a specifically made "over the dorm fridge storage thingie" they will charge you a premium! You might be able to get away with an over the toilet storage rack and save some money!

Protip: Don't forget hangers! These hangers also provide a space-saving solution!

college dorm essentails

3. Create a Dorm Study Space

You might be busy stocking up on essentials like sheets and towels, and completely overlook the whole reason that your child is moving go to school. Ask me how I know! Don't forget to help them create a well-equipped study space. Your child's dorm will likely come with a desk and a chair, so look into the schools housing website to see what you are working with. Here are some items that my college kids felt like helped them create a productive study space.

If your kiddo hasn't bought a laptop yet, it will likely be an essential item. My kids all bought MacBooks and it served them well in three very different majors all four years of college. Don't forget to check with the school though. They might be in a major that requires certain programs to be installed on their computer {think engineering and design} and those are only supported by a certain laptop or program. 

Your college student will need headphones. These wireless ones are what all my kids have. The important feature is to make sure they have noise cancelling. They are great for library visits or studying in noisy shared spaces like dorm rooms or even in common areas before class. 

Your child will likely do a lot of studying at their bed. This bedside storage organizer will be incredibly helpful to keep them organized. 

They are also going to have a lot of cords for things like laptop chargers and lamps, and these power strips are incredibly handy to have.

Don't forget a desk light! One with extra ports for charging is always helpful for all their devices.

Protip: This one item is something that's easy to overlook. Again, ask me how I know! Pack scissors for your college kid. They will be incredibly helpful on move in weekend, but also, your student is likely going to need them and they often get forgotten when thinking about school supplies. 

We Did Good. Saying Goodbye to Our College Freshman

4. Dorm Kitchen Essentials

Your student will likely have a meal plan. Most colleges require them for dorm residents. However, there will be times when your student will take food to their room and they will want to be prepared with some essentials.

These reusable utensils have their own carrying case so they can stay clean if they aren't used very often. 

Coffee is a staple for some college students, so having a small dorm-sized coffee maker is essential. Don't forget a coffee mug!

Some schools offer rentals for dorm fridges and microwaves. If they don't, and you need to provide one, this dorm fridge is a great size and it's currently on sale. 

Having a microwave provides some flexibility for safe cooking in a dorm room. Make sure you double check what your dorm allows before buying. This is a great small microwave that will fit on top of a dorm fridge. 

Don't forget a reusable water bottle!

You might also want to consider sending your student with a bowl and a plate too

5. Dorm Essentials for the Bathroom

Your student may be sharing a communal bathroom for the first time, or they may have suitemates. It's all a new world to navigate, but with the right items, it can make life easier. 

Two towels is likely more than enough for a college dorm. If you are buying new towels, make sure your student knows to wash them. My oldest didn't realize he needed to do that, and he told me that for the first month of school the towels felt like they didn't absorb anything! 

One thing that hasn't changed from my dorm days is the need for a shower caddy. Most students will need one. This is the one my daughter picked out. She said it does stay wet longer than a fully plastic one, but felt like it held more items, so if that feature is important go with this. If not, go with this. 

Another thing that hasn't changed is the need for shower shoes! Crocs work great for this! Now's a good time to talk about foot fungus if your student has never shared shower space before!

And for an added layer of privacy walking the halls or in your room, having a robe is never a bad thing! 

I remember reading the kids book Everyone Poops when my kids were little, but it can be a little weird to poop in shared spaces. This is essential for those shared bathrooms!

6. Laundry Made Simple for Dorm Life

Laundry is a reality of college life, and making as hassle-free as possible will be appreciated by your child. 

You'll want to start with a laundry bag. All of my college kids have said that having one that doesn't take up a lot of space was really key. This one collapses and has handles so they can carry it down to the laundry room. 

Laundry pods aren't the most economical option, but they are the easiest. 

Protip: You might want to give some guidance on how many pods to use. I was shocked to see that the brand often recommends using 3 per load. Of course they do! Your clothes will still get clean with one I promise.

You'll want to send your college kid with some stain remover. This one is pure magic! It takes out even hard stains. Food stains disappear almost on contact!

Don't miss this post: 10 Life Skills Your Teen Needs Before they Move Out!

7. Cleaning Supplies for Dorm Living

Most dorms will have some cleaning supplies on hand, but they won't have everything. A few essential supplies will help them keep a clean and tidy space.

Disinfecting wipes will go a long way to help your student keep all kinds of surfaces clean. 

A handheld vacuum cleaner will help them clean up small spills and messes and won't take up a lot of room.

Protip: dorms are living spaces made for a LOT of people. They are often made of cinderblocks and they can hold in moisture. These damprid bags are key for helping keep things fresh. These are actually good for tucking under a bed or in a closet too.


8. Decorative Touches for Dorm Rooms

Every student is going to have their own style. If they have a roomate, they might want to discuss how they want to decorate shared spaces. Adding personal touches will make a dorm room feel like a home away from home. 

Every dorm will vary in what they allow for hanging items in dorm rooms. Some will only allow Command strips, other will only allow adhesives. Some will have space for tacks and nails, others won't allow any holes. Read the restrictions first before buying. This is the best wall adhesive for hanging items. 

Having some sort of lighting for the room seems to be a good way to showcase your students personality. This rope lighting is often popular with the guys and this lighting is popular with the girls. If you can, keep an eye out for lighting that has a remote and can be easily turned on and off from a bed. 

Don't forget the rug! A rug can really tie a room together {name that movie!}, and add a little softness to a space that can feel industrial.

Protip: assume that a rug will last only one year. They get heavy traffic and aren't often cleaned. So don't spend a lot of money on a rug for a dorm room. 

9. Health Items for College Students

Your student is used to relying on your for all their first aid needs. You'll want to make {or buy} a kit with everything from bandaids to general pain relievers and cold medication. Every college student will get sick! 

Check out this RN Approved First Aid Kit

A few things you might forget are sunscreen and personal hygiene items like nail clippers. College kids often get dehydrated, so having Liquid IV or something similar would be helpful. 

10. Extra Dorm Supplies You May Not Have Thought Of

College life is more than academics. You're going to want to help your student bring some things they can use to unwind. 

Hammocks are all the rage on college campuses. We toured one school that was building an indoor hammock park! All you need is a few trees to create a fun outdoor space. During warm weather, you'll often find students hanging all around campus!

Games that can be played communally are always a lot of fun to have. Things like spikeball for outdoors and card games when the weather changes.

Part of dorm life is living communally. I remember striking up conversations with other students just because the door was open. Don't forget a door stop to hold the door open and help them be more social!

Preparing your child with the right dorm essentials will not only make their college experience more comfortable but will give them a little taste of home as they venture into this exciting new phase of life. Your student will be able to embrace the challenges and opportunities that college has to offer with your love and support! Now you can trust them in their ability to thrive and watch them grow!

Looking for more posts on dorm and college living? Check out these posts!

10 Things You Never Knew You Needed for Your Dorm Room, But You Do!
How to Make Your Dorm Room Feel Like Home
8 Reasons Why the Cricut Joy Makes the Perfect Graduation Gift
Want Even More Packing lists? The Essential Packing List for College

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