Trying to figure out what you need to bring to college? We've put together this ultimate college packing list that can help you navigate exactly what you need to buy and bring to school - specifically if you're moving into the dorms, but it works for anyone moving to college.
No matter where you're going to be living while away at college, this guide will help you make sure you don't forget the essentials.
We recommend a combination of packing items you already have versus buying all new stuff for college. It can get expensive really quickly! You can buy a lot of these things online, but many can also be purchased in stores locally - like Target and Walmart. In fact, many Targets around the United States have special back-to-college nights where you can buy a lot of your dorm room essentials.
If you want a printable version, we have also put together a printable College Packing List that you can download below, print, and bring to the store so you don't forget anything!
Download The Printable College Packing List:
Click the image to download a printable PDF version of our college packing guide.
Before You Start: Understanding The Packing List
A college packing list serves as a comprehensive guide for students preparing to transition from home life to college life. It's a tool that helps ensure that students arrive at their dorms or apartments equipped with all the necessary items they'll need for living, studying, and personal care. The purpose of a college packing list is multi-faceted:
- Organization: It helps students organize their packing process systematically, reducing the chance of forgetting crucial items.
- Efficiency: It helps students identify what's necessary and what's not, preventing overpacking and ensuring the best use of limited dormitory space.
- Budgeting: By identifying essentials in advance, students and their families can budget for these expenses, compare prices, and make purchases strategically.
- Stress Reduction: Transitioning to college can be a stressful time. Having a detailed list of what to bring can significantly reduce anxiety associated with the move.
- Focus on Priorities: By ensuring that logistical details are handled efficiently, a college packing list allows students to focus on bigger priorities like their studies, making new friends, and adjusting to the college lifestyle.
Remember, every student's needs may be different based on their course requirements, lifestyle, personal preferences, and the specifics of their housing situation, so it's important to customize any packing list accordingly. But also don't stress because you can always buy anything you forget once you get to college! You don't need to have everything in advance!
Key Considerations Before You Start Packing
Understanding your dorm accommodations is a crucial step in preparing to pack and plan for college life. This knowledge will significantly influence what you need to pack and how you'll organize your living space. Below are key factors to consider:
- Size and Layout of the Room: Dorm rooms are notoriously small and can sometimes be oddly shaped. Knowing the dimensions and layout of your room can help you determine what furniture or storage items to bring, and how much you can realistically fit.
- Amenities: Some dorms come equipped with certain amenities like a mini-fridge or a microwave, while others do not. Before purchasing these items, you should confirm what will be provided.
- Roommate Situation: If you're sharing your room with one or more people, coordination is key. You'll want to discuss who's bringing shared items (like a rug or a TV) to avoid duplicates. Plus, it's really smart to get to know your roommates early on!
- Climate Control: Depending on the age and quality of the dorm, you may or may not have control over the temperature in your room. If there's no air conditioning and you're in a warm climate, you might need a fan. Conversely, if the heating is inadequate, you might need a space heater or extra blankets.
- Shared or Private Bathrooms: If you share a bathroom with an entire floor, you may need a shower caddy to transport your toiletries. If you have a private bathroom, you'll need to think about bath mats, a shower curtain, and other bathroom essentials.
- Bed Size: Most dorms provide Twin XL beds, but it's important to confirm this as you'll need to purchase the appropriate size sheets and bedding.
- Rules and Regulations: Some dorms have strict rules about what you can or cannot bring, like restrictions on certain appliances or rules about putting nails in the walls. Be sure to check these rules before packing.
Understanding your dorm accommodation allows you to pack appropriately and efficiently, preventing unnecessary stress or inconveniences once you move in. It ensures you have what you need to make your dorm room a comfortable and functional living and studying space.
Essential Documents And Paperwork
When heading off to college, there are several essential documents and pieces of paperwork that you should bring with you to ensure a smooth transition and to be prepared for various situations. Here are some of the most important ones:
- Identification Documents: This includes your driver's license, passport, and/or any other form of photo ID. If you're an international student, be sure to bring your visa and related immigration documents as well.
- Social Security Card: You might need this for various forms, job applications, and banking needs.
- Health Insurance Card: It's crucial to have this on hand in case of any medical emergencies or routine doctor's appointments.
- Prescription Information: If you take prescribed medications, bring a copy of the prescription and information about your pharmacy.
- Banking Information: This includes your credit/debit cards and information about your bank accounts. You may also need checkbooks if you have them.
- College Admission Documents: Bring along any paperwork related to your admission, including your acceptance letter, financial aid documents, housing assignment, and course registration.
- Vehicle Registration and Insurance Information: If you're bringing a car to campus, you'll need these documents.
- Emergency Contact List: Have a list of important numbers and addresses, including family, doctors, and your school's main office.
To keep these documents safe:
- Invest in a Safe or Lockbox: A small, fireproof safe can help protect these important documents from damage and theft.
- Use Document Protectors: Placing documents in plastic sleeves can protect them from wear and tear.
- Consider Digital Copies: Scan or take clear photos of important documents and save them in a secure digital location, such as a password-protected folder in the cloud.
- Don't Carry All Documents Together: Avoid carrying all your important documents with you at once to reduce the chance of losing everything if your wallet or purse is lost or stolen.
- Share Copies with Trusted Family Members: It can be helpful to have someone back home who has copies of your important documents in case of an emergency.
Remember to regularly check these documents for any expiration dates and renew them as needed. Also, it's important to keep them in a secure but accessible location, so you can quickly retrieve them if necessary.
In today's digital age, electronics play a crucial role in a college student's life, supporting both their academic needs and personal lifestyle. Here are some must-have electronics for most college students - which is likely the same list that a high-school student would need.
Essential Laptop And Computer Supplies
This is probably the most essential piece of technology for a college student. It's used for taking notes, writing papers, conducting research, and even participating in online classes. Depending on the student's major, they might need a more powerful device for tasks like graphic design or coding.
Best Budget Laptop
Gateway 15.6" FHD Ultra Slim Budget Notebook
For The PC User
Dell Inspiron 3511 15.6" Full HD Laptop
For The Mac User
Apple 2022 MacBook Pro Laptop 13-Inch Display
Don't forget critical computer accessories as well! This includes a printer and ink - while some college campuses have print plans, others might not (or its not worth the time/effort to walk to the library to print).
HP Wireless All-In-One Printer
Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
Logitech Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
Dell 27" HD Monitor
Smartphone And Cell Phone Plan Options
A smartphone can serve multiple purposes beyond communication. It can also be used for time management (calendars and alarms), note-taking, accessing e-books, and much more.
Apple iPhone 14
Samsung Galaxy S10+
Apple iPhone 11
Read our full guide to the Best Cell Phone Plans for College Students.
Other Electronic Accessories
You might also want to consider some of these key accessories:
- Portable Charger/Power Bank: With the heavy use of electronic devices, a portable charger is crucial to avoid running out of battery during the day.
- External Hard Drive or Cloud Storage: Backing up work is essential in case of any computer issues. An external hard drive or a subscription to a cloud storage service can help students protect their important work.
- Headphones or Earbuds: These are useful for studying in public spaces, participating in online classes, or simply relaxing with music or podcasts.
- Surge Protector/Power Strip: This provides extra outlets and can protect your electronics from power surges.
- Portable Bluetooth Speaker: Listen to music around campus, in your dorm, and more.
- Camera and Accessories: Don't just want to use your smartphone? Then consider bringing your camera to capture memories!
Bedroom Essentials: Make It Comfortable
One of the most exciting things to do when you're heading to college is decorating your dorm room and making it comfortable. It should also be a good reflection of your personality! Here are some of the essentials you need for your dorm room:
You're going to need the basics of bedding - pillows, sheets, blankets, and more. You might also want to get a bed riser depending on your room situation. Going back to the beginning, you should confirm with your room setup ahead of time if possible.
Amazon Basic Pillows
Amazon Basic XL Twin Sheet Set
Twin Duvet Cover
Set of 4 Bed Risers
XL Twin Mattress Topper
Let's face it - dorm rooms are small (and you're sharing it with a roommate). You need to get creative in organizing a small space. Here are some options.
Underbed Storage Containers
Hanging Closet Organizer
Dorm Room Decor
Decorating your room should be a lot of fun - and make it feel like home. Here's some fun ideas to get your mind going.
LED String Lights
Battery Powered LED String Lights
Command Hooks Variety Pack
Vintage Poster Kit
Over The Door Mirror
Decorative Desk Lamp
Artificial Succulent Plants
Bathroom Essentials: Personal Hygiene and Care
This one shouldn't be a shocker, but it's good to have on your list. You have to maintain your hygiene and grooming in college. This is mandatory.
- Toothbrush and Toothpaste: Oral hygiene is essential, so don't forget these basic tools.
- Dental Floss and Mouthwash: Additional dental care items to maintain good oral health.
- Shampoo and Conditioner: Depending on your hair type and preference, you might opt for 2-in-1 products or separate shampoo and conditioner.
- Body Wash or Soap: For maintaining general body hygiene.
- Razor and Shaving Cream: If you shave regularly, these are necessary.
- Deodorant: To keep body odor at bay.
- Hairbrush or Comb: Choose one that suits your hair type.
- Hair Styling Products: If you use any products like gel, mousse, or hairspray regularly, remember to pack them.
- Face Wash and Moisturizer: A good skincare routine can help manage stress-induced skin issues that might arise.
- Sunscreen: Protect your skin from sun damage when you're out and about on campus.
- Hand Sanitizer: For cleaning your hands when soap and water aren't readily available.
- Feminine Hygiene Products: If applicable, don't forget items like tampons, pads, or menstrual cups.
- Toilet Paper: Some dorms supply this, but it's always good to have a backup.
- Towels: Include bath towels, hand towels, and washcloths.
- Nail Clippers and Tweezers: For basic grooming.
Remember to store these items in a shower caddy or organizer if you're using communal bathrooms. This list can be customized based on personal needs and preferences. Some students might also want to include makeup, perfume or cologne, specific hair care tools, or other specialty items based on their personal grooming routine.
Finally, maybe wait until you arrive in your dorm and your parents have gone home - but don't forget the condoms or other products you may need. You want to have fun, but you don't want kids yet.
Kitchen Essentials: Keep It Simple
Whether or not you need to bring kitchen items when you live in a dorm largely depends on the specifics of your accommodations and your personal habits. Some dorms may come equipped with a communal kitchen that you can use, while others may not. Plus, some students may never want to cook in their rooms.
If your dorm has a communal kitchen and you plan to cook for yourself regularly, you'll likely need to bring some basic kitchen items.
If you're living in an apartment, you're definitely going to need more kitchen items!
We're going to focus on the essentials for college freshmen who may not need the full apartment kitchen outfit:
Black and Decker Mini Fridge
Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker
Reusable Water Bottles
Reusable Water Bottles
0.7 Cu.ft Microwave
Manual Can Opener
Battery Powered LED String Lights
10-Pk of Food Storage Containers
KitchenAid Pizza Cutter
Dorm Room Silverware Set
Plates And Bowls
Dorm Room Plastic Plate Set
Remember to check with your college about what appliances are allowed in the dorm rooms, as there can be restrictions for safety reasons. Also, coordinate with your roommates if you have any to avoid duplicate items.
Clothing: Packing For All Seasons
We're not going to spend a lot of time focusing on clothing because by the time you get to college, you should have a good idea of how to dress yourself! However, we want to remind you that you should plan to pack clothing for all seasons and all weather. Also, you should make sure you bring some professional attire for interviews and internships.
Remember, it's not necessary to bring your entire wardrobe when you initially move to college, especially if you'll be able to visit home or have things sent to you. Aim for versatility and comfort, and remember that you can always add more items as needed.
However, you're going to need to do laundry at college! Remember to learn some basic laundry skills before heading off to college, such as how to sort laundry, the meaning of the symbols on clothing tags, and how to treat different types of stains. A simple how-to guide or set of instructions can be a helpful reminder when you're just starting out.
Here's some laundry items you might need for your dorm:
Laundry Hamper and Bags
Foldable Drying Rack
Iron And Ironing Board
Iron and Ironing Board Set
Portable Handheld Steamer
Tide Stain Remover Pen
Health And Safety Items
Staying healthy and safe is essential for a good college experience. Plus, you're going to have to handle a lot of things on your own when you're at college!
Here is a list of essential health and safety items that college students should consider bringing with them:
- First-Aid Kit: Stock it with band-aids, antiseptic wipes or cream, gauze pads, adhesive tape, tweezers, and a digital thermometer.
- Prescription Medication: If you take any regular medication, make sure you bring a sufficient supply and understand how to refill your prescription.
- Over-The-Counter Medication: Pain relievers, cold and flu medication, antacids, allergy medication, etc., can be handy to have on hand.
- Sunscreen: Protect your skin from harmful UV rays, even in winter.
- Flashlight: In case of power outages or emergencies.
- Bike Lock: If you bring a bike, secure it properly with a strong lock.
- Umbrella: If it rains, you'll be happy you have one!
- Duct Tape: The most versatile tool to do anything.
Also, don't forget to prioritize your mental health while you're at college. The transition to college can be really hard - for most, it's the first time being away from home. Check out this list of mental health resources for college students.
Entertainment: Balancing Work And Play
College is about more than academics - it's also about making friends and having fun. Everyone's idea of fun and entertainment will be different, but here are some common things you might want to bring to have fun!
Game of Thrones Monopoly
Bicycle Playing Cards
Cards Against Humanity
Cards Against Humanity
Atomic Habits by James Clear
145 Piece Art Supply Kit
Also, if sports or outdoor activities are your thing, make sure you bring the proper equipment for your getaways!
School supplies are another category that shouldn't be a shocker for any college student - you've already gone through 12 years of school to get to this point. But it's a good reminder to make sure you don't forget anything when you leave for college!
- Notebooks: Even in the digital age, many students find it beneficial to take notes by hand.
- Loose-Leaf Paper: For note-taking, brainstorming, and sketching out ideas.
- Binders and Folders: These will help you keep your notes, handouts, and assignments organized.
- Pens and Pencils: You'll need these for note-taking, drafting, and test-taking.
- Highlighters: Useful for highlighting important points in your notes and textbooks.
- Index Cards: These are great for flashcards when studying.
- Sticky Notes: Useful for marking pages in textbooks and jotting down quick reminders.
- Planner or Digital Calendar: This is essential for keeping track of your schedule, assignments, and deadlines. Check out our list of the best calendar apps for students.
- Calculator: The type you'll need will depend on your major. Engineering and some science majors might need a graphing calculator, while other students might only need a basic scientific calculator.
- Backpack: To carry your books, laptop, and other supplies.
- Stapler and Hole Punch: Useful for organizing papers and assignments.
Also, don't forget you're going to need to buy your college textbooks too. Check out our list of the best places to buy college textbooks.
Or, you could consider renting college textbooks too!
Transportation On Campus And Off Campus
Going to college also means considering your transportation - both on and off campus. On campus, you may need to get between classes, to the grocery story, to activities, and more. Off campus, you need to figure out how you're going to get to different places in the city, on trips with friends, and even getting home!
On Campus Transportation Needs
Here are some common on-campus transportation options and things you might want to bring with you:
Schwinn Bike Helmet
Sigtuna Bike Lock
Your school may also have campus shuttles, so make sure you learn the schedule or download the appropriate app.
Off Campus Transportation Needs
If you're traveling off campus, you need to consider how you're going to get around town. This could be to get somewhere for a show or event, to get groceries, or even to the airport to get home!
Lyft can be a great way to get a ride when you need it. Sign up for Lyft here >>
Public Transport Card
In most cities, public transportation like buses, trolleys, and subways can be a great option to get around off campus. And many will offer student cards or other discounts for students.
As a college student, you may be eager to travel as well. Check out Contiki for amazing student travel experiences!
Money Matters: Financial Essentials For Students
College is sometimes one of the first life events when young adults need to manage their money for the first time. Yes, parents are usually there to help and support, but for most of college, students are on their own!
Here's some financial essentials that students need to know and be prepared for.
Recap: The Ultimate College Packing List
There are a lot of things you need when packing for college and moving into a dorm room for the first time. But it's important to remember that it's okay to forget some things - you're going to be moving to a college town where you'll likely be able to purchase anything you forgot.
Moving into a dorm is an exciting experience, but it can also be a bit overwhelming. Here are some final tips to ensure a smooth transition:
- Start Early: Don't leave packing until the last minute. Starting early can help reduce stress and ensure you don't forget anything important.
- Use a Checklist: Refer back to your college packing list to make sure you have everything you need. Mark off items as you pack them.
- Pack Smart: Organize your items by category and clearly label your boxes or bags. Consider using vacuum bags for bulky items like comforters and winter clothing to save space.
- Check Restrictions: Some colleges have restrictions on what you can bring into the dorms. Double-check any restrictions before you start packing.
- Coordinate with Roommates: If you'll be sharing your dorm room, coordinate with your roommates ahead of time to avoid duplicating items like kitchen appliances or entertainment systems.
Pack a First-Night Box: Pack a box or bag with everything you'll need for your first night, like toiletries, a change of clothes, bedding, and a phone charger. This way, you won't have to rummage through all your boxes when you're tired from moving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions we see about packing for college:
What should I pack first for college?
Begin with items that you won't need in your daily life prior to the move, like off-season clothing, extra bedding, or decorative items for your dorm room.
What are some common items students forget to pack for college?
Students often forget essentials like power strips, first-aid kits, laundry supplies, and important documents such as health insurance cards.
How can I save money when buying items for my college packing list?
Shop during sales, compare prices online, buy used items when possible, and split costs on shared items with your roommate to save money on college packing list items.
How can I ensure I don't overpack for college?
Stick to your packing list, resist the urge to bring every item from home, and coordinate with roommates to avoid duplicate items.
How do I pack fragile items for the move to college?
Use bubble wrap or soft items like clothing or towels to cushion fragile items, and clearly mark these boxes as 'fragile' to ensure careful handling.
How can I make my college dorm feel more like home?
Bring a few personal items like family photos, a favorite blanket, or sentimental knick-knacks to add a personal touch to your dorm room.
What kitchen items are essential for a college student?
A mini-fridge, microwave, reusable water bottle, and basic utensils are generally sufficient for most dorm-living college students.
What tech items are a must-have for college students?
A reliable laptop, smartphone, portable charger, and a pair of good quality headphones are essential tech items for most college students.
What are some tips for staying organized in college?
Keep a planner for deadlines, use apps for organizing notes and assignments, keep your study area clean, and maintain a regular study schedule to stay organized in college.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.
Editor: Colin Graves Reviewed by: Chris Muller