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Packing for college is both exciting and overwhelming. Moving into your new dorm room starts to feel real, but you may feel nervous about forgetting something important. You want to be fully prepared for college life, with no unexpected bumps in the road.
We’ve got you covered! Use our complete college packing list to make move-in as smooth and stress-free as possible. We’ve listed all the essentials, plus some optional items that can add a little extra comfort and style to your dorm room.
Although this list is designed for college students moving into dorms, you can also adapt it for life in an off-campus apartment.
First Things First: What to Know About Dorm Life
As you start packing for life in a college dorm, it’s a good idea to know what you’re getting into. Living in a dorm is an often challenging, but always an interesting new experience.
You may have a single room, but that’s rare—especially for freshmen. More likely, you’ll share a fairly small bedroom with a roommate. These rooms are called “doubles.” Some dorm rooms are “triples” or “quads” with additional roommates and more space.
The average dorm room consists of two beds, two desks, two dressers, and two small closet spaces. There’s a lot of furniture (and two people) crammed into a small area. Bring items that will help you create a cozy living space that feels like home. Extra storage and organizers that can fit under your bed or in your closet are also a must!
If you live in an apartment-style dorm, you might share a bathroom with only your roommates. Typically, however, you’ll share a communal bathroom with everyone who lives on your floor (or half the people who live on your floor). It’s useful to determine the most popular times for showers, then schedule around these times if you want no wait and a little peace and quiet.
Sharing a bedroom and a communal bathroom is a major adjustment for a lot of students. As you prepare and pack, think about what you’ll need to feel happy and comfortable in a shared living space. Be patient with yourself as you adjust to this unfamiliar living situation. And focus on the positive—it’s also a great way to meet new people, and some of them might become your lifelong friends.
Plus, you’ll have a Resident Assistant (R.A.) who’s there to help you feel comfortable. Your R.A. is an older student who can answer your questions and address any concerns you have. They also organize meetings and fun events that help you get to know the people on your floor.
Most dorm floors also include one or two shared kitchen and living areas. They generally consist of a couch or two, a TV, and basic kitchen appliances, so you’ll be able to cook if you prefer. Of course, you may have to work around other dormmates who also want to cook. If you find a few other budding chefs, it’s a great idea to take turns preparing shared meals.
You’ll also likely have dining halls and meal plans. But most dining halls aren’t open 24/7, and they might not always have food that satisfies your preferences or cravings. Be sure to keep some favorite snacks and quick, easy meal options available in your room.
How to Get Organized
Packing for college is a big endeavor, so it’s important to stay organized. Getting organized while packing will make the process of unpacking much easier. You’ll also find that living in a small, shared space makes organization extra important.
Start by making a checklist. Feel free to print our list below, crossing out any items that you’ve deemed unnecessary for you. Check off the items as you go to make sure you don’t leave anything behind.
Grouping and Labeling
As you pack, group your items into categories, then label your boxes accordingly. You can use the groupings we have below (like toiletries, school supplies, and cutlery) as a starting point, but it’s best to get as specific as possible. You can also group and label your items according to location (e.g., desk, closet, or bed).
Resist the urge to hurriedly throw things in boxes. Taking the time to pack neatly now makes unpacking much smoother later.
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When possible, pack your items in the same place they’ll be stored in your room. If you’re using under bed storage containers, for example, go ahead and fill them with the items you plan to store there. Now, unpacking is as simple as sliding them under your bed. If you’re worried about drawers springing open, seal them with duct tape until you get to your dorm.
Another time-saving tip: Go ahead and place the clothes you plan to hang in your closet on hangers. You can fold them into a large box, or use a trash bag. Cut a hole in the top, slip your clothes through, and tie the bottom.
Tips for Easy Unpacking
When it’s time to unpack, start by bringing in large furniture or storage items and placing them first. You don’t have a lot of space, so starting with your larger items helps you determine where to fit your smaller ones.
Next, unpack bedding and clothing. You already know exactly where these items go, so it gets you off to a quick and efficient start. Plus, you’ll eliminate a lot of bags and boxes right away.
After that, simply work on your grouped and labeled boxes in an order that makes sense to you. Focus on one box at a time. Save decorative items, posters, and knickknacks for last. While unpacking, be sure to respect your roommate’s space and ensure that you’re not claiming too much of the room for your own stuff.
If possible, send boxes and extra suitcases home with your parents. You don’t have enough space to store them, but you’ll have to repeat the packing/unpacking process several times over the next four years. No need to throw away perfectly good boxes. Remember to keep one overnight bag in your closet for trips home or other travel!
What to Bring: College Packing List
This is a long list, because we want to be thorough and make sure you’re well-prepared for life in a college dorm. Don’t feel overwhelmed, though. You probably don’t need every item on this list. If it doesn’t apply to you, simply disregard it.
We hope this list is a helpful tool as you consider the dorm essentials, cooking and food items, school supplies, electronics, clothes, toiletries and beyond that you’ll need to pack for your college adventure!
We’ll start with your basic must-haves for dorm living. If you’ll have a roommate, chat beforehand about which items each of you are bringing to the dorm. You might be able to split some essentials between the two of you. For example, you don’t really need two microwaves or two TVs in your room.
- Comforter and Twin XL sheet set
- Mattress pad
- Mattress cover
- Trash can (if not provided)
- Trash bags
- Laundry hamper
- Clothes hangers
- Under bed storage containers
- Desk lamp/reading lamp
- Mini fridge
A growing college student has got to eat. You’ll need a basic set of plates and cutlery, but there’s no need to go overboard. For instance, 2-3 plates and 2-3 bowls should be plenty. Some of the items on this list are for growing college students who also plan to cook a bit. If that’s not you, feel free to stop at “reusable water bottle.”
- Dish detergent
- Sponges/dish towels
- Can opener
- Microwave safe food containers
- Paper towels/napkins
- Coffee mug
- Travel coffee mug
- Reusable water bottle
- Pots and pans
- Additional cooking utensils (e.g., spatula, measuring cup, wooden cooking spoon)
- Oven mitt
- Basic spices: Garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, etc.
Snacks + Food
You don’t want to start your college experience on an empty stomach. Here are some quick and easy go-to college snacks and food items.
- Chips (and salsa!)
- Granola bars
- Ramen (the classic college staple)
- Frozen pizza rolls/taquitos/etc.
- PB&J, lunch meat, cheese for sandwiches
- Instant oatmeal
- Canned soup
- Instant macaroni and cheese
Bonus Tip: If you plan to experiment with cooking, simple meal ideas include spaghetti, tacos, baked chicken with veggies, rice and beans, and pasta in just about any form. Most crockpot (also known as slow cooker) meals are also super easy. Here’s an awesome list of 100 slow cooker meals for college students, and another list of crock pot recipes for college students that promises to “save your life.”
Sleeping and eating are college essentials, but so is learning. Here are some key school supplies for your packing list.
- Pencils and pens
- Flash drive
- Graphing calculator
- Sticky flags/sticky notes
- Hole punch
- Paper clips
- Binder clips
- Index cards
- Pencil cup
- Desk organizer
- Stamps and envelopes (you’ll need them one day when you least expect it)
Electronics are key to modern life and the modern college experience. Interestingly, the modern college experience also regularly involves not being able to find an outlet. Pack these items to meet your electronics needs and avoid outlet frustration.
- Laptop and laptop case
- Extension cord
- Power strip
- Headphones (preferably noise-cancelling)
- Chargers and backups
- HDMI cable
- Printer (if you prefer printing in-house to visiting a campus printing center every time you need to print)
The clothes you pack will depend on your personal style and preferences, plus the weather in the area you’re going to school. Use the following as a general guideline.
- Everyday outfits to wear to class
- Comfy clothes to lounge around in
- Clothes for working out/playing sports
- “Going out” outfits
- Casual, everyday shoes
- Running shoes
- Bathing suit
- At least one interview outfit
- At least one outfit for formal events
Be sure to pack the following toiletries and bathroom supplies to stay clean, healthy, and fully prepared for dorm living (and communal bathrooms).
- Shower shoes
- Shower caddy
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Body wash/soap
- Hair products
- Skincare products
- Shaving cream
- Dental floss
- Menstrual products (if applicable)
- Nail clippers
- Other cosmetics
- Toilet paper (It’s provided—but just in case)
- Mini first aid kit (include painkillers, Band-Aids, Neosporin, Cortisone, gauze, and medical tape for starters)
Here are a few more college must-haves that simply defy categorization.
- Laundry detergent
- Dryer sheets
- Lint roller
- Stain remover
- Iron + ironing board
- Broom and/or vacuum
- Air freshener
- Cleaning supplies
- Bike lock and bike pump (if you’re bringing a bike)
- Basic toolkit
- Mounting strips/poster tape (if you plan to hang anything on your walls)
- Closet organizer
- Overnight bag
Although these items aren’t essential, they’re certainly nice to have. If any of these appeal to you, add them to your list!
- Framed photos of friends/family
- Decorations and knickknacks (not too many—it can get cluttered fast!)
- White board or bulletin board + dry erase markers and eraser or push pins
- Bed risers
- Bluetooth speaker
- Comfy computer chair (to replace the hard desk chair your dorm comes with)
- Filtered water pitcher
- Coffeemaker (for early morning classes and late-night study sessions)
- Throw pillows and a throw blanket
- Your favorite video game console
- Frisbee/football/soccer ball/etc.
- Board games/card games
- Bean bag chairs
- Sleep mask and ear plugs
- Bookshelf (if not provided)
- Your favorite books
Final Thoughts: College Packing List
Think of packing for college as a fun adventure instead of a dreaded and overwhelming task. Our college packing list and the tips we’ve provided should make the process as easy and painless as possible.
That frees you up to focus on more important matters—like adjusting to life as a new college student. It’s one of the most exciting and enriching experiences you’ll ever have, so enjoy!