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Dorm living is a huge part of college life. It may not be necessary but learning to live in close quarters with a virtual stranger can be a vital learning experience, perhaps as vital as anything learned in classrooms. To make this part of college life as easy and enjoyable as possible, it's important to make sure that each student has the items they need to live comfortably in what is often their first home away from home.
Most colleges and universities provide a few recommended items that students will need but you might also want to consider the following run-down when preparing for college dorm living. Note that space is at a premium, so try to pare down belongings as much as possible. Keep in mind that, even if an item is left off the packing list, it may be purchased later. Thus, make note of stores where these items can be found close by your chosen school. In particular, look for thrift stores close to campus that can offer vital, worthy items at a lower cost than the new retail price.
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What are the Necessities?
When packing for college, clothing is probably one of the top considerations. However, since college living tends to offer less in terms of storage, you’ll need to try to pare down what you bring. This is easier for students who are able to go home more often and thus swap out their wardrobes to meet the changing seasons. For those who aren't able to get back home, it’s important to pack wisely.
Luckily, the fall semester shouldn't be too cold for most students. Still, students should pack at least one thick sweater and a coat that can serve them well in a range of temperatures. Students who are prepared to layer clothing may do the best. When home over the winter break, students should try to take home their lighter clothes and then return in January with items like a heavier coat, scarves, and knit hats.
Students who live far from school may need to have some money set aside for an emergency clothing budget. This needn't be exorbitant since there are good, used clothes available in thrift stores and on eBay. In fact, there are often fashionable and affordable options available using resources such as Goodwill, eBay, and Craigslist.
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Here is a list of items to include in a college-bound duffel bag:
- Backpack or satchel bag
- Jacket and/or coat
- Clothing hangers
- Gloves and/or hat
Students headed to college need to make sure they're prepared for life outside of their parents' home. This includes carrying important documents such as one's driver's license, health insurance information, and sometimes a passport. While many of these items are typically stored in the car or wallet, students should consider having a backup. You can take each vital document and make a photocopy that can be stored in a lockbox or other secure location. These days, students can scan these documents into a PDF file that can be stored on their phones and/or a cloud service for easy retrieval.
It may be a good idea to also store this item on an external storage device such as a hard drive or thumb drive.
- Student ID
- License if you will be driving
- Health Insurance card
- Car Insurance info
Bedding and other linens are an important consideration, as well. Some college dorms have sheets and towels available to rent on a per-term basis. These are certainly serviceable and may be the best option for students who are traveling great distances, but they are often not of the highest quality. Students should evaluate how important it is for them to have particular items, such as a special towel or sheets. Many students compromise by bringing their own towels and pillows and others decide to purchase sheets upon arrival to their new town. For example, some students might bring hypoallergenic options if they have dust allergies. Most dorms have ample laundry services, but you should check to see if they have laundry detergent for sale or if it's necessary to bring one's own.
It's also important to decide how many sets will suffice. Students may want to consider that sheets and towels take up valuable storage space, so they might consider bringing only one set of bedsheets and one or two towels at most. Students should be aware that they will need to do regular laundry whether back at home or in the dorm.
Here is a list of suggested linens for college:
- Bedding set(s)
- Eye Mask
- 2-3 towels
- Laundry basket
College is stressful and dorms are full of people who may be contagious with colds and flu. That’s why it's a good idea to bring some basic over the counter medications, just in case. When those are insufficient, most campuses have health services where students can see a medical professional.
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For students who need to refill a prescription on a regular basis, it's vital to secure a local healthcare provider as soon as possible. Many students in this situation may be able to alert their hometown doctor who can call in a refill to a local pharmacy. It’s also a good idea to keep any pertinent healthcare information on hand. This information should be printed and held in a secure place with a digital back-up on a thumb drive, cloud storage, or external hard drive. Students with more intense possible healthcare needs might also consider discussing emergency plans with their roommate or the resident adviser in their dorm.
Here is a list of items to consider for a college medicine kit:
- Cold meds for day and night
- Comforting teas
- Ice pack for bruises
- Wraps for sprains
- Ginger chews for upset stomachs
- Pain relievers
- Hot Water Bottle
- Band-Aids or bandages
- Cough drops
- Allergy meds
- Birth control
College dorm rooms are not spacious and storage is limited. While dorm designers continue to get more and more clever, students should investigate their storage options prior to hitting campus. Students can bring items with them that will help with organization and storage. One idea is to use vacuum sealed bags to store bulky items like sweaters; it can be helpful to have those as compact as possible until the weather cools off.
These days, there is no shortage of clever items that help students store their belongings in the most space-efficient manner possible, such as storage bins that can hang on the inside of a closet door.
- Trash can
- Stackable or under-the-bed storage bins
- Bed risers to give you under-the-bed storage space
- Clothing hangers
- Desktop storage for pens/pencils
- Under shelf basket
School, Office and Desk Supplies
School supplies are vital for college students, but it's important to be realistic when deciding what to bring. That is, what items is the student actually likely to use? Some love sticky notes and use them all the time, whereas others have little use for them. Nevertheless, there are items that pretty much any students will need. Items such as notebooks, printer paper, thumb drives, and backpacks are universal must-haves for college students. For the smaller items, such as pens and charger cables, consider assembling a collection in a convenient pencil bag or small plastic container so that they are easy to find and stash away without cluttering one's desk.
Each student has their own needs that can vary according to their chosen major. Those who are focusing on STEM subjects might want to invest in a graphing calculator and any other tools specific to their discipline. Humanities students will not likely need special equipment, but a standard calculator can be handy for surviving a math requirement.
All students will likely need other items such as a desk lamp, noise-cancelling headphones, an E-reader device or reusable notebook, and other supplies that can help them get through the school year.
- Pens and pencils
- Pencil sharpener
- Sticky notes
- Folders or binders
- Printer paper if you have a printer
- USB/flash drives
- Desk lamp
- Bulletin board/pushpins or dry erase board
It's important to arrive on campus with plenty of these necessities. Not every student will need all of the items listed below, so it's important to assess actual needs prior to packing for campus. However, some items, such as flip-flops for the shower, may not be intuitive for some since it’s not exactly common to wear shoes to shower at home. Thus, it's important to investigate what sort of amenities the dorm has. Many modern dorms will have a shared bathroom for every two rooms while older ones may have a single bathroom at the end of a dorm hallway, meaning that the showers, etc. are shared by many students.
One item that most every student will need is a shower caddy. These items are indispensable for students who want to keep their toiletries organized and accessible. For those items that aren't needed for bathing, such as nail clippers and sunscreen, students will want to have a plastic organizer that can be tucked in a drawer, closet, or some other convenient location.
To help save space, it may be helpful to coordinate with one's future roommate to see if any items can be shared. For instance, a hair dryer might be more important for one roommate but also available to lend on occasion.
The other roommate might then have another item they can share in kind.
- Toilet paper if you have your own restroom
- Hairbrush or comb
- Nail clippers
- Razor and shaving cream
- Hair dryer/curling iron/straightener
- Feminine hygiene products of choice
- Shower caddy
- Shower shoes
- Bug spray
- Polish remover
- Contact solution
What Dorm Essential Supplies are Semi-Optional
Food, Snacks, Cooking Supplies
Dorms don't tend to lend themselves to much cooking. Rules often restrict what sort of appliances students can use but then many also have small, shared kitchens so that students can prepare meals on occasion. In fact, many dorms these days come with serviceable refrigerators and microwave ovens in each room. However, for dorms that do not offer these items, students should consider bringing their own. In particular, a small dorm-sized fridge is indispensable for holding condiments, leftovers, and cold beverages.
On top of appliances, students should consider bringing a small collection of utensils and dinnerware. It's also worth noting that students may not know what they'll need prior to moving into their campus homes. As needs arise, students should consider purchasing items such as silverware, plates, and bowls from a local thrift store.
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There's no need to spend much on new items in this category.
- Silverware set
- Bowl/plate/cup set
- Drying rack
- Dish soap
- Water bottle
- Can or bottle opener
- Special food items from home that you can’t get anywhere else
- Granola bars or similar items for when you wake up too late to grab breakfast
- Peanut Butter
- Microwavable meals
Furnishings and Décor
Most dorms are designed to be plug-and-play. All of the necessary furnishings should be provided, but most students are sure to need more furnishings or décor items to make their dorm room a home. Many dorm denizens will want to start a poster collection, for instance, and a throw rug may not only tie the room together but will provide a warmer landing spot on cool winter mornings.
Other items such as a desk lamp, floor lamp, and a fan can not only make the room more of a home but also more comfortable all year long.
- Picture hangers
- Desk chair
- Alarm clock/radio
- Floor lamp
- Space heater (if allowed)
- Trash can
Laundry and Cleaning Supplies
In the past, students had to clamor for quarters if they wanted a clean outfit for the weekend. These days, dorm laundry facilities may be run via card or there may be ways to do a load without filling the machine with a pound of quarters. It's important to figure out exactly what sort of laundry and cleaning supplies a student will need in the dorms before you head to campus.
Students should be sure that they have access to laundry detergent, whether brought from home or provided in the dorm. They will also need things like paper towels, an all-purpose cleaner, and a stain-remover for those late-night salsa binges.
Other items that are useful include the following:
- A huge number of quarters (if needed)
- Laundry Basket
- Laundry detergent
- All-purpose cleaner
- A couple washcloths
- Paper towels
- Wet wipes
- Small vacuum or broom and dust pan
Recreation and Fun
Every student needs to blow off steam after class. Some go as far as to join varsity sports teams, but others may prefer gentle hikes. In the past, students have made great use of simple sporting goods such as frisbees, hacky sacks, or soccer balls. It's a good idea for every student to be prepared for a fun recreational activity, so sturdy athletic shoes and gym shoes are recommended. After all, one might need to take a PE class, or want to join an intramural sports league.
Some students will undoubtedly want to spend their recreation time playing video games, but you might want to limit this to a single console or laptop.
- Workout gear/gym bag
- Hobby equipment for climbing/running/soccer/painting/whatever your interest is
- Crafting tools
- Yoga mat
- Favorite books
- Bicycle and helmet
- Cards or board games
- Hiking boots
Safety and Miscellaneous Dorm Supplies
Being safe should be a top priority for all students. Late nights walking across campus may be safer than ever, but when a student has taken certain precautions, they can be even more confident. Not only is it a good idea to carry a whistle, pepper spray, and/or reflective clothing (or backpack), but a little knowledge also helps. Many campuses actually offer self-defense classes, and all students can benefit from them.
Not only is personal safety a priority, but students should also be aware of the need to secure their information. It can be wise to use a VPN while connecting to the campus internet, and a simple lockbox can secure important documents such as a passport, checkbook, and insurance cards.
Here are some safety suggestions/options.
- Pepper spray
- Taser/stun gun
- Bulletproof backpack
- Personal safety alarm or a phone app
- Safety drinking glasses/straws/drink testers
- Smart safety tag
- Safe for valuables in your room
- High Vis clothing if you plan to jog in the mornings or evenings
Electronics and Tech Items
No student these days is without at least a few computers that they carry around most places. For dorm living, a phone and a Bluetooth speaker can cover one's musical needs, and a pair of headphones can ease tensions when someone needs peace and quiet to read their Philosophy assignments. It’s also recommended that you discuss electronics with your future dorm mate to ensure maximum efficiency. For instance, no room will need more than one printer, so this can be negotiated prior to moving in.
Students will also need to be sure to have at least one power strip each and enough charging cords to take care of their mobile devices.
- Music/audio player
- Portable speakers
- Power strips with USB charging ports
- 2-3 prong adapters
- Portable cellphone charger
What Dorm Room Supplies are Typically Shared?
It's inevitable that dorm mates will end up sharing some items. In fact, sharing can be a vital part of successful dorm dwelling. With limited space, sharing resources can mean more space for all. Items such as an area rug should ideally be purchased by one roommate, as should electronics such as printers. Thus, these roommates should discuss what each wants and needs and then determine what each will bring.
Note that some items may not be of importance to one person, such as an area rug, but they will invariably use them.
- Mini fridge
- Hot pot
- TV/DVD player
- Area rug
- Large format wall art or posters