The Ultimate Dorm Room Checklist

If you have a student starting college away from home this fall, it’s time to prepare for the move by creating a dorm-room checklist. Your checklist should include essential items that help your student focus on schoolwork while also making their new home feel comfortable.

Here are some suggestions based on my family’s personal experiences, and the feedback we’ve received over the years from our “Paying for College 101” Facebook members.

College Dorm Room Checklist

Bedding Necessities

  • Duvet and duvet insert, or comforter: Bring the right weight comforter for the climate, and keep in mind that duvets are much easier to wash than comforters and cost less to dry in machines where they charge.
  • Sheets: Two sets are helpful. Be sure to double-check what size mattress the school provides and buy the appropriately sized sheets. Most schools provide Twin XL-sized mattresses in freshmen dorm rooms.
  • Pillows and pillowcases: Sometimes students will actually change these—at least more often than sheets.
  • Mattress protector and mattress topper: Zip up the mattress to keep bugs away and add a little softness with a topper. Dorm beds are not usually the stuff of dreams.
  • Bed risers: The school may provide them so check first, but regardless of who supplies these they add precious under-bed storage.
  • Bedside caddy: These attach to the bed and allow easy access to electronics and other essentials.
  • Throw pillows/blankets: A fun way to personalize your student’s space.
  • Kitchenware: utensils, and microwavable coffee mugs, plates, and bowls: These can be a lifesaver for making dorm meals or reheating and eating leftovers.
  • Mini fridge and microwave: Before purchasing check with your student’s school to see if there are microwaves and fridges provided, or if they are available to rent.
  • Coffee maker/tea maker: An investment that can save money down the road since your student won’t need to make as many trips to the local coffee shop.
  • Paper towels: They’re essential to have around for cleaning up, doubling as napkins and more.
  • Dish Soap: If you’ve got dishes, you need soap.

Bathroom Essentials

  • Shower caddy: Helps keep all your student’s bathroom necessities organized and makes for easy transportation to and from the bathroom.
  • Shower shoes: No one wants to have bare feet in the shared dorm showers.
  • Towels: Like sheets, bring at least two. Beach or pool towels are also useful depending on amenities and the location of your student’s school.
  • Robe: These are useful for walking from the bathroom back to the dorm room.
  • Self-care products/makeup: Toiletries and other products will vary greatly based on your student’s needs and preferences.

Storage Solutions

  • Hangers: Pack more hangers than you think your student will need. It’s amazing how they disappear.
  • Storage bins: Look at a variety of sizes and types for under the bed, in the closet, or anywhere you can squeeze them.
  • Laundry hamper: You can opt for laundry baskets, but if your student has a bit of a trek to the laundry room, soft-sided hampers with handles (and wheels) make for easy transportation. (A foldable drying rack can come in handy too.)

Study/School Supplies

  • Notetaking: Notebooks, folders, binders, note pads, pens, pencils, and highlighters will all be essential for taking notes in class.
  • Other desk supplies: Stuff like scissors, paperclips, tape, and a stapler may all be useful for your student.
  • Desk lamp: This is necessary for studying at night.
  • Desk organizers: Organizers can hold all of the above supplies for easy access.


  • Power strip or surge protector: Be sure that these are fire-safe and meet the school’s residence hall policies.
  • Phone and phone chargers: Multiple chargers—such as one near the bed and another near your student’s desk—are helpful.
  • A reliable laptop and charger: Some majors require special technology or software—check with your student’s school to ensure you make the best investment. A laptop with a camera may also be necessary for virtual classes.
  • Earbuds or headphones: To keep from disturbing roommates while working, listening to music, or on the phone.

Dorm Room Decor

  • Rug(s): They’re always nice to have but ask your student to coordinate with their roommate before purchasing since in most cases they’ll only need one.
  • Mirrors: Look for full-length mirrors that can attach to your student’s door or dresser door.
  • Side table: A rolling side table is a great addition to your student’s room since it can be moved anywhere in case the fit isn’t perfect in the place where you imagined it.
  • Wall prints and posters: One way to decorate the walls is to print and bring posters of your student’s photos. Try Walgreens or CVS.
  • Framed photos for their desk: These are a fun way to remember friends and family back home as your student adjusts to college life.
  • String Lights: They’re an easy way to brighten up the room and can help them personalize their space.
  • Command brand hooks or other adhesives: These come in handy for many dorm needs and won’t damage the walls (most schools charge for damage).

Other Necessities

  • Laundry detergent: Detergent pods are a great option since they’re easy to transport to the laundry room.
  • Large storage bags: Large reusable bags are helpful for transporting things to and from school, and for bringing home groceries.
  • Umbrellas: Send two, they break, get lost, or the wind turns them inside out.
  • Clothing and outerwear: Match the wardrobe to the climate and the need to commute across campus in weather.

Don’t Wait to Make Your List

As the parent of three young adults, I can tell you first-hand the importance of making this checklist well ahead of your departure date. Done right, the process can be fun. After all, you’re not only working together to gather the things they’ll need but some of the more personal items they’ll enjoy—items that can help them express who they are, in what might be the first space they’ve lived in without you.

Think Beyond Their Freshman Year

As you create your college dorm checklist consider what items you already have, versus those you’ll need to purchase. Remember, students generally move each year, so whatever they take to school will need to move with them, sometimes making the journey back home during summer breaks, or going into storage. In some cases, depending on the item, not everything is worth keeping beyond a single school year. Just keep in mind, anything you need to throw away and replace will cost extra money, which could be used for other items like books and supplies.

Prioritize Your Dorm Room Checklist with What You NEED

As for what kinds of things to put on your college dorm room checklist—your best source of information is the school itself. Ask your student to check their school email correspondence and the school’s website. Of course, you can also ask parents who’ve gone through the process in the past to relay the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In the end, it comes down to this: plan, research the supplies that your student’s particular college or university provides and recommends, and then stick to the rules about what they don’t allow in the dorm. Additionally, think about what your student will use, and tailor your dorm room checklist to their specific needs.

By your student’s sophomore year, you’ll not only both be pros at making the list, but you’ll find that the balance of what you need to buy versus what you already have (and were able to save) will shift, and become more about packing, than shopping and packing.


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