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We’ve officially crossed into the world of parenting college aged kids. Sending your kids off to school is a bit overwhelming, even more so if your kids are like mine and heading to school 6+ hours away. If they need something there is no hopping in the car and driving it over.
It’s best to start making your list now and double checking it twice. Let’s get the dorm essentials right the first time and not have a lot of needs once you get them moved in!
Besides the obvious like clothes, underwear, and a laptop, here’s a great list of 40+ things you want to pack (or least chat about whether they want them). If you start shopping now you’ll find lots of great deals and maybe even have time to hit thrift stores and online marketplace listings.
Dorm Room Packing List
Mattress Topper Twin XL
While dorms come with mattresses they are notoriously not comfortable. Grabbing a 2 inch mattress topper will make them sleep much better. Note there are some very expensive models, but most foam doesn’t last more than a year or two. Go cheaper, they won’t sleep in a Twin XL forever.
Going along with the topper above… how many people have slept in this bed before you? It’s best to not really think about that. Just get a zip up mattress protector and sleep in peace. These are designed to not only to protect the mattress from spills but also you from allergens.
Pretty much every college uses the same Twin XL beds. Your twin sheets from home will be 6 inches too short. Go ahead and buy a new set, this will definitely make for a rough first day if you wait to find out at the dorm. My go-to would be these from Kohls. We see sales all the time and you won’t care if they never get washed and get thrown away after a year.
A college dorm bed also doubles as a sofa and study space. They will want more than one pillow. Go with Kohls here too, you can’t beat their basic microfiber pillow prices!
A great way to make their bed also be a couch is a large body pillow. It’s not really for them to snuggle up with at night, but instead to put along the back of the bed. It will also work great on the floor, against the wall… this is the cheapest most portable way to have a soft hangout spot.
Space is a premium in tiny dorm rooms. Adding an extra 4 inches of under bed space means a lot more storage. I remember kids who just used cinder blocks for this, but in today’s world getting actual bed risers is much cheaper than construction supplies!
We grabbed one of these a few years for a long road trip and it didn’t take long before I fell in love! Load each compartment with basics like Tylenol, Advil, Benadryl, Tums… just make sure that your kiddo knows what is in each section (label them) and how to take each one.
I’m kinda labeling this one wrong… really I just mean a big box of fun band-aids. You can send them with a first aid kit, but odds are they’ll never use it. In general we just need band-aids to make everything better. If you want to go with a real first aid kit, just grab them a tube of Neosporin to go with this. Anything beyond that they probably need to go to the campus medical center anyway.
One exception: If your kid is a nursing major you should send them with a huge first aid kit. Everyone will learn they are in nursing and come with every injury and illness to see them. I might have removed glass from someone’s backside in college…
This might seem a strange item, but with the kitchen far down the hall (or maybe not there at all) this is a great way to have water on hand without going to the bathroom sink all the time. A double win that it is filtered.
Electric Kettle (if allowed)
If you have kids that love tea or fast coffee, an Electric Kettle is a much cheaper option than an coffee pot or Keurig. Not all dorms will allow these, so make sure to check the list of prohibited items.
This is another item to make sure you are allowed to have… but it’s one of the most needed! You’ll have maybe 3 outlets to share between everyone in the room. Grab decent extension cords and help create peace with the roommates. I know the rules for my girls dorm is no cords longer than 6 ft or less than 16 gauge wire (this one fits the specs perfectly)
If you skip the normal extension cord, don’t skip the surge protector. All major electronics should be on surge protectors whether at home or in a dorm. Sharing electricity with 500 other people only intensifies the need for a surge strip! I really like this one that also has USB plugs to help charge other devices.
There are about a million reasons that you’ll want them to keep the door open.
While it’s not a necessity, having a lap desk makes it super easy to work and study anywhere. Most dorm rooms have a desk for each kid but that doesn’t mean that your room is always the best place to study.
The #1 thing most college students will tell you to bring is lamps! Having only overhead lights just doesn’t work long term. Grab a highly rated desk lamp so they can work at night. This one even doubles as a clock, phone charger, and room thermometer.
Hopefully your kids are going to do laundry… at least send them with a laundry bag or basket in hopes that it will help. Collapsible is best as this will live under the bed or in the tiny closet. I’m a big fan of the bags rather than a hard-sided basket. But these are both great options.
This seems a bit much for a dorm room, but I’ll guarantee you that within a week they will have a sheet, towel, or clothes covering up their windows. If your kids sleep in a dark room at home this is going to be a big part of them sleeping well at school.
Tip: Grab Command Strip curtain rod hooks to hang these. Most dorms won’t allow you to install a permanent curtain rod.
The top bunk has the most privacy but you give up having a night stand to keep things on. A bed shelf gives you everything you want right there! I don’t know that I’d keep drinks up there… but let them learn that lesson.
Go cheap here… they need one and will be thankful you packed it, but you aren’t going to want this thing back. Plan to have them chunk it at the end of the year! The Target Room Essentials line is probably the lowest price you’ll find!
Along the same lines as the bath mat, I’d aim for cheap but durable. Target Room Essentials was basically designed for college students and the $8 oversized towel is perfect for a dorm room.
Our girls are sharing a suite style bathroom with 4 other girls. That’s a lot of girls to one bathroom. Having a place for your things under the counter (or even under your bed) is going to be a necessity. Boy moms can skip it, but fellow girl moms, this one has the highest rating and will hold up great.
Whether they are living suite style or community bathroom, they will want a shower caddy. There is no room for everyone to keep their stuff in the shower. Mesh caddy bags are the best, they dry out quickly and worst case can be thrown right in the washing machine.
Check with your dorm regulations, but most residence halls only allow command strips for hanging things up. You know they are going to want at least a poster on the wall, so send them with a pack and avoid fees at the end of year!
Water bottles are very on trend, so odds are you don’t need to buy one. Just make sure to remember to pack it. You want them drinking water!
While they make a smaller K-mini, your kiddos won’t love that it has to be refilled for every cup. Go with the K-Express that can brew 4 cups thanks to having a reservoir. Don’t forget to send care packages with more k-cups.
If you are sending them with a Keurig, they’re going to want a coffee cup. Dig through the cabinet and find ones you don’t love, but also consider at least one travel mug. This is grab and go breakfast for college kids on the way to class.
This is one of the items to arrange with roomates. If one is grabbing the fridge then let the other handle the microwave. You might think they don’t need this, they have a meal plan. That doesn’t work for teenagers that eat late night snacks or want something quick wtihout walking across campus. Best Buy is your go-to for a cheap option.
Note: Check your dorm requirements for size and wattage. Ours couldn’t be over 900 watts.
When I was college we all used extra meal plan credits to buy cartons of ice cream. While that might have changed, ice cream is still important! Grab a mini fridge with separate freezer area. Many dorms also have a size limit for refrigerators so check guidelines before buying. Target has the best deal, and even better if you pay with a Target RedCard for another 5% off.
One of the fun parts of dorm life is having a dry erase board on your door. Get one that is also magnetic. These are super cheap, so it’s an easy add to the packing list that brings a smile.
Sharing a bedroom the size of a closet is tricky even without all your belongings in the same room. Maximize space with extra storage under the bed. These are very affordable and super compact when they aren’t being used.
Use them for packing and extra storage, you’ll want one or two storage totes. Target’s Brightroom line is the most affordable with totes for only $9.
Tip: If your kid is traveling away to school, check with the dorm to see if they offer basement storage. Many schools allow kids over 200 miles from home extra storage space!
Along the same lines as the bins above these have great reviews and are collapsible. Grab a 6-pack and get all their clothes, towels and more packed up without resorting to trashbags.
For a dorm room this is the ultimate multi-purpose furniture. This particular ottoman can hold up to 250 pounds if they sit on it, plus it stores things! Consider it a chair and a closet.
This is your coat rack and towel rack. I put this is necessity category unless they plan to use the bed frame to dry their towel…
These are handy little hooks that let you hang more things in a tiny closet. I know this one assumes they will hang up clothes, but if their dorm only comes with three dresser drawers and a tiny closet one can hope they will put their clothes somewhere.
Odds are their dorm room comes with a trash can, but having an extra one near your desk or even in the bathroom could be handy. At $7 this isn’t a big expense, so see what they think…
Can you tell I have girls? Mirrors make a tiny room look larger and help girls not fight over the bathroom. This just became a requirement in my book.
Floor space is premium in dorm rooms, so think like a city builder and go up! I love these vertical tree bookshelves and they would fit great on the top of a desk.
While you don’t have to grab them as a set, at least don’t forget to pack the school items they will want. Grabbing these at the campus bookstore will cost a ton more than you can get on sale!
It seems like a no brainer, but this is the most forgotten item when packing the car. They are thinking about laundry. Please make sure they know how to do laundry before leaving too.
Don’t expect them to clean, but at least send them with something that could clean up a mess if needed. Lysol wipes are perfect. Also, only send them with one container. They probably won’t even use all of it.
They probably won’t use everything in this kit, but having some basic tools is just part of feeling grown up. Let them try to fend for themselves and fix something if needed. If anything, having tools might help them make friends as everyone will want to borrow them.