Leaving home for the first time for a dorm? There’s a lot to get ready for. My ultimate list of dorm essentials will prepare you for almost anything you will face living in the dorms for the first time.


Source: University of Pennsylvania


Let’s start with the bed, an area of calm and comfort. An area where better sleep can help raise your grades.

Sam’s Club
Alarm Clock or Clock

You can use your smart phone, but having either an analog or digital clock on your bedside may give you more indication of how long you have to get to class. The Shake N’ Wake will wake you up with a gentle vibration and won’t disturb your roommie.


Aim to buy unique bedsheets detering would-be thiefs in the laundry room or space invading roommates’ guests (unless you’re cool with that!). Try searching for XL twin sheets that have one of your favorite childhood action heroes on it. Alternatively, soft flannel may be more comfortable. Most dorms have XL twin beds, so make sure to get the right size!

Bedsheet straps

Keep your bed tidy by using these neat straps.


duvet (pronounced “du-VEY”) is very cost-effective because it eliminates the need to spend extra money in laundering big fluffy blankets, shortening the blankets’ lifespan through tears and or other damages that occur in the wash cycle. Get one that is 100% cotton for good breathability and durability.


A basic comforter is all you need to put inside your duvet. Check out this video on Youtube (below) that demonstrates how to put a duvet on your comforter effortlessly.


Select pillows with memory foam. The Bamboo pillow is great because it is really squishy and contains shredded foam that provides firm but comfortable support that molds to back or side sleeping. (My chiropractor always reminds me that it’s never a good idea to sleep on your belly). This one comes with a removable soft pillow case that make it a great choice for college students because it’s quickly removed and washed. The insides can only be spot cleaned. You might want some cushy pillow toys to remind you of home and more relaxed times, so bring a couple of those too.

Mattress Pad

Dorm mattresses can be really, really old. Also, they’ve likely gone through a lot of abuse. If you aren’t bringing your own mattress, you are going to want to order a mattress pad or mattress topper. If you really want to treat yourself, get the gel one. Your body will love you for it.

Ear Plugs with holder 

Just because your body is comfortable now doesn’t mean you will still have perfect slumber. Dorms are notorious for high levels of noise (yes, even on quiet floors). You need a pair of ear plugs that are easily accessible, so I recommend these that come with a keychain, so you can take them with you other places and hang them on a hook when they are not in use. If ear plugs aren’t your thing, you might try noise canceling headphones.

I am also a huge fan of the CozyPhones Sleep Headphones that you can wear to sleep. If you record your lectures, this is definitely one to bring for quieter nights.

Sleep Mask / Blindfolds

Roommates will often “forget” that you are sleeping and turn the overhead light on and off throughout the night. Make sure you don’t get interrupted with a sleepmask or blindfolds.


Call your roommate(s) and ask if they’d be down for a night light. This may limit the night-time disruptions. I love the Himalayan Rock Salt Lamp – it will help clear the air, look beautiful, and set the mood for a really laid-back study session. I use it as a night light myself given that you can adjust its brightness.

Shower & Bathroom

The next area of dorm essentials is shower and bathroom readiness. When I first moved into the dorms, I always managed to forget a number of items in my room when I went for a shower in the communal bathroom. My towel was sometimes not always reliable in keeping me modest. Don’t let this happen to you. Here’s what you need to get your primping done efficiently and privately!

Towel & Washcloths

Get ones in really bizarre colors that will NOT look like your roommates’ towels.

Robe or Spa Wrap

If your shower is far from your room, you might want to get the robe– terry cloth absorbs water the best. I’d avoid only using a towel so that you don’t run into any embarrassing accidents, so if it’s a quick walk get a spa wrap as it’ll provide you will more assured decency.

Laundry Hamper

Give yourself some more privacy with an opaque laundry hamper. You don’t need your intimates in full view of your roommate and their guests.

Laundry Detergent

My personal favorite is powdered detergent that is ultra concentrated so I don’t need to lug a heavy barrel of soap to the laundry room on top of heaps of laundry. With Charlie’s Soap you only need about a spoonful per load. It could last you the whole semester.

Over-the-door Hanging Mirror

Your roommate might love this too. By bringing a door mirror, you avoid multiple trips to the bathroom and give yourself extra privacy by not primping in the communal bathroom.

Shower Caddy

Shower caddies are absolutely essential to shower efficiency. In communal showers, it’s not always possible to run back and forth to the dorm room to retrieve forgotten items. What I love about mesh caddies is that they can be thrown in the wash. Plastic ones tend to get grimy and make it a task to clean whereas this one can be placed down on a towel when you get back to your room and then added to the laundry for cleaning once in a while.


Don’t forget your favorite shampoos/ conditioners, razors, hair brush, comb, hair spray, shaving cream, soap/ body wash, lotion, perfumes, toothbrushes (Bring a few of each of your toiletries as the ones in the dorm convenience store will be marked up for “convenience;” they may also not be your first in choice.)

Toiletry organizer

Having everything organized will help speed up your morning routine in a small space. This toiletry organizer is especially useful if you have limited counter top as you can hang this on a hook.

Shower shoes

The floors in the showers are filthy. Please don’t put a risk on your health by coming in direct contact with any of the mold/ mildew/ fungus that may be growing on the walls or floor of the shower. Get yourself a pair of very comfortable Crocs or a similar waterproof shoe without a thong. Flip flops are cheap but you can easily slip in them when there are spills on tiled floors. They also have a short lifespan. Lastly, with Crocs you can easily slip your feet in and out to wash your feet.

Shoji Screen/ Room divider

Room dividers are completely optional. Some people want to get dressed in total privacy. If your roommate wants one too, they may even split the cost so you can both use it.


Source: University of Pennsylvania

Desk, Studying, & Entertainment

While you may spend a majority of your time at your desk studying and preparing assignments for class, you will also want to let loose and relax from the stress of class. This section is what you will need to keep an organized desk that you can both entertain yourself and stay focused on your studies.

Desk lamp

Dorms don’t automatically come with proper desk lighting for studying. One of my favorite desk lamps comes with USB plug ins and a pen holder, excellent for organized students.

Desk Organizers

You might also invest in a desk organizer to keep up a system with your homework and folders. Moreover, as a lovely addition, succulent plants require little water and will bring Zen to your desk as you study.

Landline phone

Many dorms come with a complimentary phone outlet that allows you to make local calls. You might want to make use of this and bring your own landline phone if cell service is not so good.

Decorations/ Posters

While decorations and posters are certainly not necessary, you do not want to feel like you are in a prison cell. There are an abundance of options. There are foam stick on bricks that give your wall a more artful and sophisticated look that neighbors will envy. But you may also opt for posters of your favorite band, movie or TV show. Don’t forget to add some frames of your family & friends.

Computer/ Laptop

Computers are one of the most essential items you will need on campus, from accessing your Learning Management System (LMS), like Blackboard or Canvas, to getting your assignments done. Do not leave this item off your list. Although expensive, this item is a huge investment towards your success. Most students will end up getting a PC like Dell or HP. If you are a music or art student. I highly recommend getting a MacBook.

Laptop Carrying Case

If you are getting a laptop, do not forget a laptop case. I highly recommend getting one of the most embarrassing designs not only to stick out, but also so if it’s ever stolen, it will make it easier for campus police to help you find it with an original look. Don’t forget to get some decals so that you can describe your laptop as well.

iPad and Cover Case

Certainly, the iPad is not a requirement, but it has so many features that can gear you for college success that I have to strongly recommend you to consider it. This iPad can wake you up, you can now plug it in, activate “Hey Siri” to ask any question you may have plus unlimited more features. It really can substitute for a number of items including a TV? My favorite is the iPad Pro. I love using it with shock proof cases because mine get thrown around a bit, but also they have vibrant colors that stick out. Lastly, they stand up on their own and can hang on hooks. I love to download videos from Netflix and take it with me to the gym.


While I think the best alternative to a TV is an iPad or computer, lots of people, understandably still want their TV. So the main thing to keep in mind here is that TVs can take up a bit of space. You might want to talk with your roommate(s) about it ahead of time to decide if you both want one or if you should keep it on your side. Since space is the biggest issue, you will want to look for a flat-screen. Also, if you are considering a flat screen, see if you can get a mounting kit as this will allow some space. Just make sure in advance that this will be okay at your dorm. See some recommended options for flat screens below:


Obviously, there is no kitchen in your dorm other than occasional shared kitchens, but there are still ways to get around that. The following list is some suggestions of things to help you meet your hunger needs.


Your main source of nourishment is going to be cafeteria food, but schoolwork makes anyone hungry. Stick with snacks that are going to give you the longest source of energy to keep your focus up. The best snack foods are the ones that keep your energy high. Nuts and high protein choices are the best.

Dishes, Glasses, Tumblers, Utensils

You might want to get some servingware for your room especially if you are considering making things with a microwave or other small appliance. For hot drinks, a tumbler is essential. The Tiger keeps hot REALLY piping hot. I don’t personally enjoy burning my tongue, so I usually take a Contigo with me (shown below) because I’ve noticed mine is not as hot as the Tiger after the coffee’s been in there a while.

French Press

Hello coffee drinkers! One of the best ways to make friends in college is to know how to make a good cup of coffee. What makes the French press appealing to a college student is that you do not need to plug it into an outlet. If you are lucky enough and there is a hot/cold water dispenser on your floor, you can just add the hot water to the coarse coffee grinds, wait a minute, press down, and pour out your coffee. I’ve been through my fair share of French presses, and the one I like the most is stainless steel as it is way more durable than the glass. With the notorious low temperatures of dorm rooms and the changes the glass will face as hot water pours in, I’d get the stainless steel just in case. The last thing you want is a case of broken glass and no broom around.


This is a big purchase, you might want to work this one out with your roommate. It comes in really handy for cold drinks, and leaving leftovers. I love the one with the eraser board on it. It screams “college dorm” for sure.


I recently purchased a Vitamix and the lady who sold it to me told me to buy it for my children when they go to college. I was thinking about it a lot. In general, blenders make a lot of noise and the Vitamix is no exception. However, it is so easy to clean and can do so much. It has a huge following and tons of recipes and, for sure, is a crowd pleaser with its ability to make a 6- minute soup, ice cream, smoothies, dough and more. I would recommend it as long as you are not living on a quiet floor in your dormitory. It’ll keep you eating healthy when the cafeteria is closed. It’s basically like a tiny kitchen in one appliance. The smoothies it makes are heavenly!

Microwave / Toaster Oven

As with all appliances you are considering to take with you to your dorm, make sure to call ahead to get approval. Microwaves need no explanation. They will warm your food, but they will take up space.

Clothes & Closet


There’s a few types of hangers to choose from. First, for lightweight items, you might choose space-saving velvet hangers. For heavy-weight clothes, get heavy duty hangers. For pants or skirts, get some slacks hangers. For scarfs, get loop hangers.

Storage Boxes / Stackable crates

These will come in handy to store older textbooks from a previous semester, old notebooks, clothes for a different seasons, magazines, snacks, or what ever else. Get yourself some labels to make it more organized, so you will easily find what you need.

Personal Items

Purse/ Wallet/ Tote Bags/ Backpack

When I was in college, theft was one of the most prevalent crimes on campus. I kept myself safe by ordering the most outrageous backpack design, white with big hearts all over it and a large Pikachu plush keychain. For a thief on the prowl, the least they want to do is draw attention to themselves.


Keep these under lock and key if you can. There is a lot of drug experimentation in college. Who knows if a roommate’s guest will go through your things while you are not there.

Important papers/ IDs

These should be kept under lock and key as well.


So here’s to your longterm college success! I’d love to expand this list and hear from you about your dorm move-in experience and some of the items you brought with you. Please share your stories and advice in the comments below! Some questions to consider in your comments could be:

What did you forget?

What problems did you run into?

How was your experience meeting your new roommate(s)?

What is something that you cannot live without at your dorm?

Now that you’ve spent a ton on getting your dorm decked out, read how to save the most money on college textbooks! Or, find out about the product that find lost items for you.

Author: College Mamma

College Mamma is a professor who blogs for students. She is also a mother of two and a lover of coffee.