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12 must-have essentials for your first college apartment

Move in and out with ease.

two women moving boxes up a staircase Credit: AleksandarNakic / Getty Images

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It’s officially back-to-school season, and for many older students, that means it's time to start shopping for their college dorm or apartment. Decorating for your college apartment is a lot different than sprucing up your first permanent home. Because you’ll only be there for a couple years, you don’t have quite enough time to make yourself at home. But with the right furniture and décor items, you can transform your college living space into a place you actually want to be. Here, find 12 essentials for university living to make your campus housing your favorite hangout spot this school year.

1. This Tuft & Needle mattress topper

Tuft & Needle
Credit: Tuft & Needle

A mattress topper is a low-commitment way to boost your quality of sleep.

A proper night’s sleep is crucial during college if you want to stay on top of your grades and awake during lectures. Whether you’re inheriting a former occupant’s mattress or haven’t been in a place to invest in something higher quality, a mattress topper is a low-commitment way of maximizing your comfort without spending a ton. Tuft & Needle’s top-rated foam option relieves pressure on your joints, and keeps you cool—much like its best-selling mattress, which took the top spot in our testing. It includes traction on the flip side to prevent any skidding in your sleep

Many of its 1,500 reviewers describe how the mattress topper helps them wake up pain-free: “We needed something to add a little more cushion and support for our Tuft & Needle mattress, something both my wife and I would be happy with. The T&N topper exceeded expectations. After sleeping on the topper, pressure points were immediately alleviated and morning hip, joint, and muscle pain completely vanished. Money well spent!”

Get the Mattress Topper from Tuft & Needle from $180

2. This iRobot robot vacuum

iRobot
Credit: iRobot

Let the expert-approved iRobot do the dirty work with its impressive self-navigational skills.

Between library sessions, errands, and social commitments, it’s rare for a college student to carve out the necessary time to vacuum. Let the expert-approved Roomba i3+ do the dirty work with its impressive self-navigational skills. It self-empties for a full 30 days with daily use, picks up as much dirt as its pricier competitors, tackles pet hair without getting clogged, and gets to work through the app or the sound of your voice. Jon Chen, our senior lab manager and expert on all things cleaning appliances, calls it the less expensive version of his top robot vacuum pick, the Roomba i7+, making it a more accessible way to keep your apartment clean on a student budget.

Get the iRobot Roomba i3+ from Amazon for $539 from Amazon

3. This Instagram-famous Our Place pan

Our Place
Credit: Our Place

The multifunctional Always Pan will become a permanent fixture in your college cooking routine.

College is the perfect opportunity to explore creative ways to cook—and save money by skipping takeout. Grab the Instagram-famous Always Pan from Our Place, which is designed to take the place of eight pieces of cookware, making it ideal for small spaces. The 2.6-quart pan with a non-stick ceramic coating functions as everything from a skillet to a steamer to a fry pan, and comes in nine stunning colors like sage and terracotta. It’s said to serve 1,000 purposes, from braising to boiling and more, according to the brand.

It includes a domed lid, a beechwood spatula with a spoon rest, and a nesting metal steamer basket (hello, steamed dumplings!). Our reviewer found that it heats up quicker than her other stainless steel cookware thanks to its high-induction aluminum core, leading to crispier pork chops. Plus, at three pounds, she says the pan feels lightweight in her hands.

Get the Always Pan from Our Place for $145

4. These four-tier shelves

Origami
Credit: Origami

This top-rated storage solution will help you organize your belongings in a pinch.

Proper storage will help you feel that much closer to having your life together in college since it’s a place to hide, er, clean your clutter. With four generously sized shelves, these two powder-coated steel racks are a spacious way to store kitchen supplies, bedding, clothing, and more. It has detachable wheels that lock, and it folds right up to facilitate moving it in and out of your apartment.

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Of its 3,300 reviewers, many say the assembly is incredibly easy, and they come in handy daily: “Great racks, so easy to put together. My home has very little storage so I was able to maximize what I have and also move them around and pull them out of a closet if I wanted to find something easily. Fold them up if you don’t have the need for them, but who am I kidding we all have lots and lots of stuff. I bought 4 and I couldn’t be happier!”

Get the Origami Heavy Duty 4-Tier Rack 2-pack from HSN for $259.95

5. This Dyson fan and heater

Dyson
Credit: Dyson

Dyson keeps your space feeling either comfortably cool or cozy and warm so you can sleep and study in peace.

Like Goldilocks, we all endeavor to get the temp of our place feeling juuuust right. This heating and cooling device from Dyson—one of our favorite space heaters overall—has all your bases covered no matter the season. The bladeless fan works to powerfully project air from 33℉ to 99℉ on 10 speed settings. You can opt for the personal fan setting, which dispels a concentrated pathway of air, or the diffused setting for even temperature distribution across the room. Its sleep timer allows you to drift off without having to turn it off. Best of all, the remote control magnetizes to the fan so you never lose it between your couch cushions.

Many of its reviews note how the heat setting helps them reduce their heating bill, making it energy- and cost-efficient: “I could not have gotten this at a better time! This is phenomenal! Absolutely love the heat this generates and the savings by being able to keep my heat setting lower! I have had to use the cooling feature a few times since it was too efficient at heating up my room! Super easy to move from room to room as needed."

Get the Dyson AM09 Hot & Cool Bladeless Fan & Heater from QVC for $399.98

6. This oral hygiene essential

Waterpik
Credit: Waterpik

College is a great time to develop healthier habits with this compact water flosser.

You’re an adult now, which means it’s time to actually start flossing so you don’t need to lie to your dentist yet again. Waterpik makes it easy to develop the habit and stick to it with their compact, small space-friendly water flosser with three pressure settings. Thanks to its waterproof design, you can use it in the shower while rushing to get ready for class. It has a global voltage system making it great for use studying abroad, and operates fairly quietly so you don’t wake your roommate. It's a great little treat for your morning routine since it helps you feel refreshed.

With an Amazon’s Choice badge and over 13,000 reviews, many note it’s become particularly helpful while living in transitory living situations due to its compact size.

Get the Waterpik Cordless Water Flosser from Bed, Bath, and beyond for $43.99

7. These customizable frames

TilePix
Credit: TilePix

TilePix allows you to deck the walls without a single scratch.

TilePix is a genius concept since it allows you to deck your walls in art without drilling or hammering unsightly holes into the wall. To order your TilePix photos, upload your favorite picture(s) from your desktop or mobile app, and select your frame size and color.

To hang them, simply wash and dry the area of your wall you want to decorate, stick a magnetic pad directly onto it, then hang your picture or form a collage. You’re able to request a complementary rough wall kit for popcorn or orange peel-textured walls. Because TilePix photos are magnetic, you can easily swap out and adjust frames depending on your mood—and take them with you into your new apartment.

“I am head over heels in love with these,” says one customer. “Not just because of the quality but they are also super easy to install (just stick it on the wall and then it connects to the base with a magnet). 110% recommend.”

Get TilePix 3-Pack at Walgreens for $44.99

8. A spacious trash can that will keep odors at bay

dual-compartmet trash can on white background
Credit: simplehuman

Store your trash without the stink.

You and your roommates are bound to amass a lot of trash while living together. From the empty beer cans leftover from the weekend to the loads of empty takeout containers, all those recyclables and rubbage will pile up, and fast. A good-sized trash can can make all the difference though, and we're partial to the ones from Simplehuman.

This 46-liter model features color-coded compartments for both recyclying and trash, a fingerprint-proof stainless steel exterior, as well as a space-efficient internal hinge lets you place can right against wall, so it won't be in the way in smaller-sized kitchens. Trust us, you'll be glad you invested in a nice option when your roommate's old leftovers aren't stinking up the place.

Get the simplehuman 46-Liter Brushed Stainless Steel Dual Recycler Step Trash Can from Macy's for $149.99

9. This small convertible desk

Calico Designs
Credit: Calico Designs

An affordable, well-made desk is the foundation of a solid college experience.

Can’t make it to the library? Make your apartment a study-friendly zone with this convertible desk that reviewers say is sturdy and easy to set up. Its keyboard shelf folds back in when not in use to save space, and you can add 10 by 20-inch table extensions on both sides to maximize your workspace, or use them on lower rungs for extra shelving space. The desk contains four floor levelers and a rear crossbar to keep it in place, and it features a storage compartment you can use for either for your computer tower or miscellaneous study materials.

One pleased reviewer says “This desk was easy to assemble since it took less than 15 minutes. Looks fantastic and the ability to change the shelf locations was handy.” Others note the desk fits in small spaces while also accommodating two monitors.

Get the Calico Designs Ashwood Convertible Computer Desk from Best Buy for $122.99

10. This expert-approved personal blender

Nutribullet blender
Credit: Reviewed/Betsey Goldwasser

Our experts found the NutriBullet to beat out all other personal blenders on the market.

Chances are you’re lacking the time and energy to prepare healthy snacks to sustain you throughout all your classes and after-school activities. Our experts tested several top personal blenders on the market, and found the NutriBullet Select to be “perfect personal blender for everyday use”.

Thanks to its pre-programmed blending cycles and helpful accessories, you aren’t relegated to smoothies: whip up batters, gravies, and marinades, or even frozen cocktails for your Friday night festivities. Certain parts are top-rack dishwasher safe making clean-up a breeze, and its pulse feature lets you dice and chop vegetables with ease, taking some of the elbow grease out of meal-prepping manually. With 1,000W of power, the blender is a no-brainer way to keep you nourished on a budget.

Get the NutriBullet Select from NutriBullet for $99.99

11. This charging lamp

Cozoo
Credit: Cozoo

This charging lamp ensures your most-used devices are always ready to go.

You need light, you need charged devices, and you've only got a limited amount of space. This charging lamp solves all three of those issues. Charge three devices at once through the USB ports, and power two other devices through its outlets. The LED bulb emits a warm white glow perfect for increasing visibility while you study, or acting as a reading light while you wind down for bed. It boasts a sleek, minimalist design to match any type of home décor scheme.

One of its 2,900 reviewers says “I am extremely satisfied with my purchase of the bedside lamp. I was a bit amazed at the size of the box when I received it. I thought, ‘This can’t be right, it's such a small box.’ Good things do indeed come in small packages though. The lamp is the perfect size. The USB plugs work great on my Samsung S8+ even when the lamp is off. The additional plug-ins also work when the lamp is turned off and come in super handy since the available plug is behind my bed. I looked everywhere at my local big box stores for a lamp like this and couldn't find one that came close in comparison.”

Get the COZOO USB Bedside Table & Desk Lamp Amazon from $29.99

12. Our experts’ favorite mini refrigerator

Magic Chef
Credit: Reviewed/Jackson Ruckar

Varying storage options and a cool design make the Magic Chef mini fridge a winner.

Whether you’re flying solo in your apartment or sharing your space, one thing remains the same: you’ll want unfettered access to all your snacks and drinks—without having to venture to the main fridge to get them. A personal fridge in your room is a great way to prevent handsy roommates from getting to your food (AKA study fuel), and they’re small enough to fit seamlessly into your room’s design.


Out of all the best mini fridges our experts tested, they found the Magic Chef’s top freezer hovered at an ideal 37°F, whereas others tended to lean on the warmer side. It includes a variety of storage options that support a two-liter bottle and eight-ounce cans along with adjustable shelves. The retro aesthetic makes this mini fridge so much more than a utilitarian appliance, but a work of art.

Get the Magic Chef Retro 3.2 Cu. Ft. 2 Door Mini Fridge from Home Depot for $279.99

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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