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22 dorm essentials for every college freshman

Don't show up unprepared

Student sitting in their dorm room with a mini fridge and lamp beside them. Credit: Reviewed

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Creating a college packing list can be overwhelming. The excitement and nerves of newly gained independence is thrilling. As you prepare to move into your college dorm for the first time ever, you may be unsure of the right dorm essentials.

To make back-to-school shopping easier, we’ve put together a list of dorm essentials that every student needs for a successful dorm room experience.

Here are the 22 dorm essentials you need to bring to college.

1. Bedding

A person sitting on a dorm room bed covered in Twin XL sheets.
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

QVC's Home Reflections Sheet set is soft and cozy but holds up in the wash.

Dorm rooms are a place to rest and sleep, so make sure that your bed helps you get the job done. Dorm beds are traditionally Twin XL sizing, so we put the best Twin XL sheets to the test, and we found QVC’s Home Reflections cotton sheet set to be the best. They’re soft and cozy feel, and hold up well in the wash.

Pro tip: Buy two sets so you’ve got a spare on laundry day.

Buy at QVC

2. Pillows

A white pillow sitting at the head of a bed.
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

The Amazon Basics Down-alternative pillows are a great, affordable option no matter which way you sleep.

Depending on which side you sleep on, there’s a pillow for everyone. We rounded up the best pillows for back sleepers to side sleepers to stomach sleepers.

The Amazon Basics Down-alternative pillows are a great option no matter which way you sleep.

You’ll also want to add a pillow protector like this one from Amazon Basics to keep away dirt, dust mites, and general grime of day-to-day use. You can throw these in the wash alongside your bedding to refresh your pillows easily.

Buy at AmazonBuy at Amazon

3. A mattress topper

A Casper mattress topper sitting on top of a mattress and box spring.
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

A mattress topper will be the most important purchase you made for your college dorm.

Dorm mattresses can be impossible to sleep on comfortably unless you bring a mattress topper—trust me, I speak from experience.

Beyond any appliances you purchase, a mattress topper will be the biggest purchase you make.

This is an absolute dorm essential so avoid the cheap foam models that will flatten after a few months. Invest in one that has high-quality memory foam that bounces back day after day. Casper makes our favorite mattress topper, which expands quickly out of the box and is super supportive for a goodnight’s sleep.

Buy at Casper

4. Bath towels

A white towel sitting on a table.
Credit: Reviewed / Camryn Rabideau

Our best value bath towels are soft, absorbent, and affordable.

Whether you have a bathroom en suite or down the hall, make sure you have a plush towel that is absorbent and comfortable. Make sure to have at least two towels to rotate between. If you have to walk down the hall post-shower, size up to a bath sheet so you have a towel that is full coverage.

Our best value option, the Pinzon Organic Cotton Bath Sheet, is great because it’s soft and absorbent while also coming in 2- or 4-packs in a variety of colors to match your personal style.

Buy at Amazon

5. A shower caddy

A mesh shower caddy sitting next to a sink.
Credit: CDDLR

Seek out a shower caddy made from lightweight mesh for quick drying.

Regardless of where your shower is located in your dorm, storing your toiletries in a shower caddy allows for easy transport and organization. We like this one from CDDLR that’s constructed of a quick-drying mesh fabric material that’s less bulky than a hard plastic option. Plus, it’s flexible enough to tuck away into a small space or hang from a hook to let it dry.

Buy at Amazon

6. Over-the-door hooks

Over-the-door hooks hanging from a white door with towels and robes.
Credit: Bed, Bath, & Beyond

Over-the-door hooks require no installation, and provide extra storage for your wet towels and winter jackets.

You’ll have limited closet and hanger space in your dorm room so an over-the-door hook rack like this 10-hook rack from iDesign, is a must. These require no installation, and they provide extra storage for your wet towels and winter jackets. They can hang from your dorm room door or a closet door.

Buy at Bed Bath & Beyond

7. LED desk lamp

A young person working under a bright desk lamp.
Credit: Cozoo

This lamp has everything: storage and charging capabilities.

The overhead lighting in dorm rooms can be harsh, more like being in a doctor’s office than the place you’re supposed to be studying or relaxing. With this in mind, you’ll want to bring your own lighting to give your eyes a break and create a chill ambiance.

If you want something for your desk that provides extra organization, get a desk lamp, like the Cozoo LED desk lamp, that’s also a desk organizer and can hold pens and other supplies. The adjustable head can change positions along with you when you’re spending late nights at the desk. Plus it has a charging port to keep your cell phone charged overnight.

Buy at Amazon

8. A power strip

A gray power strip against a light pink background.
Credit: Reviewed / Globe Electric

We recommend a power strip with USB ports so you don't need a power converter when it comes time to charge.

When you walk into your dorm room, the first thing you should do is look for electrical outlets. This will help you and your roommate set up your layout so that you can conveniently charge all your devices without climbing under or behind furniture. You’ll need the help of a power outlet for easy charging.

You've got options when it comes to power strips. We recommend this Globe Electric model from Bed Bath & Beyond with USB ports. You can plug in USB charging cords without needing a power converter.

Buy at Bed Bath & Beyond

9. Clothing hangers

Clothes hanging from wire hangers against a brick background.
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

For small closets, go for something sleek and compact.

Your dorm closet will be tiny, guaranteed, so you’ll want a slim hanger that will let you pack in clothes, like the Timmy wire hangers. These hangers are sleek and won’t cramp your clothing.

They’re sturdy and durable and can handle everything from T-shirts to a winter jacket. They’re affordable, too, with a 40-pack coming in at just under $25.

Buy at Amazon

10. Over-the-door shoe organizer

Against an orange and teal background are two views of an over the door shoe organizer.
Credit: Reviewed / SimpleHouseware

To maximize storage without taking up more square footage, add an over-the-door shoe organizer.

Most dorm rooms come with a wardrobe and a set of drawers. To maximize storage without taking up more square footage, add an over-the-door shoe organizer, like the 24-pocket SimpleHouseware organizer, a great tool for keeping your shoes from being scattered across the floor.

These organizers are also helpful for storing accessories, scissors, or anything else you want to keep close by, but still tucked away.

Buy at Amazon

11. Laundry hamper

A person wearing a laundry hamper than has backpack straps.
Credit: Dalykate

When laundry day rolls around, you can easily close the drawstring top of this bag and carry it to the laundry room on your back.

So your floor doesn’t become a pile of dirty clothes (let’s be honest, it still may anyway), grab a laundry hamper to stow away dirty clothes and towels. Washers and dryers are often down the hall or in the basement of dorm buildings, so you’ll need to consider transporting it easily, too.

This backpack-style laundry hamper from Dalykate makes it easy to throw in your clothes throughout the week. That way, when laundry day rolls around, you can easily close the drawstring top and carry it down on your back.

Buy at Amazon

12. Trash bin

A blue step trashcan against a purple, blue, and orange background.
Credit: Reviewed / mDesign

Seek out a trash bin that has a lid to keep trash out of site.

You won’t realize you need one until you need to toss away a sticky note or tissue—a trash can will come in handy at just the right moment.

You'll want to get a waste basket that's small enough to not take up much space and has a lid to keep trash out of site. This trashcan from mDesign also has a step for hands-free use.

Buy at Amazon

13. Disinfectant wipes

A 3-pack of Clorox wipes against a blue and green background.
Credit: Reviewed / Clorox

Clorox disinfectant wipes are a great option for dorm life because they’re pre-moistened and easy to use on a variety of surfaces.

With the amount of living that happens in a dorm room, it’s guaranteed that you’ll have germs moving in, too. But don’t worry about bringing in a full closet’s worth of cleaning supplies.

Instead, choose one great product that’s EPA-certified to kill all types of bacteria and viruses, such as the COVID-19 virus, from hard surfaces. Clorox disinfectant wipes are a great option because they’re pre-moistened and easy to use.

Buy at Amazon

14. First aid kit

A Dorm Doc bag against a teal background.
Credit: Reviewed / Dorm Doc

The DormDoc first aid kit is a compact package containing all the supplies you could potentially need in a pinch.

Going off to college will remind you not to take for granted the bandages and ibuprofen your parents have always had handy when you needed it. You’ll want to bring your own first aid supplies because dorm living can lead to cuts, colds, and unexpected accidents.

The DormDoc first aid kit is a compact package and a great option if you’re overwhelmed with what supplies you could potentially need all in a convenient package. Consider yourself the de facto parent of the dorm floor when all your friends have a cut or cold they need tending to.

Buy at Amazon

15. A big mug

A ceramic mug posed with similar looking mugs against a pink background.
Credit: Bosmarlin

A big mug will serve you for coffee, tea, water, ramen, and mac and cheese.

If you’re overwhelmed at the prospect of bringing an entire set of silverware, plates or cooking equipment to the dorm room, don’t stress. Start small!

The one item on your dorm room checklist that will get you through your day-to-day is a big mug that you can fill with water, coffee or even a bowl of cereal. We like this Bosmarlin mug, which is over 20 ounces and is both microwave- and dishwasher-safe.

Buy at Amazon

16. A microwave

A countertop microwave sitting on a counter in a kitchen.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

A shared microwave will let you warm up midnight cups of coffee and lots of instant ramen.

Access to shared kitchens in a residence hall varies, so we advise having your own microwave, if dorm policies allow it. It will let you heat up hot water, a cup of noodles or leftovers without having to schelp down the hall. It’s the best one-stop shop for cooking appliances.

We like the Cuisinart countertop microwave for its reliable heating skills and sturdy design. It’ll stand up to moving in and out of the dorm as well as whatever antics you get up to in the dorm.

Buy at Amazon

17. A mini fridge

Magic Chef Retro mini fridge filled with soda, eggs, yogurt, and more food items.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

Investing in a mini fridge will let you have access to perishable items like yogurt, fruits and vegetables, and those leftovers you take home when your parents visit and take you out to dinner.

If a dorm kitchen is accessible to you, it’s likely outfitted with a simple stovetop, oven, and sink, but a communal fridge is hard to come by. Investing in a mini fridge will let you have access to perishable items like yogurt, fruits, vegetables, and those leftovers you take home when your parents visit and take you out to dinner.

The best mini fridge we've tested is the Magic Chef Retro two-door mini fridge. Not only does it have a separate freezer compartment where you can store pizza rolls and ice cream, but its sleek design will provide some much-needed style among the drab dorm furniture.

Buy at The Home Depot

18. Locked file storage

A locking binder folder against an orange background.
Credit: Reviewed / Vaultz

It’s best to have your personal documents handy but make sure to store them securely.

If you’re planning to work on- or off-campus, you’ll need to bring some personal documents for your employer, such as your passport, social security card, or birth certificate. It’s best to have these handy so you don’t find yourself calling home and scrambling to find the documents before your first day of work. But you’ll want a secure storage spot.

A locking binder folder from Vaultz is a suitable option. It takes up less storage than a safe or lock box would. Plus, you can keep it stored safely in a binder with any other important documents so your information can stay in one place.

Buy at Amazon

19. Keychain with ID holder

A small wallet with an ID holder and keys attached.
Credit: Reviewed / Neux

Getting an ID holder that you can also hook your keys onto will help you keep them in one place at all times.

Two of the most important items you’ll have to keep track of each day are your college ID and the keys to your dorm room. Getting an ID holder that you can also hook your keys onto will help you keep them in one place at all times. We like the Neux ID holder that has a window to show your ID for easy access.

Buy at Amazon

20. A backpack

A person wearing an L.L. Bean backpack against a coral and purple background.
Credit: Reviewed / L.L. Bean

The L.L. Bean Comfort Carry backpack is functional and comfortable when you’re hauling across campus.

Whether you’re on a small or a large campus, you need a backpack that can transport a full day’s worth of needs. The L.L. Bean Comfort Carry backpack is functional and comfortable when you’re hauling across campus. You’ll be able to fit up to a 15-inch laptop in it alongside your textbooks, planner, and chargers.

Buy at L.L. Bean

21. Command strips

A packet of Command strips against a blue and green background.
Credit: Reviewed / Command

Command Strips are the most reliable option for decorating your dorm room walls.

You want to make your dorm room your own by putting up posters and photos. There are many ways to display wall art, but Command Strips are the most reliable option.

They’ll stay put and remove easily. Be careful of products like tape or putty that can peel paint—you can get fined for any damage when you move out.

Buy at Amazon

22. A streaming device

A chromecast laying on a table with its remote.
Credit: Reviewed / TJ Donegan

We like the Chromecast for dorm room viewing because it brings all your favorite streaming services to the nearest TV.

When you’re spending all day in the library hunched over your laptop writing an essay for English Lit 101, you may want a different screen to look at as you unwind.

To make the dorm TV even better, we recommend bringing a streaming device with you. We like the Chromecast, which will bring all your favorite streaming services to the nearest TV.

Buy at Best Buy

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