22 dorm essentials for every college freshman
Don't show up unprepared
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
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.
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.
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.
3. A mattress topper
Dorm mattresses can be impossible to sleep on comfortably unless you bring a mattress topper—trust me, I speak from experience.
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.
4. Bath towels
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.
5. A shower caddy
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.
6. Over-the-door hooks
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.
7. LED desk lamp
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.
8. A power strip
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.
9. Clothing hangers
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.
10. 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.
11. Laundry hamper
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.
12. Trash bin
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.
13. Disinfectant wipes
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.
14. First aid kit
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.
15. A big mug
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.
16. A microwave
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.
17. A mini fridge
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.
18. Locked file storage
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.
19. Keychain with ID holder
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.
20. A backpack
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.
21. Command strips
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.
22. A streaming device
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.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.