Starting college or university can be a pretty scary time but it’s also really exciting.
The next three to six years are going to be some of the best in your life. What is not so great, however, is packing for college or uni, especially when there are hardly any guides on what to bring to college and what just isn't necessary. For example I ended up eating cereal out of a saucepan on my first day at med school as I forgot to pack any bowls.
Do Your Research
Before we jump into the key essential items my first tip is to find out beforehand what things will be made available to you in your dorms or student accommodation and what may be prohibited. Once you have successfully gotten all of that information, you already have a number of things to rule out from your college packing list. One of the key things about packing for college or university is to pack the essentials and not pack too much. Your parents will likely want to pack everything needed to survive a nuclear attack but taking too much stuff is actually super annoying.
If you have a roommate or are in shared space it's worth reaching out to anyone else to see if they would be interested in sharing things like a microwave, coffee maker, or mini-fridge, considering how small dorms are to accommodate more than one of the same appliance. Depending on their response, you now have a couple of things on your list that you either need to bring, or don’t because they’ll bring it.
With all of that out of the way, here are 15 dorm room essentials that every freshman needs to take to college. And if you’re going back to school, still watch the video as some of the items we mention might be important to you as well.
When packing for college, one of the most essential items to put in are towels, from bath towels to hand towels and even washcloths. If you don't have a new set of these lying around at home, then make sure to put it on your shopping list as you go to the store.
My top hack here is to get your towels in unique colors for easy identification. If you have a favorite color that’s not-so-ordinary, this is your time to shine!
If you aren't interested in unique color sets, you can go ahead and purchase whatever you feel comfortable with and consider having the towels monogrammed. This way, you can easily recognize your towels in the laundry room or in shared areas, if your dorm has those. You honestly can't have too many towels and yep you will have to wash them.
That brings us to our next dorm room essential, a shower caddy. In my first year at medical school I stayed in some Harry-Potter style halls of residence in Bristol University where there were communal shower areas.
If you have to trek down the hall to the communal bathroom with all of your personal grooming materials, then you should definitely consider a shower caddy.
Even if you have your own bathroom or shower space a caddy is pretty essential as it just keeps all of your bathroom kit together.
I'd recommend opting for mesh caddy instead of plastic, as plastics tend to get mold after they’ve been used a couple of times.
Still on communal bathrooms, shower shoes are another dorm room essential you shouldn't leave off of your list. Simply put, bathroom floors, especially when you wouldn't be the only one using them, are completely gross.
Whether your own bathroom or especially a communal bathroom some kind of flip flop or shower shoes is essential, plus it makes you feel like you're at an expensive spa even if you're actually in a mouldy inner city hall of residence.
And so, to keep your feet protected from the germ-filled floors, your best bet will be to purchase a pair of shower shoes. Make sure to look for footwear with slip-resistant soles to avoid accidents in the bathroom and a my top hack here is to go for flip flops.
Beddings and Bed Pillows
Moving on from bathrooms, another dorm room essential you need to have on your college packing list is bedding.
Things like your mattress pad, extra long sheets, a comforter, pillowcases, and of course, pillows. You might as well consider purchasing an extra pillow or a backrest pillow to substitute a headboard to use when you’re reading in bed.
And to make sure your pillows stay clean and safe from bed bugs or even dust mites, you may want to consider purchasing a washable, anallergenic pillow protector.
Laundry Backpack and Cleaning Supplies
One thing you must remember when putting together your college dorm room essentials is that unfortunately you will need to wash your clothes at some point. And as obvious as that may sound, comfortably taking your clothes down to the laundry room is definitely something you'll appreciate when the time comes.
Why are we considering your comfort, you may ask? Well, for most people, your dorm room and the laundry room won’t be on the same floor. Now think about how uncomfortable it will be to carry a laundry bag, basket, or even a hamper all the way down to the laundry room and, of course, carrying it back when you are done.
But imagine you could just swing the bag over your shoulders and carry it comfortably to and fro, just like you would your school books. Well that’s exactly why you need a laundry backpack.
Also, in cases where cleaning supplies aren't provided in your college dorm room, you must add that to your college packing list too. You can also purchase a hand-held vacuum to keep things extra clean and tidy and free from dust.
Plug In Air Fresheners
Everyone loves a room that smells nice. However, while we have all gotten used to scented candles in our rooms at home, things are a little different in college or university. Many college dorms, while trying to look out for students' safety, have banned candles of any kind because they’re a fire hazard.
But that doesn't mean your room has to be scent deprived. Get plug-in air fresheners or oil diffusers to keep your room smelling amazing. This is going to make studying at your desk a much nicer experience and if you do have any study partners over to your room they'll thank you for it.
Multifunctional Hangers and Command Hooks
Considering how small dorm room closets tend to be, having multifunctional hangers and/or command hooks will do you a lot better than always having to fold your clothes which causes them to crease.
With these hangers, you’ll be able to put up way more clothes, even with the limited space in your wardrobe. And with the command hooks, you can hang stuff like your coats, wet towels, caps, and even your backpack if it’s not too heavy.
Hangers are super cheap and it's better to have too many than too few as it's much easier hanging things up than it is folding clothes up!
First Aid Kit
Next up, we have a first aid kit and as a doctor I feel kind of obligated to suggest this. Now you may not be one to fall sick as often as most people. However, having a first aid kit with you as you leave for college or university is essential.
This kit should contain basic things like cold remedies, bandaids and plasters and allergy medicine, antacids, and an Ice pack. If you are a med student feel free to go overboard here as when someone feels unwell you can immediately jump in to save the day with an ibuprofen or lemsip which is what medicine is all about.
Refillable Water Bottle
Now you'll be doing quite a bit of studying at your desk, in lectures or in the library and if you've watched any of my videos on how to study for long hours, having a refillable water bottle at your desk can be very helpful to stay hydrated for the entire duration you are going to be sitting and studying.
To save even more time, instead of pacing about the dorm halls in search of water that’s safe to drink, you can take it straight from your dorm room tap, using water filters to make it clean enough for your consumption.
There are a bunch of great water bottles out there and you can often pick some up at fresher fairs and university expos in your first week too.
However tidy you try to be in your dorm room, one thing remains a fact, there will be times you just may spill even the tiniest amount of food or drink and need to clean it up to avoid an even bigger mess.
That already gives you an idea of how important paper towels will be to you, both in and out of your dorm room. They're cheap but will save you a load of hassle if you spill things
As much as the idea of living in a dorm room with an amazing roommate sounds very exciting, at some point, you will definitely start to feel homesick, and while that is very much normal, creating a home-like environment will do you a lot of good.
Little strings of light here and there, wall art that you love, an RGB lamp at your desk, or even more, a plastic plant that you don’t have to worry about keeping alive. Adding these little but significant items to your college packing list will help you overcome your homesickness when you get to college. If you're looking to document your journey setting up your desk as a YouTube vlog backdrop is also worth considering.
Fan and Lights
Fans are definitely one of the dorm room essentials you should have with you as you leave for college or university, especially considering how unpredictable the weather might be. A hot or stuffy night can mean you don't get enough sleep and that can then impact your day and productivity.
Making sure you have a fan - preferably one that oscillates- will be of great advantage as you move into your dorm room.
Similarly having a soft lamp or light can help you to start your wind-down routine and get a good night's sleep. Most dorm rooms have pretty harsh generic lights. So grabbing a soft canvas light or coloured light might make things a bit more relaxing and help you get a good night's sleep.
Noise Canceling Headphones and Speakers
Say you have to study for a test tomorrow, or you simply want an escape from the buzz of your surroundings, and the folks next door decide to throw a party, what do you do?
This is exactly why you need noise canceling headphones. It’ll help you block out the noise so you can focus on the work that needs to get done without having to tell your neighbours to keep it down.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, what if you wake up one morning feeling like a ray of sunshine, and since you are all alone, all you want to do is get dressed to the sound of your favorite music filling the entire room. Or perhaps it’s evening and you want to invite a couple of friends over to watch a movie.
Now, what better way is there to do these than with speakers?
If you haven't already, then make sure you get these two items on your college packing list, so you aren't left stranded in any of these scenarios.
Surge Protector and 10 Foot Long Chargers
If extension cords are not allowed in your dorm, then consider getting surge protectors instead. They serve as a type of extension with multiple outlets and, in most cases, USB ports for charging, while also protecting your expensive gadgets in case of a power surge.
And then, for your comfort, I suggest you purchase a 10-foot-long charger that will serve you well if you don't have bedside socket outlets. And even if you do, nothing feels better than being able to roll over to the other side of the bed, without worrying about your charger being too short for your phone to continue charging.
Basic Study Supplies
Your study supplies are the final and most important of our long list of college must-haves. From books for the semester to notebooks and a couple of binders, index cards, or sticky notes to help with studying, scissors, duct tape, staplers, and, if need be, a kindle.
A tablet or laptop or desktop is also essential and I'll be diving into some of the best iPads and Macs for studying in future videos so do hit that subscribe button to get notified when those drop.
Other college must-haves you may find very useful are items like a full or medium-sized mirror, trash bags so your dorm room stays tidy, disposable utensils, and a few regular utensils like coffee cups and cereal bowls, a utility cart that could serve as a nightstand and under bed storage if permitted. To help you out I've added in a link to a Notion college packing checklist don below which you can add to and tick everything off so you bring the essentials and don't forget anything.
Here's a FREE college packing list Notion Template to help make sure you don't forget anything when packing for college.