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The Ultimate College Packing List: What You Actually Need

This college packing list includes everything you actually need for college. These are the essentials you’ll really use, plus a free printable checklist.

Today we’re sharing our college packing list – everything you actually need. 

Without all the extras the stores try to tell you to bring.

Big box stores I’m looking at you!

We’ve included all the essentials you will really use plus a FREE printable checklist to help you stay organized while shopping and planning.

Printable college packing list on a clipboard with assorted school supplies

You can download our college packing list from our subscriber printable library by clicking here or on the button below to sign up.

This post contains affiliate links.  You can read our full disclosure policy here.

Shop Everything You ACTUALLY Need here

college packing list displayed on clipboard with pencil holder, magazine bin and backpack

Have these catalogs made an appearance in your mailbox yet?

Because it’s that time of year!

If you have kids that are heading off to college this fall now is the time to start getting them ready for their big move.

four store catologs displayed on white table

When my oldest son, Jake, went to college a few years ago I was a mess!

To avoid my own feelings I dove into planning his dorm room and getting him everything he could possibly need. 

I may have mentioned that I do love to shop, so this didn’t feel like a chore to me.

I had visions of the two of us walking through the aisles of Target and IKEA with our college packing list. Haha! 

But that was far from reality.

Jake dealt with his own feelings of nervousness about starting college by completely avoiding the process.

So that left me to pick out almost everything for him. 

While I shopped, he avoided getting ready by working during the day, spending time with friends at night, and even vacationing with his best friend’s family the week before moving into his dorm, not coming home until the day before he left. 

That left me stressed…and sad. 

But don’t worry…it all worked out just fine! 

And I learned that everyone deals with change & their emotions differently.

black backpack with college packing list laying on top

What Do You Actually Need?

As you can imagine there are many college packing lists out there, and it can be overwhelming. 

Many will guide you to spend lots of money on unnecessary items your student won’t use. 

How do you know exactly what they’ll need? 

With Jake’s help, I’m sharing what you actually need to make a dorm room feel like home.

The summer after graduation I used our dining room for storing and sorting everything we purchased. 

It was a mess but it kept me busy which was exactly what I needed!

dining room with college packing spread out on table and piled on floor

You can download our college packing list from our subscriber printable library by clicking here or on the button below to sign up.


You can find some great inexpensive comforter sets at your local home decor stores. 

But you’ll probably want more than a comforter for their bed.

Remember how uncomfortable most mattresses are in college dorms?

And double check but most dorm beds are twin xl which means they are a little longer so regular twin bedding won’t fit.

 I was happy we also purchased a zippered mattress protector to cover the nasty mattress my son was given. 

Seriously you guys…. it was covered in stains…so gross! 

We then added a mattress pad cover and a memory foam mattress topper to help make that bed more comfortable.

Yup…three layers before we even put his sheets on! 

Call me crazy but both of us are germaphobes. 

Ok, maybe he got it from me but we are who we are, am I right? ?

So anyway back to the bed…you may want to get two sets of sheets (or more!) so they can get changed between trips home for you to wash them. 

He brought his pillows from home and a throw blanket a friend made him for a graduation gift. 

A bed rest pillow was very helpful for reading or doing homework on his bed.

I recently checked out some great displays for dorm room shopping in HomeGoods and TJ Maxx. 

Take a look at these…

college supplies displayed in homegoods

Sometimes the extra-long length needed for the dorm room beds can be hard to find.

I’ve shared some great options that can be delivered right to your home or even to the dorm!

Shop College Dorm Room Linens

display of bedding and towels in homegoods store

Your student will also need towels. 

I’d recommend 2 bath towels, hand towels, washcloths, and a beach towel. 

Dorm rooms are small! 

There isn’t a lot of space for extra linens.

display of towels in homegoods store


And speaking of small spaces…smart storage is great to add to the dorm room. 

If you’re able to fit rolling drawers, baskets, or shelving units…they can store school supplies, cleaning items, toiletries, shoes & clothing, or even food & snacks. 

The Kallax shelf unit from Ikea with fabric bins worked great for Jake and didn’t take up too much space.

A super inexpensive plastic rolling drawer unit stored toiletries and fit perfectly under his sink. 

Here are some other fun storage options I saw in HomeGoods!

display of rolling carts in home goods store

Baskets and bins can be used for everyday necessities on counters, dressers or desks.

How cute is that “dorm sweet dorm” box?

display of baskets and storage boxes in home goods store

Shop College Dorm Room Storage

And look at these options for storage…especially for girls…so fun!

Desk accessories like a pencil cup and paper sorter come in handy to keep your student’s desk space organized.

display of desk supplies and baskets for dorm room in homegoods store


Bulletin or cork boards are great to display pictures or mementos. 

Don’t forget some decorations to personalize the space. 

My son only brought two framed pictures, the photobook and graduation memory book we gave him for graduation. 

Once he was moved in we ordered flags for his favorite football team and his new college to hang in his room. Flags are a great option to hang because they are lightweight and can easily be tacked to the wall.

Shop College Dorm Room Decor

An area rug also helps make the cold dorm room floors cozy. 

And a chair, beanbag, or even a futon if space allows is nice to have in the room for other seating options.

display of baskets and bins for dorm room in homegoods store

Other Essentials

Probably more for my peace of mind, I put together a first aid kit since I wouldn’t be there if he didn’t feel well.

I tried to include things he may need if he got sick or hurt away from home like Advil, cold medicine, Neosporin, etc.

I stored everything in a simple plastic shoe box.

clear box filled with first aid supplies

Once we checked off everything on our college packing list, we loaded up the car…clothes, linens, school supplies, room decor, storage bins, cleaning supplies, toiletries and more!

Shop Other College Dorm Room Essentials

back of car packed with bins & bags for moving to college

You can download our college packing list from our subscriber printable library by clicking here or on the button below to sign up.

We made it through the move-in day and we drove home with an empty car and tears rolling down our cheeks. 

It was a really hard adjustment for all of us…but we did it! 

Our son made it through his 1st year living in a dorm and really enjoyed all the friendships he made.

He has helped me compile a complete college packing list – everything you actually need! 

He didn’t include any of those extra things I bought because I thought he’d need them and he really didn’t use them. 

But he did include a few items that he didn’t think he would need even though I said he would…like a Brita water pitcher (cases of bottled water are expensive and heavy to carry back to your dorm) and a fan (yup…those dorm rooms can get hot).

picture of family of five after moving son in dorm room

College Packing List – Everything you actually Need!

You can download our college packing list from our subscriber printable library by clicking here or on the button below to sign up.

Good luck on move-in day…and don’t forget the tissues.

Hugs to you friend!

Pin it to Remember it:

pinterest graphic college dorm packing list

If you have any questions or suggestions, contact me or leave a comment. Follow us over on Instagram and Facebook to see everything we’re up to.

More Posts You May Enjoy:

9 Simple Ways to Make Your Dorm Room Feel Like Home

Tuesday 19th of April 2022

[…] I started by shopping over the summers before their freshman years to get all the things college students really need for their dorm room. […]


Saturday 31st of July 2021

I can’t even begin to tell you how helpful this has been for me. My grandson goes off to college in 13 days and this has been so very helpful to me. I’ve even made him read your postings about going off to college and he actually was glad he read it.


Sunday 1st of August 2021

Thanks so much Shirley! You have no idea how much it means to us to know we are helping other people like you and your grandson. Good luck!


Monday 24th of August 2020

What a great list! I am pinning to save for next year when my daughter goes off to college. I think I am more excited than she is!


Monday 24th of August 2020

Thanks Danielle! So happy you found our list for next year. It's an exciting time for sure and now you will be prepared!! :) Be sure to check out our Tips for College Move-In also!

Sandy Brocious

Thursday 22nd of August 2019

Any way I can get your packing list in a word document? I loved it but I would like to add items to it for future reference.


Friday 23rd of August 2019

Hey Sandy! We're so glad that you found our list useful! I'll have to check with AnnMarie to see if we have it in a Word format. If we do we'll email it to you. :)


Thursday 20th of June 2019

Speaking of bedding, since going to college my daughter loves quilts. In the dorm, the bed serves as a couch, study corner, laundry folding table, etc. The comforter stuffing would get bunched up or flattened, while her quilt always looked great. Plus they tolerate laundering well. At most stores there seem to be more options in comforters, but she found some great quilts at Stein Mart.


Sunday 23rd of June 2019

This is a great tip, Mair! It was great running into you this week. :)