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The Best College Packing List: Everything 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.

Are you getting ready for college?

Or maybe you’re helping your student prepare to move into a college dorm room?

Today we’re sharing our ultimate college packing list…everything you actually need

Without all the extras on those checklists sent out from your local stores.

Big box stores I’m looking at you!

We’ve even received checklists from the colleges our students were attending with packages you can purchase for their dorm rooms.

But after sending most of our S2M kids off for their first year away from home we’ve learned a little bit (or maybe actually, a lot) about what they really need and what they won’t use.

We’ve included all the essentials our students really used on our checklist.

And we also have something super special for you!

A free printable checklist to help you stay organized while shopping and planning.

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

black backpack with college packing list laying on top

So many of our friends have reached out to share how much they liked having this checklist when getting their students ready before college move-in day.

If you find it helpful too please share!

Share it with your friends, share it with your family, and even share it on the parent social media pages of your student’s colleges.

What Should You Bring to College for Freshman Year

four store catologs displayed on white table

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.

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 a little sad. 

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

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

What Do You Actually Need for a College Dorm Room

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

As you can imagine there are tons of college packing lists out there, and it can be overwhelming to narrow them down. 

Many will guide you to spend lots of money on unnecessary items your student may never use. 

How do you know exactly what they’ll need? 

Well, let’s just say I may have bought a bunch of stuff for him that he never used.

Oops!

Lesson learned!

And now we want to help you to avoid buying things that may not be necessary for your student’s success in college.

Now, that’s not to say that your student won’t want something that isn’t on our list because every kid is different.

But with the help of our college kids, we’ve come up with a list of must-have items they needed during their first year away from home.

These are the essentials that our students actually needed to make their sterile dorm rooms feel like home.

How to Remember Everything When Packing for College

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

Using our packing list is a must when you’re getting ready to move into college.

Checking things off a list is so satisfying, isn’t it?!

If you have an extra room in your house or even a corner of a room try to use that space for storing items that you purchase when college dorm room shopping.

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

It was a mess…all. summer. long… but it kept me busy which was exactly what I needed!

Having everything out in view helped keep me organized.

And of course, checking things off my packing list as we got all the things he needed.

What Bedding Do You Need for a Dorm Room

lofted dorm room bed

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You can find some great budget-friendly comforter sets at your local home decor stores.

Or even online.

You’ll need to check with the university, but most dorm beds are twin xl size.

Which means they’re a little longer than a regular twin bed, so average twin bedding won’t fit their dorm bed.

If you were a college student way back in the day like Anne & I were…do you remember how uncomfortable those dorm room mattresses were?

I sure do!

So I purchased a few extra things other than the crisp sheets, a soft blanket, and a cozy comforter for Jake’s bed.

We bought a zippered mattress protector to cover the nasty mattress my son was given. 

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

I was really happy I hadn’t skipped that extra bedding necessity.

Maybe you’ll luck out with a clean brand new looking mattress as I did for my 2nd college student, but if you don’t it will be well worth the extra money spent.

We then added a memory foam mattress topper and a quilted mattress pad cover 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.  LOL!

Jake also took his pillows from home and a throw blanket a friend made him for a graduation gift to college with him. 

But you can certainly buy pillows if your student wants to leave theirs home for when they visit

Other Linen Essentials for a Dorm

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…

Sometimes the extra-long length needed for dorm room beds can be hard to find because they sell out quickly over the summer.

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

Or just click any of the highlighted text within this article to shop.

Easy Peasy!

display of towels in store for college dorm essentials

I’d recommend packing just two bath towels, two hand towels, and 2-4 washcloths.

This 8-piece set has really high ratings and is super affordable.

A beach towel may also be helpful if they have a pool at their university or even for a weekend trip to the lake or beach.

Remember, dorm rooms are small so there isn’t a lot of space for extra linens.

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Click on any image to shop for bedding & linens

collage of linen products for college dorm room

Extra Storage Ideas for Small Dorm Rooms

view of college suite style dorm room with wardrobe closets and sink area with sleeping study area beyond

And speaking of small spaces…smart storage is a great addition to a 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. 

A storage cube organizer with fabric bins worked great for Jake under the window between the lofted beds.

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

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

Rolling carts or narrow storage towers are great for extra storage in dorm rooms.

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

How cute is that “dorm sweet dorm” box?

If you have a vinyl cutting machine I bet you could easily make that!

student desk storage items for dorms

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

Desk accessories like a pencil cups, paper sorter, or an all-in-one option organizer help to keep your student’s desk space in order.

If you need more ideas for organizing a small dorm room check out this article.

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Click on any image to store & organization items

collage of storage products for college dorm room

How to Decorate a College Dorm Room

baskets light up signs and memo boards for dorm room decor

Decorating a dorm room to add some style to their new space will make it feel more like home.

But remember space is limited so things that can serve a dual purpose may be best.

Fabric memo or cork bulletin boards are great to display pictures or mementos from home but can also be used to tack reminders for school.  

The baskets and bins you choose not only serve as storage pieces for a dorm room but also add to the overall style.

A small cinema lightbox or LED strip lights are fun decor pieces for a dorm room and can also be handy as a night light.

You can always add more decor after you’ve moved in and see what space you have to add things.

My son only brought two framed pictures, the photobook and the graduation memory book we gave him as his high school graduation gift. 

Once he was moved in we ordered a couple of flags to hang in his room. 

Flags are a great option to hang because they are lightweight and can easily be tacked to the wall using command strips.

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

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

Jake and his roommate decided to loft their beds so they could add extra furniture underneath.

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Click on any image to shop dorm room decor

collage of décor ideas products for college dorm room

What Other Essentials Will You Need for College

clear box filled with first aid supplies

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 included some basic 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 but go check out the fun containers Anne found when she put these together for her twins.

She also wrote a blog post that went into more detail about creating a first aid kit for college students here.

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Click on any image to shop for first aid supplies

collage with first aid supplies for a dorm room or first apartment

What to Expect on College Move-In Day

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

Once Jake and I checked off everything on his college packing list, we loaded up the car with all of his stuff and headed down the highway.

We successfully made it through college move-in day following our tips & tricks here.

But then the rest of our family drove home from his university 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 had an amazing 1st year at college living in his dorm and really enjoyed all the friendships he made.

He’s helped me compile this college packing list and we think it really is the best & only list you’ll need this year!

We didn’t include any of those extra things I bought because mom thought he’d need them but he didn’t use them. 

But we did include a few items that he didn’t think he would need, even though mom said he would!

One example is a Brita water pitcher because cases of bottled water are not only expensive to buy every week but heavy to carry back to your dorm building.

Another was a fan because like mom told him…those dorm rooms get kinda hot.

picture of family of five after moving son in dorm room

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

Hugs to you friend!!

If you have any questions or suggestions, contact me or leave a comment!

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Check Out These Amazing College Tips

Click the highlighted link below each image to read the post

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. […]

Shirley

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.

AnnMarie

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!

Danielle

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!

AnnMarie

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.

Anne

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. :)

Mair

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.

Anne

Sunday 23rd of June 2019

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