What Do First-Year College Students Need: College Dorm Checklist for Freshman

It’s time to start getting my daughter ready for her first year of college! 

Packing for college can be both stressful and exciting — there’s so much that you would like to bring with you, including those that can keep you from being homesick a lot as well as those that will let you start a new phase in your academic career in style and comfort.

Sadly, a dorm provides limited space, not to mention that it usually has to be shared with a roommate.

To make sure that you will have just about everything you will need and none of the unnecessary stuff that will only make a tiny dorm even smaller and more cramped, check my ultimate college dorm list which includes most of the things my daughter and I decided to purchase.

Since I have an Amazon Prime membership, we decided to shop exclusively on Amazon and almost all the links below from the online store (affiliate).

26 Essentials Every College Freshman Should Have

Sleep Essentials

Most college students get only 6 to 6.9 hours of sleep per night, says the University Health Center at the University of Georgia. But health experts recommend spending 7 to 9 hours in dreamland each time.

And that’s why it’s important that you have just about everything you will need to get enough shut-eye nightly, which any busy and hard-working undergraduate needs.

The following are some of the things that you will need to feel rested and rejuvenated the following morning:

1. Bed sheets

The vast majority of college dorms in the US provide students with a twin XL mattress, which measures 80 inches (length) x 39 inches (width). Needless to say, it’s a must to make sure that you will bring with you the right bed sheet size.

Generally speaking, it’s a much better idea to err on the side of caution by bringing a bed sheet that’s larger than smaller than the dorm’s mattress — something that’s short on measurements is useless for its designated task.

Bring 2 sets so that you can change your bed sheet without necessarily having to do some laundry work.

2. Pillows

These days, pillows come in all shapes and sizes and bells and whistles, too.

Avoid confusion by prioritizing the basics such as the provision of enough support for the head and neck and the use of a breathable and hypoallergenic fabric cover or shell.

Memory foam pillows are popular among those who are prone to waking up with a stiff or sore neck and a headache as well as those with allergies.

There’s a product I found online that combines the comfort provided by memory foam and the insomnia-busting properties of lavender essential oil — it’s the Lavender Zen Memory Pillow.

3. Pillowcases

Because of regular use, it can be easy for pillowcases to harbor lots of oils, dirt and sweat that can cause skin issues. And that is why the National Sleep Foundation (SNF) recommends washing pillowcases at least once a week.

To save you from having to do laundry each time, bring an extra set of pillowcases.

4. Blanket or Comforter

Whether it’s a blanket or a comforter that you should pack will depend on where your college is.

Needless to say, if the institution is located where it’s sunny or temperate, taking with you a comforter is a no-no because not only will it not be used but will take up a lot of precious space, too.

Some other sleep essentials you might want to consider bringing with you to your dorm include:

  • Alarm clock
  • Bed sheet fasteners or suspenders
  • Bedside lamp
  • Mattress pad
  • Under-the-bed storage trays

Laundry and Cleaning Supplies

Based on a report by The Stanford Daily, it seems like the busiest laundry times of the week among college students are Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

On the other hand, Mattress Advisor says that, on average, it takes male college students up to 33 days and female college students up to 27 days without cleaning before they find their dorm rooms gross.

It goes without saying that on-campus living requires regular laundering and tidying up, which is why you should never head to your college dorm without these in your moving box:

5. Laundry basket

What’s really nice about a laundry basket is that it can be used as a container for both dirty and clean clothes. Either way, it’s something that can help keep the dorm room neat and orderly.

Because the busiest part of anyone’s higher education career is the first semester of the first year of college, you may not be able to fold your clean clothes right away.

And since the task may have to wait until you are through with your assignments and projects, it’s a great idea to have a couple of laundry baskets — one for dirty clothes and one for clean clothes.

6. Laundry detergent and fabric softener

Where there are dirty clothes, there have to be laundry detergent and fabric softener.

Fear that you might get homesick?

Consider opting for the same laundry detergent and fabric softener that the family uses to evoke a feeling of being back home each time you do the laundry.

7. Foldable Drying Rack

It’s no secret that a bachelor’s degree is expensive. And that is why any undergraduate student should do anything and everything necessary to stretch one’s budget.

And a smart way to save some quarters weekly is by bringing with you a foldable drying rack, which doesn’t take up a lot of space when it’s not in use — you can stash it under the bed or behind the bathroom door.

Having one is especially advantageous if you have delicate items a dryer can easily ruin.

You might want to check out this 6-layer foldable drying rack, which retails for about $37 — it has an accordion design and can support up to 32 pounds of weight.

8. Hangers

There are a couple of reasons why you should never head to your dorm without a few dozen of hangers:

  • To keep your clothes from creasing
  • To save you from having to fold your clothes

So, in other words, hangers can make you not only look nice but also be punctual.

But it can be a pain in the neck to pack those massive plastic or wooden hangers, not to mention that they can take up lots of space in your college dorm closet.

Without any doubt, opting for the slimmest hangers that you can find is a smart move.

9. Mini steamer

Especially if you’re planning on being a part-time employee or intern during the first year of college or some other time during your higher education career, the importance of looking sharp always cannot be stressed enough.

Having an iron and ironing board, unfortunately, is not the most space-saving decision.

It’s a good thing that you can always count on a steamer to get rid of those unsightly wrinkles and creases.

Of course, something compact and handheld, such as this mini steamer that costs around $23, is the best for the job. And other than for steaming clothes, you can also count on it for dorm cleaning and sterilizing purposes.

10. Trash can and liners

Most colleges do not provide trash cans in dorm rooms. Needless to say, it’s important for any undergraduate student to bring one to keep the dorm neat and tidy, which is essential for a clear mind.

The use of trash can liners is a time- and energy-saving move as it helps ward off the constant need to clean the trash can.

11. Small vacuum

Any college dorm cleaning supplies list wouldn’t be complete without a small vacuum cleaner.

Especially if the on-campus residence is carpeted, it’s something that you should never head to college without.

A compact model, needless to say, is perfect for any college student living on campus — something that’s cordless, like this 6-in-1 rechargeable vacuum I stumbled upon online, is more convenient to use for a perpetually busy college student.

While it’s possible for the college to have a vacuum cleaner for residents to borrow, chances are that it’s the old, clunky model that can be extremely challenging to operate.

12. Cleaning cloth and disinfecting spray

The combination of lack of sleep and stress and sharing a small room with another student who asks friends to drop by often can make any college student get sick easily, which can get in the way of high grades.

Because of this, it’s a good idea to make sure that door knobs, appliance handles and various surfaces in the dorm room are regularly rid of germs that can cause all kinds of infections and diseases.

And the best way to go about this is to have some cleaning cloths and reliable disinfecting spray within easy reach each time.

You may also opt for disinfecting wipes, although they tend to have higher long-term costs.

Some other laundry and cleaning supplies you might want to consider bringing with you to your dorm include:

  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Broom and dustpan
  • Deodorizing spray
  • Dryer sheets
  • Lint roller
  • Magic eraser
  • Plunger
  • Protective gloves (rubber, latex or nitrile)
  • Shoe deodorizers
  • Stain remover
  • Toilet bowl cleaner
  • Toilet scrubber


Students are making the ultimate sacrifice of leaving their family and friends behind to work on a bachelor’s degree.

But it doesn’t mean that they will be spending their every waking hour studying. It’s due to this why bringing with you devices and gadgets for both work and play to your college dorm is essential.

Having the following will let you take on challenging coursework and unwind and have some fun as necessary:

13. Laptop

According to a study by EDUCAUSE, more than 90% of students at both 4-year institutions and community colleges said that laptops are very or extremely important for their coursework.

From researching, communicating with professors and school administrators to keeping in touch with everyone back home, a laptop can do it all!

Just don’t forget to pack your laptop charger to avoid having to buy a new one.

So, should you bring a printer with you?

Since there are computer labs where you can print, a printer is completely optional.

When deciding whether or not you should have one with you in your college dorm, weigh the pros and cons.

Will it save you time and money to have one accessible all the time?

Will there be enough space on your desk for it?

14. Smartphone

It’s smart for any college student to have a smartphone within easy reach all the time.

Accessing and sharing information, working in groups on projects, checking class and exam schedules, creating to-do lists, agendas and schedules — the things a smartphone can do that can prove to be useful for an undergraduate is possibly endless.

And then there’s also the fact that it can be used for a wide variety of entertainment purposes and texting and calling loved ones.

Make sure that you bring its charging brick and cable, too, so that you can avoid having to borrow from your roommate or procure a new one. Having a spare charger around is also a wise move.

15. Headphones

No matter if listening to a podcast for a research assignment or blocking out the noise coming from the mouth of your roommate or other residents in the hallway, a pair of headphones is great for the undertaking.

Something that can connect to a compatible device via Bluetooth can help keep clutter to a minimum.

Something that has a mic makes for the ultimate companion whether when taking notes or calling family members and friends. And with an active noise-canceling feature, you can have all the peace and quiet you need.

I find this pair of wireless headphones o have a good balance of features and price.

Some other electronics and related accessories you might want to consider bringing with you to your dorm include:

  • 2-3 prong adapters
  • Digital camera
  • MP3 player
  • Portable gaming console
  • Portable speakers
  • Power strip

Toiletries, Beauty and Hygiene Products

More than 88% of college students say that their school life is stressful, according to a 2022 report by the American Addiction Centers (ACC).

Their biggest stressors?

Those dreaded exams that require a lot of preparation for one to get a passing score! They are followed by financial issues, academic performance pressure, homework and work outside of school.

Because of this, it’s important for undergraduate students to stay looking and feeling fresh and confident. And that is why here are some essentials that no dorm-dwelling student should never be without:

16. Soap or shower gel

Antibacterial soaps and shower gels can help zap odor-causing microbes, thus allowing you to smell nice longer, especially on those really exhausting and nerve-racking days.

The kinds with relaxing scents such as jasmine, chamomile, lavender and sandalwood are great for eliminating stress and anxiety.

Lemon-, pine-, eucalyptus- and mint-scented soaps and shower gels, on the other hand, are effective for boosting one’s energy, making them perfect on days where you have the most classes to attend and coursework to deal with.

17. Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss

Based on a survey involving college students in 26 countries, 32.8% were not brushing their teeth 2 or more times per day and 33.9% rarely brushed their teeth.

On the other hand, 24.3% never saw a dentist.

Refrain from putting your oral health in danger just because you are swamped with college work. Make sure that you have the complete arsenal in your dorm for keeping your pearly whites and gums out of harm’s way.

Of course, having a healthy diet is just as important, whose essentials we will talk about in a few — so keep reading!

18. Razor and shaving cream

There’s one very important matter to keep in mind when it comes to getting rid of unwanted hair: you should never share razors with your roommate as it may put you at risk of infections should you cut or nick yourself while shaving.

Needless to say, remember to bring your own razor. And don’t let your roommate borrow it!

Some other toiletries and beauty and hygiene products you might want to consider bringing with you to your dorm include:

  • Bathrobe
  • Comb or brush
  • Contact lens supplies
  • Cotton balls
  • Cotton swabs
  • Curling iron or straightener
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • First-aid kit
  • Flip-flops
  • Hair dryer
  • Hand and body lotion
  • Medicines (anti-diarrheals, cough drops, pain relievers, etc.)
  • Mini sewing kit
  • Nail clippers
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Shower caddy
  • Towels
  • Tweezers

Clothes and Accessories

There’s no need to pack each and every single item in your wardrobe.

After all, the primary reason why you are about to leave your family and friends behind is to earn a bachelor’s degree. And that is why you should focus on taking with you clothes and accessories you will need to survive college day after day.

Remember to bring the following to save yourself from the need to shop for a lot of clothes and other stuff:

19. Clothing for classes

While it’s important to look nice to make you feel great, being comfortable during your classes is the primary objective.

Definitely, you should have with you as many good-looking and comfy clothes as you possibly can.

Except for some religious institutions where there are usually strict guidelines on what students can and cannot wear on campus, most colleges and universities in the country do not have formal dress codes.

20. Clothing for the dorm room and hanging out with friends

Because you will also be spending time in your dorm room and outside of the campus together with your newfound friends, it’s also a must to bring clothes that are suited for the job.

Although it’s great to show your unique personality and style, don’t forget that comfort counts, too.

21. Jacket or coat

Especially if your college is located where winters are some of the coldest in the land, you should never be without a jacket or coat that can protect you from those freezing low temperatures.

22. Business-casual clothes

Probably going to have an interview for a part-time job or internship program? Then remember to bring a set of business-casual clothes which you can wear to impress the interviewer.

Some other clothes and accessories you might want to consider bringing with you to your dorm include:

  • Dress shoes
  • Gloves
  • Hat or cap
  • Pajamas
  • Scarf
  • Slippers
  • Sneakers
  • Sunblock or sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Swimsuit
  • Umbrella

Kitchen Essentials

First things first: there are a lot of kitchen appliances that most college dorms won’t allow students to have around.

Most of them are those with heating coils or plates and open flames that can run the risk of causing a fire.

So, prior to packing any kitchen essential, make sure that you check with the institution by emailing it or checking out its website.

Because busy class schedules and late-night activities with friends may keep you from having consistent eating habits and a healthy diet, too, having the following in your dorm can help make sure you can have something wholesome each time.

23. Mini Refrigerator

It’s not uncommon for a lot of college students to snack and eat main meals in their dorm room. If you are not planning on getting your hands on packaged food items all the time, it’s a wonderful idea to have a mini refrigerator with you where you can store perishable food and drinks, especially fruit and vegetables and fresh juices and milk.

Definitely, when it comes to college dorm fridges, smaller is usually better.

Planning on shopping for a mini fridge just before you head to college? You might want to check out this mini fridge I found on the web — this 3.2 cubic foot black refrigerator is low noise and has a small freezer and a reversible door.

24. Microwave

No college dorm would seem complete without a microwave in sight. There is no doubt that every college student will find this a versatile kitchen companion as it can do practically anything, from popping some popcorn to baking a mug brownie.

Of course, a compact microwave is the best one to have so that you can have more room for other essentials.

25. Electric kettle

Despite its name, an electric water kettle can be used for many things other than boiling water for making a cup of instant coffee or tea or preparing instant noodles or ramen.

You can also cook in it just about anything that you can fit into its mouth! For instance, you can boil an egg in an electric kettle — whether you want it soft-boiled or hard-boiled is totally up to you.

You can cook boxed pasta or veggies or any other meal by dunking it there and allowing it to boil until cooked.

Something that’s great for the job is this electric kettle with a wide mouth and auto shut-off feature, too.

26. Single-serve blender

The American College Health Association (ACHA) says that up to 63% of college students are not eating enough fruits and vegetables.

If you don’t want to be a part of the statistics, consider having in your dorm a single-serve blender that doesn’t take up lots of space but helps supply your body with lots of important vitamins and minerals.

To keep the college dorm clutter-free as you attempt to stay in the pink of health, opt for a single-serve blender such as this cordless one with stainless steel blades and an easy cleanup feature — it carries a $33 price tag.

Some other kitchen essentials you might want to consider bringing with you to your dorm include:

  • Bottle opener
  • Can opener
  • Coffee maker
  • Dishwashing liquid and sponge
  • Glass and cups
  • Paper towels
  • Plates
  • Plastic storage bags
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Spoon and fork
  • Storage containers

Just Before You Start Packing for College

There are many things a soon-to-be college student like you would like to bring to your dorm. Unfortunately, a small dorm room can only hold as many of your things.

And this is why you should pack only those that you will really need to survive each and every day of your college career, such as the ones I listed above.

And make sure that you remember to bring everything you will need for studying such as:

  • Backpack
  • Calculator
  • Desk lamp
  • Folders
  • Highlighter pens
  • Index cards
  • Notebooks
  • Notepads
  • Pencils and sharpeners
  • Pens and markers
  • Rubber bands
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Stapler and staples
  • Sticky notes
  • Tape

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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