The Ultimate Packing Guide for Every New College Student

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writer, editor, semicolon lover.
July 17, 2024 at 1:0PM UTC
My dad remarked this morning how it feels like I moved into college yesterday. We were lugging my rug up four floors to my shared, conventional dorm room, sweating in August heat and blasting my luxurious air conditioning. Now I’m set to head back for my final year in just a week, being lucky enough to live in an on-campus house with some of my best friends. And while I’ve grown up in the college world (and real world too!), I have returned to the list I made as a nervous prefrosh all those years ago.
It’s stressful to think about how to create a home in a space you’ve never really been before. I found that being over-prepared helped calm my nerves and made me all set once I set up my space. To avoid getting overwhelmed, I broke down my packing list into a bunch of smaller lists by area. That way I could spend the weeks up to leaving chipping away at parts of my list and making sure I didn’t forget anything I loved.
Of course, there will always be an item or two you forgot was stuck in the closet or you missed in the aisle on your college-shopping trip. Depending on your living situation and how far away your campus is from home, there are some items you can share with a roommate or have a family member bring from home. Many colleges often have stores with dorm supplies right around their campus and even have shuttles or ride services that can transport you there and back. You can even snag some special items from upperclassmen — watch out for yard and home sales at the beginning of the year from the homes of students past.

School supplies.

While decorating your dorm may seem like an organizational dream, going to college means getting serious about school. It’s important to not only be prepared for your classes but also prepared for the best type of learning you do. Are you more of a laptop notes taker? Do you prefer binders or notebooks? Do you need flashcards and page markers? Will you need any special tech for your math classes?
  • Backpack (one that will fit all of your supplies!)
  • Notebooks or binders with loose leaf paper
  • Folders
  • Planner
  • Pens and pencils
  • Highlighters
  • Stapler
  • Scissors
  • Paper clips
  • Index cards
  • Calculator (check what type you’ll need based on your coursework)


Sleeping in college is a necessity (although sometimes a luxury) and it’s important you make sure you’ve got what you need for a good night’s rest. Make sure to check online or ask a former student about your dorm bed sizes before you purchase anything; many dorm beds aren’t what people are used to finding in their home.
  • Sheet set (two sets in case of spills, laundry day, etc.)
  • Comforter
  • Duvet cover (look for a pattern you love!)
  • Mattress protector
  • Mattress pad and topper
  • Bed pillows and covers
  • Throw pillows
  • Throw blanket
  • Bed skirt (to hide all you’ll store under your bed)

Bath and toiletries

One part of living on a college campus is keeping up with your hygiene — which is super important, considering you’ll most likely be sharing close quarters. Bringing the products you love can help maintain your everyday routine and make the transition process easier — even if it’s your first time sharing a bathroom.
  • Towels (like sheets, having more than one set is recommended)
  • Shower caddy (to fit all of your products)
  • Flip flops or shower shoes
  • Hand towel
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Soap or body wash
  • Soapdish cover (if you use bar soap)
  • Face cleanser
  • Razor
  • Shaving cream
  • Lotion
  • Shower cap
  • Hairbrush
  • Hairdryer (if you use one)
  • Hair ties, clips, and headbands
  • Deodorant
  • Makeup
  • Makeup remover wipes
  • Desk mirror
  • Nail polish and remover
  • Nail clippers and files
  • Tweezers
  • Tampons or pads
  • Cotton balls
  • Q-tips
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss


College is an opportunity to recreate your whole style — or to flaunt the one you have and love. Depending on where you go to school, you’ll need different clothing to get all suited for the weather. Regardless of what seasons you’ll be basking or freezing in, make sure you’re not determined to bring your whole closet. Dorm closets are often much smaller than ones at home, so you’ll need to organize wisely; consider picking up a shoe organizer or some extra bins for off-weather storage.
  • Underwear
  • Bras (regular, sports, bralettes — if that’s your thing)
  • Socks
  • Tights
  • Pajamas
  • Sweatpants
  • Sweatshirts
  • Jeans
  • Leggings
  • Shorts
  • Sweaters
  • Long sleeve shirts
  • Short sleeve shirts
  • Tank tops
  • Cardigans
  • Dresses (casual and formal)
  • Skirts
  • Workout clothing (running shorts and shirts)
  • Crop tops
  • Rain jacket
  • Cold weather jacket (depending on how cold your campus gets)
  • Winter hat, gloves, and scarf (again, depending on the weather)
  • Everyday comfortable shoes (sneakers, flats)
  • Running sneakers
  • Boots (including rain and/or winter)


Having your own room on campus (or shared with a roommate) means you’re responsible for cleaning up after your own mess. No matter how gross it is, every college room is bound to have messes like dusts and spills. Having your own cleaning equipment will make it easy to put the room back together faster than the mess was made.
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Paper towels
  • Vacuum cleaner or broom with dustpan
  • Laundry basket
  • Laundry detergent and dryer sheets
  • Garbage can and garbage bags
  • Recycling bin
  • Stain remover
  • Lint roller


Even if you don’t have a kitchen in your personal living space, there’s a good chance your dorm will have a communal kitchen. Even if you’re not one to chef it up, there are a bunch of quick and easy meals you can simply heat up, assemble or make with a hot water kettle.
  • Dishes (including bowls and cups)
  • Utensils
  • Mixing bowl (for snack sharing, at the least)
  • Water bottle
  • Can/bottle opener
  • Mini refrigerator (this is perfect to share with a roommate)
  • Microwave (if you don’t have one in your dorm)
  • Electric kettle or hot pot (perfect if you’re a tea lover)
  • Food storage containers
  • Chip clips (for your half-empty bags)
  • Your favorite snacks!


If you want to be all tuned in, you’ve got to make sure you’re bringing the right materials. Make sure to grab everything you need to keep your devices powered and working, as well as a few extra gadgets to make reaching your outlets and staying plugged a little easier.
  • Extension chord
  • Surge protector
  • Headphones
  • Chargers (for ALL of your devices)
  • Fan (especially if there’s no AC in your dorm)
  • Speakers
  • Desk or side table lamp
  • Printer and ink (if you don’t want to use your campus library’s printer)

General preparedness.

There are a few miscellaneous items that don’t necessarily fit with any specific category but are necessities all the same. You never know when you’ll need to change batteries or cover a small cut.
  • Batteries
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Over-the-counter pain medication (like Tylenol or Advil)
  • Common cold medicine
  • Any prescription medicine
  • Cough drops
  • Tool kit
  • Tape
  • Command hooks and strips
  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Umbrella
  • Sleeping mask
  • Clothes hangers
  • Over the door hooks (for jackets, towels or bags)
  • Sewing kit
  • Rubber bands

Décor (and fun).

The best part about moving into your dorm is making it your own. You don’t need to go crazy and buy every sticker and poster you see, but rather bring or buy items that mean the most to you. Think about what you’ll want to see when you come home from a long day of class, activities and hanging with friends.
  • Area or floor rug
  • Wall art
  • String lights
  • Tapestry
  • Throw pillows
  • Magnets (especially if you get a refrigerator)
  • Dry erase or cork board (with markers or push pins)
  • Pictures from home and picture frames (or any type of photo organizer)
College packing doesn't always have to be overwhelming and stressful. Start by packing the essentials, and then fill the rest of your packing space with the things you love — especially the items that make you feel at home. Following a checklist and staying on top of what you'll need (and want) can help soothe worries and get you prepared for the great years ahead.

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Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoë

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