College Dorm Life

Updated on June 19, 2013
L.M. asks from Meriden, CT
13 answers

My daughter will be heading off to college in the fall. I was wondering what items were a must for child at school, and what items she could live without. Any suggesstions for high school graduation gifts? Any other tips?

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answers from Minneapolis on

They need cash/card to go with their new roommate to the closest Target to buy what they need. It's a great first step towards independence.

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answers from Austin on

Our daughter attended college in MA, We waited for her to get there to decide what she would need. This way we did not have to ship it up there.

We looked at the room and measured it. She and her new roommate made a list.. Freshmen always have a roommate at this college.

Her room came with college furniture that included, 2 Twin beds, 2 mattresses, 2 desks, 2 chairs, 2 book shelves.

They decided they needed curtains, a box fan or fan for each of them, a floor lamp for each of them, a mini fridge, a rice maker, rugs for each of them, a closet light, some shelving and organizers for the closet.. Printer, storage crates for under the beds. Risers for the beds, Dry erase boards for their door.. Anyway, it worked well.

She was fortunate to have so many gift cards, we hardly had to use our money to purchase things.

Our daughter also did not have the correct wardrobe for the weather up there, so once it was colder, rainier.. etc.. she was able to purchase what she needed up there or order it online..

One thing that was different from when I was in college.. No one had a TV or a Stereo. They use their laptops and ipods for that stuff.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

I found the following article while surfing online for college dorm ideas when I was getting ready to send my older son off to college. I'll be using it again when I send my younger son off next year. I'd give you the link if I had it - sorry about the length here. Just copy and paste it to a Word document.

College dorm checklist: What to pack

By LESLIE SHERMAN JACKSON / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
Published 12 July 2010 10:45 AM

After moving three college freshmen to three states last fall, I know a few things about what a college student needs.

We have triplets, identical boys and a girl, and I can tell from experience that you will buy more for a girl.

On move-in day, it's usually possible to run to the store to retrieve, for instance, adhesive strips to adhere posters to the walls. Who wants to lose a good campus parking space on such a busy day, though?
When weighing whether you should buy something in advance, remember: Keep receipts. Anything you can't use can always be returned.
It turns out, just about everything college-related goes on sale in mid-September so if your child isn't yet a senior in high school, you could be stocking up on some great deals this fall.

I've assembled a list of dorm must-haves and some optional items that can make a small room feel more like home.

Leslie Sherman Jackson is a freelance writer and the mother of triplets who have finished their freshman years at the University of Oklahoma, Baylor University and Creighton University. She continues to organize and seek advice from a core group of friends from the Metrocrest Parents of Multiples, a support group which she joined when pregnant 20 years ago. She has published articles in Dallas Child, Seattle Child, Toastmasters and the Dallas Morning News. Currently she teaches speech communication classes at Brookhaven Community College.

Many college dorms have extra-long twin mattresses. The XL sheets will fit either regular or long twin beds. These sheets can be found at most retail stores as well as online. Look for them at Bed, Bath & Beyond, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, Target, Walmart and department stores.
You could probably buy a son almost any plaid or solid comforter and he would be happy with it. For a daughter, consider waiting in case roommates want to coordinate bedding.

A foam mattress topper costs about $30, unless you can wait until late September for a sale. Don't forget the mattress pad, throw blanket and at least one pillow.

Consider whether a student will want to store a second set of sheets; space can be tight in dorms. A couple of extra pillowcases are a good idea and will probably get changed more than the sheets. An extra fitted sheet may come in handy.

A shower caddy is key when using a community bathroom. Look at the student's bathing must-haves and buy a caddy sized to fit them.

Big, fluffy towels are nice, but they take forever to dry. Plan on two bath towels, some hand towels and washcloths.

Get flip-flops. Even if the student has a semiprivate bath, I've known athlete's foot and an extreme case, staph infection, to spread via the shower floor.

Toilet paper and tissues probably won't be supplied, so bring a few packages of each.

Don't forget hand soap and a refill, bars of soap, a soap traveling case and hand sanitizer.

Try to find out ahead of time whether these items are needed, especially in dorms with semiprivate bathrooms: shower curtain, bath mat, hanging shower rack and wastebasket.

Cleaning supplies
Good basics: canister of bleach wipes, paper towels, small and large trash bags and an old toothbrush that can be used to clean anything, such as getting the mud off shoes. Personal items Slippers and robe. Another option for girls is a wrap-around towel, which serves as a cover-up.

Grooming needs: shampoo, conditioner, mousse, deodorant, lotion, hair spray, comb and brush, hair dryer, toothpaste, toothbrush and traveling case, dental floss, razor, razor blades, shaving cream, face cleanser, nail clippers, sunblock. Don't forget the mosquito spray if the school is anywhere south of Dallas or hot and humid. Waco qualifies.

Even the laundry-impaired can learn how to do laundry thanks to online videos (see YouTube). No one takes an iron these days because this generation doesn't iron.

Must-haves: two bottles of detergent, a box of fabric-softener sheets, a bottle of spray fabric freshener, wrinkle-free spray, a stain stick and bleach pen.

Laundry basket: In addition to a folding hamper for dirty clothes, a plastic laundry basket comes in handy for transporting stuff.

Roll of quarters: Some school washer-dryers take quarters; others allow you to use a school credit card.

Hangers: Don't underestimate the number of hangers you will need, especially for a female.

Special laundry note for males: Because many guys wear colored boxers, it takes a lot of dirty white socks to make a load. Consider buying athletic socks that are black or gray. Everything is going to be thrown in one load anyway, right?

For females: Add fabric soak for delicate cold-water wash.
Small sewing kit: Needle, basic colors of thread, a few pins and safety pins. It might pay to brush up on threading a needle to sew on a button. Room essentials (and not-so-essential) Alarm clock: Many teens rely on cellphone alarm clocks, but what if they lose their phone or it's out of service?

Hello, walls: Keep in mind that you cannot put nails in most dorm walls. Instead, bring along many packages of 3M Command Strips; small, medium and large picture hanging strips; and hooks.

One drawback is that if paper posters aren't laminated, the paper sometimes tears when you take posters down at semester's end.
What about a full-length mirror? There may not be a place to put an over-the-door hanger, but some students hang them off the bunk bed.

Tools: The basics are hammer, wrench and screwdriver. Or buy a small toolkit.

In-dorm dining: Coffee cup, plastic cup and bowl (microwavable), spoon, fork, knife, small bottle of dish detergent, sponge, zipper-style storage bags.

Study lamp: Remember to pack a light bulb.

Don’t forget computer printing papers.

Wastepaper basket: Some rooms come with one. Optional items
Under-bed storage: At Target, we found stacking drawers for $10 each that could sit on top of one another or come apart.

Power cords: Extension cords, prong adapters and most important: a surge protector.

Phone: Some schools encourage the use of a land line so there's a way to get in touch with students who have visitors waiting in the lobby.

Lap desk: The price is usually $20, but I found some for about $7 at Tuesday Morning. Check around.

Study pillow: This may not get used if they loft the bed.

Bed risers: Check before buying these. Many dorm beds can be lofted without them.

Rainy days: If it's a big campus, send a compact umbrella. Even a girl who lives in flip-flops will resort to wearing rain boots in inclement weather.

Sleep mask: Handy for those who are sensitive to light. Or as my son Kody said: "You never know when your roommate will be working on a paper until 1:30 a.m." Same goes for foam earplugs. Stuff to share?

Compare notes with the roommate so you don't end up with duplicates:

Fan: Tower fans are popular. They cool the room but use less space than an oscillating or box fan. Another advantage is the white noise they generate - helping drown out other noise. Fans go on sale in the fall.

Rug, chair: Most rooms have a desk and chair. Sometimes there is not room for much of a rug. Remember how small dorm rooms are.

Dry-erase board: Friends and visitors can leave messages on the room's door.

Refrigerator and-or microwave: Check with the school. Some dorm rooms have them, and some schools have voltage specifications. Some schools don't allow microwaves. Save on school supplies

To avoid paying full price, look for these items on sale before heading to campus:
College-ruled notebook paper and college-ruled notebooks (several of each)
Pocket folders (plastic are worth the extra expense because they last)
Three-ring binders
Stapler, staple remover, staples
Post-it notes, index cards
Pencil sharpener, highlighters, ruler, rubber bands, scissors, cellophane tape, No. 2 pencils, pens, paper clips, binder clips, bulletin-board thumbtacks (magnets if the dorm room has magnetic board), pencil holder

Daily planner for recording class assignments, social events, visits home
Wall calendar (optional)

Mailing supplies: postage stamps and plain envelopes: I wrote my kids at least one letter their first year. Old-fashioned, yes, but I still have a box of letters from family members sent to me when I was in college. A letter beats an email anytime, in my mind, and is much easier to keep than an email, even if you do print it off. They might not write but they sure as heck won't if 1) they have to find and buy stamps 2) they have to shell out their own money. Computer needs

A laptop lock might be a good idea. Look for them at Bed, Bath & Beyond ($15) or order online. Make sure it's compatible with your computer. Or if it's for a notebook or laptop, and works with your computer make (i.e. Dell, Mac). Also look into getting computer insurance; if it is dropped, lost or stolen, you are covered.

In addition to the computer, you'll need:
Copy-print paper
Replacement ink cartridges
Power cords, surge protector and other cords
Blank recordable CDs and memory sticks

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answers from Washington DC on

A mini fridge for the room
2 sets of sheets
2 sets of towels
Some plates, cups, bowls, silverware
A compact clothes drying rack
A mini broom and dust pan
A small dust buster vac

Hamper/laundry bag
How to do the laundry
Money or card for laundry

Possibly - bed feet. It's little risers that raises the bed so you can store things under it.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

We are on kid #2 in college. I suggest that you find out the average size of the dorm rooms and if she'll need to share with 2 or 3 people (I started out in a tripple). Have her keep track of the things she uses THE MOST during a typical week. Maybe she really doesn't use x or y as much as she thinks she does and it could stay home. She will need all the typical things - laundry supplies, at least one set of dishes for snacking in the room, school supplies. Find out what appliances are allowed and which are banned. My SD could have a particular wattage microwave but NOT a hot pot. Find out what size the beds are. Extra long twins need special sheets. She should also coordinate big items (tv, printer, fridge, microwave) with her roommate later in the summer.

I got my SD Mabel's Labels for her gear. She said they helped her get her dishes back (her dorm had a kitchen and she used her dishes often).

I suggest clear totes for a lot of storage - easy to see through and stackable - and space bags for larger items.

I also agree on finding out what bank is local to her and if you can possibly have an account local to you as well, that will help with the "aaahhh! I need book money!" calls. Each of my sks had a joint account with DH at a different bank.

You might also have her ask what cell providers have good coverage there. My SD found out that what works well here is horrible on campus. A pay as you go phone for one location or the other might not be a bad idea, if she finds herself in the same boat.

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answers from Columbus on

I'm going thru this right now with my son.... I just wanted to suggest checking the requirements for the bed sheets. We've been told, and I've heard it's pretty standard with a lot of dorms, that the sheets are TWIN EXTRA LONG!! I already got two sets because as it gets closer to start time, it gets harder to find them.

The only other things we're looking for right now are a few bath towels, hand towels and a single-cup coffee maker.

Like the others, I think we'll wait to get some stuff to make sure of what he'll really need. At least for us, he'll only be about 40 minutes away so if he needs something right away I can just run it over. Or at least that's going to be my excuse!! lol!! It's going to be really weird not having him in the house!!

Good luck!!!

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answers from Los Angeles on

Laurie A. is right on. Purchase there and avoid shipping/lugging it all. My cousin's daughter received a list from the university she's attending to use as a guideline as to what might be needed, it helped a lot. I know that Target, and I'm guessing other retailers, sell bundles of items for college students, say, kitchen cleaners, cooking utensils, bedding, etc.

And I was going to suggest gift cards as well, they will come in handy! Congrats to your daughter :)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Buy storage boxes that fit under the bed. It's great for holding extra sheets and towels or off-season clothes, heavy sweaters and sweatshirts, snow gear (if needed), etc. If the beds aren't high enough off the ground, buy cinder blocks to prop the bed up. When I was in college, I had three long, but not too tall, storage boxes under the bed. They now just fit horizontally under the crib, if that gives you a sense of their size.

It's hard to know what she'll need without knowing the configuration of her closet, but she may need some kind of shelving or stackable cubes.

A shower caddy to hold all of her shower stuff and cheap flip flops to wear in the shower (unless her room has a private bathroom).

Find out which bank has the most convenient ATM and get her a checking account with that bank.

She might want a lamp to put by her bed for reading and/or one on her desk.

I really liked having a small fridge. Our dorms rented them to us for the year for a reasonable fee.

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answers from Toledo on

I would see if the university has a list of "suggested items" based on the dorms, what is already supplied, what current students suggest, etc. there will be a Target, Walmart or similar store nearby, and the RA will be able to give you suggestions and directions.

I would shy away from lists that stores like Bed, Bath ans Beyond provide. Similar to a bridal or bab registry, they will be full of items you probably don't need.

Finally, many schools have less of the traditional dorm room with two people per room and a community shower. The new trend is suits with bedrooms and a common room and a bathroom. The type of room she's in will be a factor. If she's in the more traditional room, she'll want a bathrobe, flip flops and a shower caddy, whereas in a suite she might like cleaning supplies for the bathroom.

Have fun!

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answers from Houston on

All that the moms said and one more--many schools do not allow microwaves or hot plates. Check before you buy.

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answers from Dallas on

We are going through this now. A lot of schools sell packages of bedding, etc.

My daughter and her roommate have planned a lot together. They have a 3 bedroom ( each separately) with living area and the bath area. The plan is to keep what your bought as in toaster oven, microwave, fridge, etc

You'll learn a lot a orientation as well. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Wausau on

Bedding to fit her dorm bed. Most are twin, but some are extra long so find out. Sheets, blankets, pillows.

Laundry supplies, a basket (to fit in the closet) and whatever kind of currency/token/card the machines take.

Set of basic dishes. We had a small microwave, a mini fridge and a coffee maker in our room, but the floor also had a kitchen with a stove and oven. What she will use depends on her access to facilities.

Toiletries. Small shower tote, a robe and flip flops if she will use a group bathroom.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

When I went off to college, my mom gave me a laundry basket with all kinds of necessities in it: shampoo/conditioner, bath wash, razors, and on and on - you get the point. Go through your house and pay attention to what you touch regularly - kleenex, tape, pens/pencils, papertowels. I'd suggest taking her shopping then out to eat on the day you drop her off for all these things....

Must haves:
(1) Bath robe that covers everything - my folks bought me a thick, long bathrobe and did that come in handy as I was walking back from the bathroom while the boys were walking down the hall.
(2) A couple towels & washcloths
(3) sheets/comforters/bedding
(4) Mini fridge - seems like a luxury item, but it makes life so much better if you don't have to walk down to the first floor for a water or soda or cold snack
(5) Pictures of family
(6) flip-flops to shower in and walk back and forth from the bathroom in - it's really a public bathroom and you don't want your bare feet to touch the floor, seriously.
(7) Bean bag or something else to sit on besides the desk chair that is provided
(7) hangers

Not necessary:
(1) microwave - they used to have a community one on each floor
(2) rug - just something you have to vaccuum

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