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Are you wondering what essentials you need on your college shopping list?

Dorm events. Papers and projects. LOTS of Ramen noodles and late night chats with good friends. For many of us, college was an incredible season. It was full of growth and new experiences. Maybe you met lifelong friends in those days. Or maybe you met your spouse during college. You took classes, learned valuable information, and in many ways, became more of the person you are today.

All of a sudden, you find yourself back in the college atmosphere. This time, though, it’s with your son or daughter. You may be visiting colleges now and helping your kids make big decisions for next fall. Whatever school you choose, your student will be moving on to new adventures. Some may commute, but most likely, you’ll send them off to live in a dorm.

If you are looking for one last family trip before the big college move, here are the 10 must see national parks.

The Ultimate College Shopping List

Don’t let the task of packing for college overwhelm you! Here is a list of the absolute essential items for your student's college shopping list.

As one who has led a dorm of college students for the past five years, I know prepping for college can feel overwhelming. The list of to-do’s seems endless, especially if this is your first time sending a child off to school.

One of the biggest question marks for parents and incoming students is often concerning the college shopping list. Dorm rooms are known to be small and bare. This doesn’t mean your student can’t make it homey and personal, but it does mean you may want to limit what you bring to college.

When the time comes, don’t let the task of packing for college overwhelm you! There is enough stress and emotion attached to this transition, so here is a list of the absolute essential items your student will need on their college shopping list.

Note: Before you go out with your college shopping list, check out the school’s website and visit their residential life page. There may be information about room specifics and floor plans, which will be helpful when planning. Some schools also have extra-long twin beds or other unique pieces of furniture that may affect what you purchase for the dorm room. Visit the campus if possible, but at the least, find out as much as you can about the layout and specifics of the room.

The Ultimate College Shopping List With All Your Essentials Click To Tweet


This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s pretty essential when moving into a room with just furniture. Make sure you pack two sets of sheets, plus whatever other bedding your student is used to sleeping with at home.


Again, a no-brainer! If possible, pack only the clothing needed for the next season. If your child is going to school far from home, this won’t necessarily be possible. If you live within a couple hours of the school, try to alternate clothing at seasons to save space in the room. Pack hangers and look for helpful organizers like over-the-door shoe racks or drawer separators. Again, the dorm room is small, so anything you can find to make smart use of the space will be helpful.


Help your students get stocked up on all those essentials toiletry items, from shampoo and body wash to face cleanser and razors. Sit down with your student and make a list of everything they use on daily/weekly basis. And don’t be afraid to buy in bulk! When they’re away from home, it never hurts to give them a couple extra tubes of toothpaste for the semester ahead.


Every student needs bath towels, but don’t forget a few hand towels and even some dish towels. Though there will be few dishes to wash, it’s helpful to have a few extra towels to cut down on laundry.

School Supplies

Unlike school years before, you most likely won’t be shopping from an official supplies list. Make sure to buy notebooks with multiple sections, binders for each class and plenty of pens and pencils. Most of college includes note taking, research, and writing. There are some exceptions, but schools and professors should let you know ahead of time if you need special supplies.


It’s almost impossible, or at least unheard of, for a college student to get through the year without a computer. Most schools have computer labs, but the convenience of a personal computer is a wonderful thing. Start looking for deals now or around Christmas, and make sure to ask about a college discount!

The Ultimate College Shopping List With All Your Essentials

Groceries and Dishes

Your student will likely have a meal plan and food provided in a number of eating establishments on campus. Still, it’s always helpful to stock them up with granola bars, bottled water, and the beloved Ramen. You know what your kids can’t make it without, so run to Costco and set them up with a semester’s worth of Cliff Bars.

Or check out Prime Pantry for awesome online deals — this is also helpful for laundry detergent, dish soap, hand soaP. You can even set up monthly subscriptions to be sent to your student at school! As for dishes, they don’t need much. A full, durable set of cup, bowl, plate, etc. should do the trick.

Items to share

When you think of Ramen or other late night snacks, you’re probably aware that this requires “cooking” of sorts. Most college students have a number of small appliances in their dorm rooms – mini fridges, microwaves, coffee pot, etc.

Some schools have specifications for what’s allowed in the dorm, but once you’ve settled on a couple helpful appliances, check in with your student’s roommate(s). You don’t need to personally purchase every item. Try to balance the load between those sharing the room ahead of time. Your school should be able to give you contact information for roommates, which will be helpful on many levels!

Personal Items/Decorations

There’s no better way for your student to feel settled in their new space than bringing familiar items from home. Help them make their room fun and unique to them. For some personalities, this may be very important and they may spend lots of time shopping for the perfect decorations. For others, you may want to push them to bring pictures of family or a favorite poster from their room at home.

Easily Overlooked Items

Send your student with a small box/container of some items that will come in handy, whether they know it or not. Include Band Aids, pain reliever, safety pins, cough drops, a small sewing kit (someone in the dorm could likely help them out), tissues, etc.

In short, don’t overthink the college shopping list. Check out the school’s room regulations and there may even be a packing list specific to that college or dorm. Follow your instincts and know that you’ll always be able to send them forgotten items. Or, send them out to explore their new town and encourage the to buy their own shampoo. You’ve got this, parents! Happy College Hunting!

Don’t let the task of packing for college overwhelm you! Here is a list of the absolute essential items for your student's college shopping list.

Jess Lyons
Jess Lyons
Jess Lyons is a wife, mom, and Resident Director to 100+ college students. Her days are filled with dorm events and bike rides with her family, and she loves the overlap of it all. In her free time, you can find her reading a book or enjoying good food with friends.