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Essential College Packing List

Over the summer parents of soon to be college freshman will be hunting and gathering items to help their son or daughter go off to college and live away from home for the first time.  Feathering this new nest can be difficult and expensive considering the size and limitations that accompany dorm room living.  Your child’s school will probably have an extensive packing list available online or you can Google “college packing list” and come up with 100’s of hits like this one   Most of these lists include everything but the kitchen sink and not necessarily useful to the way college students actually live in their dorm.  We asked two recent college freshman, Morgan and Zach, to give us their “must have” and “didn’t need it” lists along with some tips and tricks from their personal experience this year. 


12-by-20-foot room featuring two beds, two wardrobes, two desks, two mini-fridges, shelves, and most importantly, two freshmen girls. Welcome to my freshman year dorm room, which despite the limited space, could not have been a more perfect home-away-from-home. In fact, my dorm room was so comfy and cozy that when talking to my mom on the phone after class, I would tell her I was walking “home.” A word of advice to rising freshmen: don’t call college home around your parents—they’re sensitive people who will always believe that your home is under their roof.

Why did college become home so easily for me? Probably because I prepared well. It’s impossible to predict what you will need for everyday of your freshman year—that’s why there is a Walmart or Target within 20 minutes of every college campus. But having most of the things you’ll need before arriving on campus will make your transition to college life much easier. Here are some of the things that made my life at college a little bit better:

  • Handheld Steamer - I used my steamer almost every day. Due to limited storage space, I had to fold many of the shirts I would have liked to hang up. My steamer was perfect to get the wrinkles out of these shirts. I found my steamer worked as well as an iron would have, plus, I didn’t need an ironing board.

  • PicturesHomesickness is real. Having pictures of the people and places you leave behind will help you feel more at home at college. Alternatively, when you get caught up in your college life and realize you haven’t talked to your grandma or your best friend from high school in three weeks, seeing their pictures will remind you to call and catch up.

  • Camera - My freshman year was over in the blink of an eye. Luckily, I captured all the best moments on my camera. Of course, you can always just take pictures on your phone, but I am much more likely to develop pictures if I take them on my camera.

  • Journal - I journal one line every day. By allowing me to record important happenings in my life without the time commitment of keeping a full-length diary, my journal is perfect for me as a sentimental college student with limited time to spare. The best part of my journal is that it is comparative, meaning I write about the details of the same date on the same page for five years in a row—I am reminded every day of what experience I had to be grateful for that day one year before. 

  • Keurig College students spend a lot of money on coffee. Having a Keurig is a great way to save yourself from spending $3.00 on an iced coffee every day. Keurig's are also great for late night study sessions, when the coffee shops are closed but you need a caffeine boost.

  • Less clothes than you think you’ll need - Seriously. I brought ten sweatshirts to college and ended up wearing the same three. In January, I was inspired by Project 333, a minimalist fashion challenge, to downsize my wardrobe. For more information on creating a capsule wardrobe and on Project 333, visit before packing your clothes for college.

  • Ear Plugs and Sleep Mask These items are especially helpful if you have a nocturnal roommate like I did. She would often leave the lights on in the room for hours after I had gone to bed. I have trouble falling asleep when lights are on, and I wake up with any sound. Sleeping with ear plugs and a sleep mask helped me fall and stay asleep without having to adjust to my roommate’s bizarre circadian rhythm.

  • String Lights and Floor Lamp - The overhead lights in my dorm room, as in most dorm rooms, were harsh fluorescents. Luckily, I hardly ever turned these lights on during the year. Instead, my roommate and I brought a floor lamp and string lights to hang along the ceiling. This alternative lighting made our room feel much cozier.

  • Outdoor Blanket After a long day of class, I never want to sit inside to do homework. My friends and I did homework in the quad outside our dorm whenever the weather was nice enough, which was quite often in sunny North Carolina. Beach towels are also good for sitting outside, but outdoor blankets are nice because multiple people can sit on one at the same time.

  • Stamps and TY Cards - The best email to receive: You Have A Package. Getting mail at college is amazing. Friends and family send you food, gift cards, and thoughtful notes. To show my gratitude (but also to ensure I would continue to get fun mail), I sent Thank You cards to whoever sent me mail.

  • Extra-Long Charging Cord - My dorm room bed was about four feet above the ground, which meant I was far away from most of the wall outlets when I was lying in bed. Having an extra-long charging cord was helpful when I was looking at my phone in bed.

  • Deck of Cards - Playing cards is a great way to spend time with new friends. It’s a better way to bond than sitting around watching Netflix, and a deck of cards takes up less space in a dorm room than a board game. My friends and I loved to play Euchre, Uno, and Spoons.

  • Weekend Bag - I went on a service trip, a camping trip, and weekend trips with my friends. Having a duffel bag for these quick adventures is helpful so you don’t have to pack in a suitcase.  

  • Sponge, Dish Soap, and Dish Towel - In my dorm residents did their dishes in the sink in the common room. There was usually a communal sponge and soap to use, but the sponge became pretty gross pretty quickly. I preferred to keep my own sponge in my room and take it to the common room when I needed to do dishes. Having my own dish towel was also helpful because there were rarely paper towels to dry dishes in the common room.


As I turned in the last Final Exam of my Freshman year, I headed back to my dorm room to pack my entire half of the room into a series of duffle bags and Rubbermaid containers. While going through my stuff I had the chance to see which items were covered in dust and which items were worn from use.

Things that were essential to getting me through my freshman year:

  • Wrinkle release Spray  - Makes shirts smooth enough for normal day wear. I Still needed an iron for formal clothes.

  • Keurig - My school was lucky enough to allow one per room.

  • A Pyrex 2-Cup measuring cup Perfect for Ramen, soup, and hot water.

  • Tide Stain stick - Saved me a few trips back to my dorm.

  • Mini Fridge - Bonus if it has a freezer tray to use ice cube trays.

  • Stapler - Useful for organization and nearly all teachers require things to be stapled.

  • Post It notes - Useful for keeping your thoughts organized amongst all your books.

  • Expo Markers - the easiest way to study with a group is with a white board.

  • A calendar or planner - Mandatory for forgetful people such as myself.

  • Shower Shoes - Communal Showers get gross.

  • A small tool kit - Will make you the hero of your friends as people loft beds and tweak their furniture. Mine was used well over 50 times.

  • Sewing Kit - Especially useful if you actually know how to sew.

  • A hat Even though I don’t typically wear a hat, there were many mornings where I would rather feel silly in a hat than look like Medusa.

  • Melatonin -Useful for getting my sleep schedule back on track after a few nights of late studying.

  • Vitamins - A Multi-vitamin or something like Emergen-C will keep one healthy during cold season, which strikes the dorms like the black plague.

  • Breakfast food - After a late night of studying I would almost never go to the dining halls to eat breakfast.

  • A Walmart Gift card You can’t prepare for everything and a gift card to a major store provided me a safety net to buy items forgotten at home and a few luxuries which helped cure my homesickness and provided me a bit of sanity when it was needed.

Things that could’ve stayed at home:

  • Alarm clock - I’ve always just used my phone.

  • Bed Lamp - I’ve never read in my bed before

  • Dictionary, thesaurus, and MLA citation book -I’ve always used the internet.

  • Multiple pairs of sheets and towels -I would wash them at the beginning of the day and have them be ready for use by nighttime.

  • Highlighters and other school supplies - I’ve always been a minimalist, working with only a pen.

Obviously hindsight is 20/20 and next year, I’m going to learn from my mistakes and bring a few things I wish I would’ve had for my Freshman year:

  • Printer - If you’re a night owl like me, it’s useful to be able to print completed essays at 3 A.M. so you don’t have to before your 8 A.M Class.

  • Brita Filter - Most people on my floor had a water pitcher with a built in filter which they filled up in the bathroom and would use as drinking water.

  • Steamer Eliminates the need for an iron.

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