Your Ultimate College Packing List: Tech Edition

Trish Sammer Updated on July 31, 2020

Sure, sheets and towels are important, but tech stuff is probably one of the highest priorities for your college packing list.

Having the right equipment and functionality can be a key factor in getting your schoolwork done. And let’s face it: You’re also going to need electronics for entertainment, socializing, and just about every other thing you’ll be doing.

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Here are items and apps you’ll definitely want to have, some things that are nice-to-have, and some things you can probably safely skip.


Need to have:


No-brainer, right? Check with your school to find out what they recommend before you buy. With the potential for online learning greater than ever, you want to make sure that your computer can handle any learning delivery systems that your school plans on using.

It’s also smart to double-check tech requirements within your major, especially if you’re studying engineering or anything in the high-tech field. The school’s baseline computer recommendation may not have the capacity to handle more robust programs needed for specialized coursework.

When you buy, don’t forget to take advantage of any student discounts that might be available through your school or by using your student ID at a regular retailer.

See also: 67 Sweet Deals and Discounts You Can Get With Your College ID

Laptop charging cable

Self-explanatory. Just don’t leave it at home!

If you do happen to forget yours, you can usually pick up a universal charging cord at an office supply store. 

Power strip with surge protection

A power strip will not only give you extra outlets, it will also protect your computer from damage in case of a power surge. A power surge can occur when the electricity is restored after a power outage, but it can also happen as a result of a lightning strike or from small variations in power flow from your utility. The “surge” refers to a sudden flow of electricity all at once.

A spike in power can fry your laptop (especially the motherboard), your charger, your battery, and your modem if you use one. But even if your tech emerges unscathed after one surge, know that small surges over time can erode certain components, meaning that your computer won’t last as long. Repeated surges can also cause everything to run a lot slower.

Why risk your most-important educational tools? Just go get yourself a power strip. Note: Not all multi-outlet devices are power strips. Make sure the one you buy specifically states that it’s a surge protector as well.

See also: How to Pack for College: Your Ultimate Dorm Checklist for 2020

Apps for backing up your work

You definitely do not want to be the poor soul who loses hours of work because your computer crashes or your roommate spills iced coffee on your keyboard.

And think about this: What happens if your computer gets stolen or you leave it somewhere by accident?

Backing up your work in the cloud means that you'll still be able to access your work even if something happens to your computer. Your best plan is to set up your computer to automatically backup your work as you go. Google Drive, OneDrive (from Microsoft), and DropBox are all convenient and reliable options for saving text documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, image files, and more.

Check with your school to find out what software you’ll need to have pre-loaded on your computer before you decide which backup system to use. If you need Word and Excel, you'll probably want to use the OneDrive storage and backup that are generally included with a free student Office 365 account.

Otherwise, Google Drive and DropBox are both free to use unless you reach a set storage limit (and those limits are rather generous). 


These are essential, both for tuning out noise so you can focus and for zoning out when you need to relax. If it’s in your budget, wireless options can be convenient if you’re going to be on the move while listening to music or podcasts.


Nice to have:

Laptops don’t always provide the most comfortable experience if you’re going to be sitting in front of the computer for hours on end. There are some ways you can augment your laptop setup to create a better user experience that creates less ergonomic strain on your neck, shoulders, writts, and hands.

External monitor

A bigger screen is going to show you more stuff (that’s just science). It’s also going to reduce eye strain and fatigue.

You’ll also give your neck a break if you raise the screen up to eye level. You can buy a monitor shelf or you can use a few big books if you want save some money.

External keyboard

Using a full-size keyboard can help prevent wrist and elbow pain from frequent keyboard use. Ergonomic keyboards are even better to help you avoid carpal tunnel syndrome. 

For a few extra bucks, it might be worth springing for a wireless version, so you’ll have one less thing to plug into your laptop. Most run on regular batteries.

External mouse

If you’re using an external keyboard, having a mouse is going to feel much more natural than using the fingerpad. Once again, a battery-powered cordless mouse is a very convenient option. Most laptops only have one or two USB ports.

Which brings us to our next item …

USB docking port

If you want to plug in more than one thing to your laptop, you’re probably going to need one of these. Plug it into your laptop and you'll be able to connect multiple USB cords through one port.

External hard drive

OK, most students can probably skip this and rely on apps for backing up their documents.

However, if you’re doing work that requires a lot of computing power or you’re saving big projects that consume a lot of memory, such as videos or graphics-heavy files, an external hard drive is going to keep your laptop from getting bogged down. 

Extra cords, charging bricks, adapters, and extension cords

These are all the little things that you might not think about until you need them.

This is one category where it doesn’t hurt to overpack a little. There’s always that one classmate who borrows a cord and doesn’t return it.

External phone charger

These are cheap, small, and convenient. They can also be life savers if your phone doesn’t hold a charge well or you’ll be away from your room for most of the day.

You might even want to buy two of these. That way you can keep one ready-to-go in your backpack while the other is charging in your room. Don’t forget that you’ll need two cords for these: one to plug into the wall (to charge the device) and one to connect your phone.


Probably safe to skip:

Thumb drives

With cloud storage options like Google Drive, OneDrive, and DropBox, it’s pretty easy to backup and access your documents from a variety of places. Unless you have a specific need for thumb drives, you can probably scratch them off your list.


Check with your school’s recommendations, but you’ll probably be turning in most things electronically. Save yourself the money and the space by leaving the printer at home. If you really need to print, most campuses have on-site options you can use. 


Gaming equipment

Lots of students bring their passion for video games to campus. Especially for the upcoming fall semester, it’s not a bad idea to have some more dorm-accessible entertainment options. In addition to your gaming system, here are some things you might want to pack.


Don’t be the student who drives everyone else nuts with video game noise when people are trying to sleep or study. Bonus: Many headsets provide superior audio quality anyway.

Consider choosing a set with a microphone so you can easily talk to other players in multi-player games.


If you’re going to have a roommate, be sure to coordinate on the TV before you go. Keep in mind that dorm rooms are small so don’t go crazy with a giant screen (which you probably won't be able to mount on cinder block dorm walls anyway). Besides, you’ll have to transport the thing yourself so consider what else has to get packed in your car.

Above all, remember that you’re at school to learn. Optimizing your gaming situation may mean that you’re more likely to be distracted when you need to focus on your coursework. If you have a scaled-down setup, it may be easier to stay on track.


Music, TV, movies

There are so many great digital options for streaming entertainment services that your physical packing list for this category is pretty small. Here are a few services and a couple devices to check out.


Sorry, Netflix doesn’t offer a student discount, but you should be able to login to a family account from school. Grab that password before you leave.

Amazon Prime Student Account

Get free shipping and access to lots of free options on Amazon’s streaming service by signing up for Prime. Students get a 6-month free trial and can then continue their subscription for less than $5 a month.

Spotify Student Account w/ Hulu and Showtime

Students can enjoy unlimited music streaming with Spotify Premium for $4.99/month, a 50% discount from the normal price. Even better, student accounts come with free access to Hulu and SHOWTIME.

Sign up for a 6-month trial to see how you like it.

External speaker

Great audio really can come in tiny packages. Amp up the sound from your smartphone or tablet with an external speaker. Get one with a wireless Bluetooth connection so you can still use your phone or tablet while you're blasting your tunes.

HDMI cable

If you're bringing a TV, you might want to use a HDMI cable to connect your computer and your TV. That will allow you to stream shows through your computer and view them on your TV. Just make sure your TV has a HDMI port. 

Need more help getting read for college? Check out 4 Ready-to-Go Checklists You Need Before College


About the Author
Trish Sammer

Trish Sammer is Nitro's managing editor. Her work has appeared in Woman’s Day, Redbook, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Forbes. She has also written for various corporate clients, including the tech giant SAP, The Franklin Institute, and PSE&G. When Trish isn’t busy acting as a writing ninja for other people, you can find her … well, writing about other stuff, like divorce and blended family life. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband, their combined brood, and the world’s laziest dog. Read more by Trish Sammer

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