Your Ultimate College Packing List: Tech Edition

Carol Katarsky Updated on July 14, 2021

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 else you’ll be doing.

Here are the devices, accessories, and apps you’ll definitely want to have along with some things that might be nice to have, and a few things you can probably safely skip.

Computers/Phones/Tablets

Need to have:

Laptop

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 your computer can handle any learning delivery systems 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 a tech-reliant field (that includes things like digital design). The school’s general computer recommendations may not have the capacity to handle more robust programs often needed for specialized coursework.

When you buy, don’t forget to take advantage of any student discounts that might be available either through your school or by using your student ID at another retailer. For example, at Apple's Education Store, you can get discounts on new Apple devices as well as services like Apple Music, Apple Arcade, and AppleCare+. (No, not all of those are strictly for studying, but all work and no play is no way to go through life.)

See also: 65 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 happen to forget yours or it dies, you can usually pick up a universal charging cord at an office supply store or many other retailers. 

Power strip with surge protection

A power strip gives you extra outlets and also protects your computer from damage in case of a power surge. A power surge can occur when the electricity is restored after an outage, as a result of a lightning strike, or even from small power flow variations from your utility provider. The “surge” refers to any 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, be aware that over time, multiple small surges can erode certain components, meaning your computer won’t last as long. Repeated surges can also cause everything to run a lot slower.

Getting a power strip can reduce the risk of your most-important educational tools. But take note: Not all multioutlet devices are power strips. Make sure the one you buy specifically states it’s a surge protector as well.

See also: How to Pack for College: Your Ultimate Dorm Checklist for 2021

Apps for backing up your work

You definitely don't want to be the poor soul who loses hours of work because your computer crashed or your roommate spilled iced coffee on your keyboard.

And what happens if your computer gets stolen or you leave it somewhere by accident?

Backing up your work in the cloud means 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, Microsoft's OneDrive, 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 preloaded on your computer before you decide which backup system to use. For example, if you need Word and Excel, OneDrive storage and backup are generally included for free with a 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). 

Earbuds/AirPods/headphones

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’ll 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 one for hours on end. There are ways you can augment your laptop setup to create a better, more ergonomically healthy user experience—meaning less strain on your neck, shoulders, wrists, and hands.

External monitor

A bigger screen shows you more stuff (that’s just science). It can also reduce eye strain and fatigue.

You’ll also give your neck a break if you raise the screen 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 feels 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 accessory 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 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. They're also helpful if your school is in a place with very cold winters. Using a phone outside in below freezing temps can make the battery lose its charge in just a few minutes. 

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.

Printer

Check with your school’s recommendations, but you’ll probably be turning in most things electronically. Save yourself some money and 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.

Headset

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.

If you like multi-player games, consider choosing a set with a microphone so you can easily talk to other players.

TV

If you’ll have a roommate, be sure to coordinate on the TV before you go. Keep in mind dorm rooms are small so don’t go crazy with a giant screen (which you might not be able to mount on 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 you’re at school to learn. Optimizing your gaming situation may mean 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.

Netflix

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 six-month free trial and can 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 six-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 an HDMI port. 

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

 

About the Author
Carol Katarsky

Carol Katarsky is a contributing writer for Nitro. She is an award-winning journalist with extensive experience writing about both finance and education. Her corporate and non-profit clients include AIG, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Project Management Institute. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, son, and one cat more than she should. Read more by Carol Katarsky

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