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

Julissa Treviño Updated on July 22, 2020

If you're moving to campus for the upcoming semester, you're probably wondering what you should pack and what you should leave at home. And with the whole COVID situation, there a few additional things you might want to bring, just in case.

We've got you covered. In this checklist, we'll tell you everything you'll need and want your first year in a dorm. Scroll down to view to items by category, including a special COVID section.

New Call-to-action


When packing clothing and linens, consider your access to laundry facilities. If you don't have a washer/dryer in your dorm, you may want to pack a few extra items. Otherwise, assume you'll need about seven days worth of clothes. 


  • Underwear
  • Bras and sports bras
  • Socks
  • Pants (jeans, workout, casual)
  • Shorts
  • Shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts (You'll maximize space and clothing options if you bring things you can layer.)
  • Sweats or cozy pants
  • Pajamas
  • Jackets for fall and winter
  • Cold-weather gear (hats, mittens, scarves, boots)
  • Sneakers and/or shoes
  • Ball cap for walking to class on rainy days
  • Belts
See also: 67 Sweet Deals and Discounts You Can Get With Your College ID

Nice to have

  • Business/formal clothes (Bring only if you anticipate going on interviews or to events.)
  • Shoes for going out
  • Wristlet or purse for going out
  • Wallet
  • Swimsuit
  • Special workout clothes
  • Jewelry
  • Robe 
  • Boots
  • Sandals
  • Dress shoes
  • Slippers
  • Casual dress that can be dressed up with a little jewelry and some cute shoes

Leave at home

  • Clothes you rarely wear even when you're at home
  • Too many of the same items

Documents (hard copy or electronic)

  • Credit/debit cards
  • License and/or passport
  • School ID, or paperwork to get one
  • Car registration/insurance info if you're bringing a car
  • Health insurance card
  • Copy of birth certificate
  • Copy of social security card
  • Emergency contact list, and configure your emergency contact in your phone if you have that option
  • Financial aid information
  • Class schedule
  • Meal plan card


Must have

  • Phone and charger
  • Power strip to protect your computer in case of a power surge (Not all multi-outlet devices are power strips, so make sure it's labeled as a "power strip.")
  • Extension cords
  • Earbuds or headphones
  • Laptop and charger
  • Laptop case
  • Cables (HDMI/ethernet)
  • Charging cube/brick for USB cables
  • Login info for streaming services you subscribe to

See also: 5 Ways to Get a Free Laptop for Online College

Nice to have

  • Wireless mouse
  • Laptop stand
  • External keyboard
  • E-reader
  • Tablet
  • Speakers
  • TV and TV stand
  • Video game system and games
  • HDMI cable
  • Adapters
  • External hard drive
  • Portable phone charger
  • Printer and printer paper (Definitely check with your school first though; you may be turning everything in online)

School supplies

  • Backpack
  • Pens/pencils
  • Highlighters
  • Sharpener
  • Spiral notebooks or binders with lined paper
  • Folders
  • Index cards
  • Sticky notes
  • Stapler, rubber bands, tacks and tape


  • Flip flops for shower
  • Shower caddy to tote your toiletries stuff down the hall
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Loofah
  • Hair styling products
  • Hand soap and sanitizer
  • Face wash, moisturizer, and other skincare products
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Floss
  • Comb or brush
  • Flat iron, curling iron or other hair styling tool
  • Razors and shaving cream
  • Body lotions or oils
  • Cotton swabs
  • Sunscreen and/or bug spray
  • Make-up
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • Nail file, polish, and polish remover
  • Extra contacts and solution 
  • Eye glasses
  • Sunglasses
  • Toilet paper
  • Flushable wipes
  • Deodorant
  • Hair accessories
  • Retainer/mouth guard
  • Safety pins

Meds and related items

  • Prescription meds, along with a plan for refilling them (Ask your doc to phone your next refill into a pharmacy near your campus.)
  • Inhalers, if you use them
  • Ibuprofen 
  • Pamprin, Midol, or similar
  • Vitamins
  • First aid kit with bandages, alcohol and antibiotic ointment
  • Tissues
  • Allergy medication
  • Cold and flu meds
  • Birth control
  • Morning-after pill, just in case (The morning-after pill, or "Plan B," is available over-the-counter at most pharmacies, as well as online. You do not need a prescription, although it's important to be aware of health risks. More info here.)
  • Antacid
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Cough drops

See also: College and COVID: 6 Things You Must Do Differently This Year Before the Fall Semester 

Linens and laundry

As with clothing, pack an extra towel or set of sheets if you don't have easy access to laundry.

Must have

  • Sheets (Check with your college for the correct size; many dorm beds require extra-long twin sheets)
  • Bath towels 
  • Washcloths
  • Hand towel
  • Pillow
  • Blankets/comforters/duvet 
  • Hangers
  • Laundry basket, hamper, or bag
  • Detergent
  • Dryer sheets
  • Dish towel
  • Quarters for washer/dryer

Nice to have

  • Mattress pad or foam topper, if that's your thing
  • Extra blanket for outdoor events
  • Tide stick or stain remover pen (If you haven't tried these, they are magic.)
  • Iron or wrinkle-release spray
  • Lint brush
  • Lingerie bag for washing delicate items


Most of these fall under the "nice to have" category. Try to coordinate with your roommate so you don't double-up on the big items.

  • Lamps for desk or bed
  • Dry erase board and markers
  • Fan or space heater
  • Wall art
  • Command strips or heavy duty tape to hang things
  • Area rug or throw rug
  • Bed risers to raise your bed and under-bed storage 
  • Full-length mirror
  • Make-up mirror
  • Additional seating, such as a futon or folding chair
  • Small vacuum or hand vac
  • Mini broom and dustpan
  • Trash can and trash bags
  • Bed risers (These lift your bed higher so you can use the space underneath for storage.)
  • Hanging/string lights
  • Plants or fake plants
  • Light bulbs
  • Vacuum

Food and kitchen stuff

  • Snacks and food items you can only get at home
  • Cereal and/or oatmeal 
  • Small coffee maker, coffee, filters, cream and sugar
  • Instant hot chocolate
  • Some easy-to-prepare meal options that you can make in your room, such as Ramen noodles, soups, shelf-stable microwavable entrees
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Quick-energy snacks, such as breakfast or granola bars, nuts, or similar
  • Water bottle
  • Can opener
  • Toaster
  • Mini fridge and microwave if your school doesn't provide them (Check to make sure you're allowed to have them first)
  • Paper plates and plastic cutlery, or some regular dishes that you can wash
  • Mug
  • Travel coffee cup
  • All-purpose cleaner or cleaning wipes
  • Dish soap
  • Kitchen sponge
  • Paper towels


  • Sporting equipment (basketball, baseball bat, etc.)
  • Yoga mat
  • Journal
  • Religious texts
  • Books to read for fun
  • Musical instruments
  • Art supplies
  • A duffel bag or compact luggage for weekend travel
  • Bicycle (plus helmet, lock, and bike pump)
  • Skateboard
  • Hiking boots
  • Gym bag
  • Playing cards or games
  • Hand weights


  • Safety whistle
  • Flashlight
  • Sign up for any text alerts or safety apps that your school might offer
  • See section below for COVID-related items


  • Earplugs
  • Sleep mask
  • Flashlight
  • Mini toolkit (including screwdriver, hammer and wrench)
  • Sewing kit
  • Umbrella

COVID stuff

No one wants to get sick or have campuses close. The best way to ensure COVID-19 doesn't ruin the fall semester is by practicing social distancing and wearing face masks.

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the Director for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), states: “We are not defenseless against COVID-19. Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”

With that in mind, here's your COVID packing list:

  • Washable face masks or a hearty supply of disposable masks 
  • Latex gloves (although frequent hand washing and sanitizing will serve the same purpose)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hand soap
  • Lysol or another disinfectant spray 
  • Anti-bacterial wipes for surfaces and wiping down electronics
  • Thermometer
  • Pulse oxygen meter (Not a "must have" item, but here's why you may want one.)
  • Extra prescription inhalers and/or nebulizer with appropriate cups, tubing, and meds
  • Just-in-case plan for emergency trip home if campuses are forced to close, including cash or space on credit/debit card to fund emergency travel
  • A list of nearby medical hospitals and medical providers that accept your insurance
Looking for more ways to prepare for life at college? See our Introvert's Guide to Dorm Living


About the Author
Julissa Treviño

Julissa Treviño is a writer and journalist based in Texas. Her work has appeared in BBC Future, CityLab, Columbia Journalism Review, The Dallas Morning News, Racked, Teen Vogue and other publications. She enjoys traveling, playing with makeup, biking and trying new food. Follow her @JulissaTrevino. Read more by Julissa Treviño

Additional Nitro Recommended Student Loan Lenders

Lender Rates (APR) Loan Types Terms Eligible Degrees Eligible Loans  
1.13% - 12.59%1 Variable & Fixed 5 - 15 years

Undergrad Students Learn More

View Disclosure

Lender Rates (APR) Loan Types Terms Eligible Degrees Eligible Loans  
1.04% - 12.99%1 Variable & Fixed 5 - 15 years

Undergrad & Graduate Student & Parent Learn More

View Disclosure

Lender Rates (APR) Loan Types Terms Eligible Degrees Eligible Loans  
3.52% - 9.50%1 Variable & Fixed 5 - 15 years

Undergrad & Graduate Students Learn More

View Disclosure

Lender Rates (APR) Loan Types Terms Eligible Degrees Eligible Loans  
1.12% - 11.89%1 Variable & Fixed 5, 10 & 15 years

Undergrad & Graduate Student & Parent Learn More

View Disclosure

Lender Rates (APR) Loan Types Terms Eligible Degrees Eligible Loans  
1.68% - 11.61%1 Variable & Fixed 5 - 15 years

See Examples

Undergrad & Graduate Student & Parent Learn More

View Disclosure

Lender Rates (APR) Loan Types Terms Eligible Degrees Eligible Loans  
2.11% - 14.50%1 Variable & Fixed 5 - 15 years


Undergrad & Graduate Students Learn More

View Disclosure


Do you still have a gap to fund your education?

If so, check out these 6 featured lenders:

Find your best option