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

Carol Katarsky Updated on August 31, 2021

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 COVID still impacting some opening plans, 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.

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When packing clothing and linens, consider your access to laundry facilities. Assume you'll need at least seven days worth of clothes, but if you don't have a washer/dryer in your dorm, you may want to pack a few extras. You'll also want to consider how much the weather changes at your school. Some regions experience all four seasons with varied temperatures and wet/dry periods, while others have fairly consistent temps and precipitation. If you're headed for Minnesota, obviously you need more varied clothing than your friend headed to SoCal. 


  • 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
  • Hat and/or umbrella for walking to class on rainy days
  • Belts
See also: 65 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
  • Sport-specific workout clothes/technical gear
  • 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 the 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 add 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 (Note: Not all multi-outlet devices are actually power strips, so make sure it's labeled as such.)
  • Extension cords
  • Earbuds or headphones
  • Laptop, charger and 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 or tablet
  • Speakers
  • TV and stand
  • Video game system and games
  • Adapters
  • External hard drive
  • Portable phone charger
  • Printer and printer paper (Check with your school;  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/organize your toiletries
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Body wash, lotion and/or oils
  • Loofah
  • Hair styling products
  • Hand soap and sanitizer
  • Face wash, moisturizer, and other skincare products
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss
  • Comb or brush
  • Hair styling tools (flat iron, curling iron, dryer, etc.)
  • Razors and shaving cream
  • 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
  • Deodorant
  • Hair accessories
  • Retainer/mouth guard
  • Safety pins

Meds and related items

  • Prescription meds, along with a plan for refilling them (Either ask your doc to phone your next refill into a pharmacy near your campus or, if possible have your pharmacy transfer the prescription to a local branch.)
  • Inhalers, if you use them
  • Over-the-counter meds you use regularly (Think: ibuprofen/acetaminophen, cold and flu meds, menstrual relief products, antacids, cough drops, etc.
  • Vitamins
  • First aid kit with bandages, alcohol wipes, and antibiotic ointment
  • Tissues
  • Allergy medication
  • Birth control

See also: 6 Questions Your School Should Be Able to Answer By 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 towels
  • Pillow
  • Blankets/comforters/duvet 
  • Hangers
  • Laundry basket, hamper, or bag
  • Detergent and 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
  • 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(s) 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, poster tack, 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
  • 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 you can make in your room, such as ramen noodles, soups, and 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 in your room.)
  • Paper plates and plastic cutlery, or regular dishes that you can wash
  • Mug
  • Travel coffee cup
  • All-purpose cleaner and rags 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/craft supplies
  • 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)
COVID-related supplies

We're getting closer to the end of the pandemic, but we aren't quite there yet. Local guidelines are changing rapidly —faster than we can update this story. Below is a general list of supplies you might need, but check with your school to see what they're requiring as far as mask-wearing, vaccination, etc., and what the current local rules are.

  • Vaccination card if you have one, or letter from your doctor explaining medical reasons you can't be vaccinated
  • Washable face masks or a good-sized supply of disposables 
  • Hand soap and sanitizer
  • Lysol or similar disinfectant spray 
  • Anti-bacterial wipes/sprays for surfaces and wiping down electronics
  • Thermometer
  • Pulse oxygen meter (Not a "must have" item, but here's why you may want one.)
  • Extra supply of your routine prescription inhalers and meds
  • Just-in-case plan for an 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
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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