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The Ultimate College Packing List for Freshman & Returning Students

If you plan on moving into your school’s dorm room or off-campus housing this upcoming semester, you’re probably wondering what you should pack. From school supplies to everyday products, there's a lot you’ll need to bring with you.

We’ve curated this checklist to help ensure you don’t forget anything for your college dorm room during the school year. We’ve broken everything down by category and even included a section dedicated to packing for school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Clothing

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. 

Must-have

  • 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
  • Bathrobe
  • Boots
  • Sandals
  • Shower shoes or flip-flops
  • 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

Important documents 

This category may not be the first thing you think of when you're packing for school, but there are a few important documents you won’t want to forget to bring with you. We suggest having either a hard copy or electronic version of a few important documents you may use throughout the school year, including:

  • 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

Electronics and technology

Though you probably have a good idea of what tech you want to bring with you, there are a few things that you definitely don’t want to forget. When making your college packing list, you should be sure to include these.

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Must have

  • Phone and charger
  • Power strip/surge protector to protect your computer (Note: Not all multi-outlet devices are actually surge protectors, 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)
  • Alarm clock

School supplies

While these are pretty easy to get on or around most college campuses, they're still something to consider bringing along when you first move in. When packing up your school supplies, consider bringing:

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

Toiletries

Another commonly forgotten category when it comes to packing for college is the toiletries. Obviously you need the basics: shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste. But, you really need to consider how long you’ll be living on campus — you’ll need much more than the basics. Our list of toiletries for college include:

  • Shower caddy to tote/organize your toiletries
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Body wash, lotion, and/or oils
  • Loofah or wash cloths
  • 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 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
  • Cleaning supplies and air freshener

Medicine and other related items

When you move away to college for the first time, you may not consider just how important everyday medicines and other related items are. They’re usually easily accessible in your home's medicine cabinet. When packing for college, we recommend thinking about:

  • Prescription meds, along with a plan for refilling them (Either ask your doc to send your next refill to a pharmacy near 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 products

As with clothing, consider your access to laundry facilities when packing extra linens and laundry products. You may want to consider packing extra bath towels or sheets if your access to laundry is limited.

Must have

  • Sheets (Check with your college for the correct size; many dorm beds require extra-long twin sheets)
  • Bath towels, washcloths, hand towels
  • Pillows and pillowcases
  • Blankets/comforters/duvet
  • Hangers
  • Laundry basket, hamper, or bag
  • Laundry detergent and dryer sheets
  • Dish towel
  • Quarters for washer/dryer (if needed)

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

Furnishings and other decor items

One of the best parts of moving into a college dorm room or off-campus housing is that you get to decorate and personalize the space to your liking. If you want to decorate your dorm room, we’ve compiled a list of items to consider bringing. Our top picks for dorm room decorations include:

  • 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, snacks, and kitchen stuff

As a college student, you’ll likely be on a pretty strict budget when it comes to food. Whether you’re using meal swipes at the dining hall or looking for quick meals to make in the dorm room, some of our favorite food and kitchen items to pack include:

  • 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

Recreation and fun

While you are primarily going to college for the educational benefits, you need to have some fun. When it comes to recreational items to pack, you should pick out items you know you’ll be using a lot and that you may not be able to find on your college campus. Some of our suggestions include:

  • 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 items and miscellaneous

Some other suggestions we have to add to your college packing list include:

  • Safety whistle
  • Flashlight
  • Earplugs
  • Sleep mask
  • Mini toolkit (including screwdriver, hammer and wrench)

COVID-related supplies

Pandemic-related restrictions and precautions have eased significantly, but it's hard to say when infection rates might increase again. And local guidelines keep changing — 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 guidelines are.

  • Vaccination card if you have one, or letter from your doctor explaining medical reasons you can't be vaccinated
  • Face masks (preferably N95 or similar)
  • 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 a credit/debit card to fund emergency travel
  • A list of nearby medical hospitals and medical providers that accept your insurance

Explore more college planning tips and tricks with Nitro

Planning for college can be incredibly stressful — from starting your college visits, writing admissions essays, to the first day of the actual semester. Luckily for you — it doesn’t have to be! Nitro is a great resource for current and prospective college students offering advice at every step of the way — from filling out your applications to paying off your student loans. Find more tips and tricks — like advice for decision day or our technology packing list.

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