The Basics: Here Are the Top 15 Things to Bring to College

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The top 15 things to take to college – Two women loading a car with items for college

[Updated 7/18]

If your kiddo’s headed to college, you may wonder what the best things are to bring to make dorm life easier. We’ve got our top 15 based on feedback from the Hip2Save community. Every campus offers different amenities and has different rules (so be sure to check with your school for details).

1. Shower caddy

If you’re staying in a dorm, you’re likely sharing a bathroom with other girls (or guys). Place your toiletries in a shower caddy with holes (great for water drainage) to keep your items organized so you can easily grab them when you need to.

2. Mattress topper & protector

To make your dorm mattress more comfortable, invest in a Twin XL Foam Bed Topper (like this highly rated Memory Foam Mattress Topper on Amazon) to provide extra cushioning and comfort. Also, consider purchasing a Twin XL waterproof mattress protector like this one.

The top 15 things to take to college – Under bed storage

3. Under-the-bed storage bins

To add more storage to your dorm room, you may want to purchase under-the-bed storage bins or bags – plus they’re perfect for hiding your belongings when parents or guests come to visit! 😉These bins are priced under $20 at most stores, depending on size.

*Keep in mind that you may also need bed risers or blocks if you want to purchase larger containers or stack the bins under your bed.

4. First Aid kit

Be prepared! Create a first aid kit with all the essentials (a thermometer, band-aids, pain reliever, cough drops, allergy medicine, ice bag, facial tissues, hand sanitizer, odor absorber, etc.) for those months when mom is not around.

Also, you can occasionally snag deals on First Aid Kits at Target (like this previous deal) or the drugstores.

5. Laptop desk

Bringing a laptop with you? If your dorm does not have a desk, or if you’re looking for an easy way to study while lounging in bed, consider snagging an Adjustable Laptop Desk/Table. You can use it as a laptop table, reading desk, breakfast tray, or desk, so it serves many purposes!

The top 15 things to take to college – Bed bath beyond college floor pillows

6. Reading bed pillow

If you’re buying a laptop desk to use on your bed, you’ll definitely want to purchase a comfy reading bedrest pillow to lean on. These pillows are usually priced under $30!

7. Picture hanging strips & hooks

If you’re looking for a way to hang picture frames, towels, blackout curtains, or jackets without damaging the walls, doors, or cabinets, bring a variety of 3M Command Hooks and extra Hanging Strips with you! These hooks and strips come off cleanly with no surface damage and come in all shapes and sizes based on needed weight limits.

8. Portable safe

Want to keep your valuable dorm essentials safe while you’re away at class? Invest in a Portable Safe (such as this SWOL Safe – Portable Dorm Safe) to keep your valuables tucked away. And when you’re headed home for the holidays, simply take the safe with you.

The top 15 things to take to college – portable fan

9. Small fan

Because dorm rooms don’t have personal thermostats (and because you and your roommate may prefer different temperatures), it’s a great idea to bring a small fan with you for those warm days.

10. Mini fridge (if allowed)

If your dorm doesn’t have a kitchen (and if space allows), consider buying a small fridge with separate freezer compartment to store canned drinks, frozen meals, ice cube trays, and more.

11. Surge protector/extension cords

Laptops, appliances, electric toothbrush, electric razor…you can never have enough outlets in a dorm room! Consider a Surge Protector, as well as an HDMI Cable that’ll come in handy when you want to connect various electronics and computers to your TV.

The top 15 things to take to college – Sewing kit

12. Small sewing kit & tool set

Need a hammer or screwdriver for building a bookshelf or putting together a bike? Get a small tool set (many are priced under $20 on Amazon) with the essential tools you’d likely need for most household projects or small repairs.

And, when a button falls off or you accidentally tear a hole in your favorite pair of pants, don’t wait for mom to fix it! Be prepared by taking a small sewing kit with you.

13. Electric water kettle

Want to eat a hot bowl of soup or oatmeal OR just want to sip a cup of hot tea or cocoa on a chilly morning? An electric water kettle like this one will come in handy for those days when you need something quick and easy but don’t want to leave your room.

14. Laundry hamper with wheels

Save your back! Make carrying laundry easy by bringing a plastic laundry hamper with wheels to take the frustration out of this chore, especially when lugging your laundry around.

The top 15 things to take to college – Laundry

15. Quarters for laundry & vending machines

Planning to do laundry on-campus? Or just want to hit up the vending machines for a late-night snack (or in between classes)? Be sure to stock up on quarters before leaving home so you’re prepared and don’t have to borrow from your roommate or make a special trip to the store or bank.

Written by Mary for Hip2Save. Mary is a proud mom to 3 kids in Austin, TX, who thrives off running long distance, bargain shopping, warm weather, a yummy latte…and a little Candy Crush from time to time. She loves quality time with family & friends and sharing great deals with others.

Join The Discussion

Comments 35

  1. Amanda

    I would also add shower shoes and not only a waterproof mattress pad but a bed bug proof one too!

    • Ally

      ABSOLUTELY my room got bedbugs in college and I had to buy one. It was really expensive too. I went to Loyola University in Chicago for undergrad, so I’d say that cities and places with more bedbugs are more likely to get them. Its something you never dream would happen going to college; but even my prestigious private college tuition didn’t save me and all my stuff from being quarantined when our room got bedbugs. I had to toss all my bedding and a lot of stuff to be safe. This list is actually really good though! And I’ve spent a lot of time in college, I’m finishing my Ph.D now.

  2. art

    Portable safes seem pretty pointless to me. They’ll just steal the safe too. You won’t be able to mount them.

    • art

      The anchor on the one linked is very easily damaged. Not a true mount

    • mich

      I honestly just hide my valuables (mainly just emergency cash) in somewhere my roommate would not look. Personally I hid it in my feminine hygiene bag ๐Ÿ˜…๐Ÿ˜‚

  3. Kikisaver

    I agree! Flip flops for the shower, for sure!!

  4. Lana

    By the time the last one of our five graduated all of the colleges they attended were providing mini fridge/ microwave combos. A bunch of them ended up back home in our garage because they were not permitted to use their own so check on that before purchasing!

    • Steph

      Definitely check before! I assumed my dorm would include that but I had to go without for a few months until I saved enough for one :/

    • Beth

      I agree with this, too…definitely check with your chosen university before buying refrigerators or microwaves. The university where my daughters went/are going provide both in every dorm room.

  5. riss

    Do they still use quarters for the washer/dryer in the dorms? Few colleges I know (from my son’s HS friends) use a debit card-type specifically for laundry, just like the school ID they use in the cafeteria for their meal plan.

    • Kate

      I didn’t stay in the dorms but the laundry room in all the apartment complexes I stayed at during college required quarters. This has only been a year ago, so not everywhere has switched to cards. That would have been nice though. I hated having to make a trip to the bank just to get quarters, but most of the local stores wouldn’t give change in quarters above what was necessary as all the student wanted quarters and they didn’t have enough on hand.

  6. euf0risk

    Nothing takes quarters anymore.

    • Amber

      If only. I am out of college but I still find myself hoarding quarters because I need them so often. I don’t use cash much so I never have change. I often have to go to the laundromat to do laundry and it is all coin operated. In addition at work all the vending machines take coins. The soda is only 25cents, so even if I don’t buy any someone is always asking me for a quarter for soda. Quarters for me are on of the last hold outs from becoming totally cash/coin free.

  7. Cindy

    Lamps! My dorm last year had no overhead lights. And curtains! If your room faces over a parking lot or their is a street light near it, the light can make it hard to sleep or if the sun rises on your side of the building then they will come in handy. Also I recommend Googling your schools rooms. A lot of schools will say what you can and cannot have, what’s provided and what’s not and what to expect. Also dimensions for rooms, beds, Windows to give you a good idea of sizes you’ll need

  8. Stephanie

    I just graduated from college. I don’t know anyone that kept a portable safe or who has the time or the space to Lug one around when they go home.
    My laundry card could be loaded digitally so quarters were no longer needed. The same for vending machines too.
    The mattress cover it is important.
    I’m surprised toilet paper isn’t on this list I had a roommate that hated buying toilet paper but love to buy fast food.
    I would also add to this list a few plates a few bowls a few cups a few pieces of silverware.
    And also some sort of lunch box and snack containers.

    • Julia L.

      Lol hated buying toilet paper but loved buying fast food… Thanks for the giggle! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿฝ

  9. SJ

    My number one item? A good quality sleep mask for midday naps! ๐Ÿ˜‚

    • Becky

      Yes! And ear plugs!

  10. Billie


  11. Si

    Nice post! Yes, Any type of storage bins that you can fit under your bed is a must! If it’s your freshmen year and you are with a new roommate, hopefully they know this as well. It’s a bit tight in there! Also the over the door shoe organizer is great storage too. Anything you can store off the ground or under you bed is a great tip:) my dad built me this really neat portable shelf that had a stand and fit great behind my bed and right up against the wall. Wasn’t in the way at all! Most of my personal belongings fit on it:)

  12. Karen

    My daughter was in a forced triple….which translates to 3 people crammed into a room meant for 2 and got stuck with a top bunk bed…..underbed storage was not even an option for her

  13. Brittany

    I am curious how people saved for college. Just had a baby in December and all these end of year school posts have me thinking about college already ๐Ÿ˜ณ

    • Sarah H

      My eldest, who is incredibly smart (grad school at 20 at a prestigious university) got next to no merit-based aid and has a LOT of debt from his undergrad (but he currently gets a stipend on tips of free tuition and the grads from his program have a nearly 100% placement rate, so he should be able to pay it back). We tried to save as much as we could for him, but there is just no way to do enough ….. My next eldest — who is NOT as diligent — got a FULL TUITION scholarship and will be living at home, so he will have NO debt. My point is the old saying, “Man plans and God laughs.”

      • riss

        Start his 529 plan now. Even $100 per month will be a big help. Encourage him to go to a state university, or, like others are doing, 2 years of community college, then transfer to a state school. My husband is in the reserves (8 years active) and our kids’ tuition fees will be free thru VA, as long as they’re in the UC/CSU system. It’s a comfort knowing they won’t be saddled with student loans when they graduate. Our oldest is sophomore now and the second one will be going to UC San Diego in the fall. Free tuition but still have to pay for the dorm and food. But like I said, every little thing helps.

        • dblD-amber

          I agree it is cheaper going that route. My husband and I both did that. Only compliant is that once you go to a college as a junior you don’t really know anyone there. Since every got to know each other from dorm room life it appeared that many connections and friendships were started in the first 2 years. So for that reason we regret not going to college for all 4 years. We will strongly encourage our children to do so and fully experienced the college life

  14. Sarah H

    Gift cards for restaurants near campus! My uncle used to send me $10 every so often back in the day before gift cards were popular, with the stipulation that I use it for pizza. Loved him so much for his thoughtfulness.

  15. mich

    My first year I lived on the seventh floor of my building that had no AC and this year second floor without AC. My roommate and I had those tower fans and since our beds were raised it didn’t really help much. However, my roommate last year and this year both agreed that my fan was so much better than their own. It was from Costco and came with a mini one for your desk. Just be prepared in case your building doesn’t have AC. We had heaters though but it’s kinda useless here in SoCal.

    • Ally

      YES totally get a good fan! I went to school in Chicago, so not as hot as CA but still no AC. I went to Loyola University in Chicago too which is a prestigious school. All the fan prices were jacked up close to the college because everyone was buying one. Kids couldn’t sleep at night w/out a fan. Buying a set like you had sounds like a great idea!

  16. Sue

    I’m 32 went to college. but I’m still confused as to why people live in dorm rooms. most people live near great colleges. a more expensive school does not translate into better school. Most jobs could careless where you went to college all they care about is can you get the job done. why not save tons of money and live at home with your parents? I did it was great. why put yourself in risk of having a terrible roommate? the college sex, drugs, drinking and partying is so juvenile. we need to brain wash our kids from birth and tell them how dangerous illigeal drugs are. I guess most people have sex pre marriage and think that is what college is for. I also still don’t get why freshman classes exist. why does a person wanting to get a degree in science need an art/ music credit?

  17. Kelly

    why do people even live in college dorms? most people have great colleges near the house they grew up in. live with your parents people save tons of money. you won’t need to buy anything off this list. you know what your bed has been used for. jobs could careless where you went to college. colleges are just party houses, places for drugs, sex, drinking. look at the deaths from illigeal drugs. perfectly healthly happy teens start drugs in college get hooked and overdose. its scary. most people dont wait till marriage for sex, they think college is the place for that. my advise save your money live at home, be smart and safe move out when you are finished with school, more mature, and have some money saved up from your new college earned job. don’t start your adult life with anymore debt then you have to. good luck.

    • dblD-amber

      Some colleges do not allow you to live off campus as a freshman or sophomore. Or at least it was like that many years ago for us.

      • Morgan

        there are plenty of colleges that do. if people would stop attending the ones that make you stay on campus then maybe the freshman could start saving more money, and have more structured lives from their parents so they don’t do anything stupid. teens are given too much responsibility and freedom all at once and they lose themselves. I just wish we would stop hearing about hazing, gang rape, college girl gone missing and all the stuff about drugs. there was a special on the cbs evening news the other day explaining how bad drugs are in colleges, and overall in young adults. someones dies in the U.S. every 30 min from drug overdoses. narcon should not exist keep that fear factor out there. I just want people to be smart, safe, productive people.

      • riss

        A lot of colleges we toured last year require students to live in the dorms for the freshman year, unless home is less than 30 miles away.

  18. Becky

    My daughter just graduated from high school. Thanks for the tips. She has a Pell Grant and an A+ scholarship so her tuition is paid. She chose a community college a couple hours away so she could experience dorm life and her transfer credits are guaranteed to the parent college in a couple of years. She was diligent in applying for scholarships and nearly has her room & board covered. I am literally paying around $1000-$2000 for her first full year. It’s not about how smart you are, it’s about how hard you are willing to work. Scholarship committees love volunteer work. She has over 300 hours in community work.

  19. Karen

    Hamper on wheels was great! She also preferred the pods detergent. Didn’t have lug heavy bottles.

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