42 college dorm essentials you'll actually use — according to recent college graduates

two beds in a dorm room with a pink frame around the photo

When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Between picking out classes and meeting new roommates, there's a lot on your mind when you're a college freshman. Chances are, it's your first time living away from home and the chaotic shared space of a dormitory is all-new territory for you.

A good college packing list can make the adjustment to dorm life so much easier. To compile this list of essentials, we surveyed recent graduates and pulled affordable options from our buying guides. We also handpicked some fun things to brighten up your new space. 

Most likely, your college has provided a basic packing list and included information on what you can't bring to your dorm. Make sure to keep that list in mind while you're shopping. If you need some more inspiration, check out our other dorm-related back-to-school product recommendations, including budget-friendly basics, storage solutions, ways to keep cool, and affordable upgrades.

Here are 42 essentials for your college packing list:

An Amazon Prime Membership for convenient shopping and free shipping

amazonprime, $6.49 a month

Amazon Prime Student Membership, $7.49/month (6-month free trial for new members)

Amazon Prime is the ultimate in convenience, especially if you don't have a car on campus or if you go to school in a more removed, rural area. I found myself on Amazon Prime often, constantly ordering last-minute school supplies, my favorite snacks from home, and even toiletries when I was too lazy to drive to the store. And now, a subscription comes with a free year of Grubhub+ for nights when only takeout will do.

If you are a new member you can get a free trial of Prime for 6 months, otherwise you can just get a discounted student membership.

A planner for tracking assignments, events, and habits

Day Designer planners in a striped pattern, a floral pattern, and more, overlapping on a tabletop
Day Designer

Day Designer Academic Year Planners, $68 at Day Designer

A great planner is a much for keeping track of a busy academic and social life. We love Day Designer planners, since they give you lots of room for jotting down the day's to-dos, as well as tracking habits and self care. If you prefer a weekly or more flexible format, we've rounded up the best planners in our buying guide.

A wallet that sticks to the back of your phone

amazon adhesive wallet $5.99 5 pack

oPesea Adhesive Phone Card Holder, $6.99 for 5 at Amazon

My student ID was one of my most valuable possessions in college. That little plastic card gave me access to my meal plan, my dorm, laundry, and more. I didn't usually carry a full wallet with me, but I always had my phone on me, so I used these little phone wallets to hold my important cards instead. I could fit 3 cards, or 2 cards and some cash, in one of these. These are cheap, easy to stick to your phone, and fit on almost all phone models. They're super convenient and, given that most peoples cell phones function as appendages anyways, guarantee that your important cards are easily accessible whenever your phone is around.

A bottle to keep your drinks hot and your bag dry

Contigo Autoseal West Loop

Contigo Autoseal Travel Mug, $18.99 at Amazon

When you need to bring a hot beverage to class, there is nothing worse than opening your backpack to find your travel mug has leaked onto your schoolwork. This travel mug is great for keeping your drinks hot, but it also has an autoseal that actually keeps your drinks from leaking and spilling. So, you can throw this in your backpack and still hand in your essay sans coffee stains.

A pair of shower shoes that you can also wear to class

a pair of havianas on wet sand
UniversalImagesGroup/Getty Images

Havaianas Top Flip Flops, $26 at Zappos

Shower shoes are a must if you're using communal showers. These Havaianas are simple, comfortable, and you won't be horribly embarrassed if you accidentally wear them out of the shower and into class.

A plethora of Command hooks, strips, and caddies

A clear caddy holding fresh herbs attached to a refrigerator next to a bundle of cords bundled together with 3m command strips.
Brenna Darling/Insider

Command Hooks and Strips, starting at $4.47 at Amazon

Gone are the days of dealing with weird blue putty to hang your pictures. Command's fleet of hooks and strips make customizing your dorm room without damaging your walls super easy. The brand recently launched a line of Heavy Duty hooks and strips that can hold up to 20 pounds, so you can even hang framed art. If you're in need of inspiration, we also rounded up some clever hacks for getting the most use out of your Command strips and hooks. 

A shower caddy that carries everything

An Amazon iDesign Orbz Plastic shower caddy in pink next to a hair straightener and hair comb

InterDesign Orbz Shower Tote Holder and Organizer, $16.99 at Amazon

The shower caddy is a college staple, allowing you to carry toiletries from bathroom cubbies or your room to the shower stall. We appreciate the drainage holes and multiple color options to choose from.

An Instacart+ membership that the whole family can use to stock up on groceries

Thiago Prudencio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Instacart+, $9.99 per month, at Instacart

I went to a large state school and the nearest true grocery store (like, not the campus "store" or a Walgreens) was several miles away. We'd either have to only get as much as we could carry, or beg a friend with a car to drive us. Now, with grocery delivery services, you can get food and essentials delivered directly to your dorm. You or your parents can add a card to your Instacart+ account for easy ordering, and anyone in the household can use the plan, no matter the delivery address. 

A small, but mighty fan

Mini table top Genesis fan attached to a window ledge. The sun is shining with plants and a yard in the background.
Owen Burke/Insider

Genesis' 6-inch Clip Convertible Table Fan, $15 at Amazon

If you don't have air conditioning in your room, a fan can be a lifesaver. The best small fan we tested will keep your space cool without taking up a lot of space. Clip it to your desk or the edge of your bed for a constant cool breeze.

A colorful speaker that is college-proof

UE boom, starting at $99 to $120.98
UE Boom

Ultimate Ears Boom 2, $149.75 at Amazon

The UE Boom 2 speaker is made for college students. It wasn't really, but this shockproof, waterproof speaker can survive all of the antics of a college party. In a dorm room, these speakers are pretty loud on their own, but if you are moving to a bigger space and want even louder sound, you can connect your UE Boom with up to 150 other UE speakers for the ultimate party sound system. The fun colors are also a plus.

A compact desk lamp for late night studying

AmazonBasics Desk Lamp on a brown desk with a Mac laptop and potted plant next to it, best cheap desk lamp in 2022
Camryn Rabideau/Insider

AmazonBasics Dual Head LED Desk Lamp, $19.98 at Amazon

Save yourself from studying under glaring overhead lighting and get a compact desk lamp, like our favorite budget one from Amazon. It only has one feature (a 40-minute timer), but it has three light color options, dimmable brightness, and takes up minimal desk space.

A sleep mask for early nights and late mornings

bedtime bliss $12.90

Bedtime Bliss Sleep Mask, $9.99 at Amazon

Sometimes you are going to want to get to bed early when your roommate insists on pulling an all-nighter. This sleep mask does a good job of keeping out light, but is still really lightweight and comfortable. It is contoured so it doesn't press on your eyes and this set even comes with a pair of ear plugs to block out sound too.

A drying rack that can be folded up for easy space-saving

A foldable, accordion style drying rack with three levels

Polder Compact Accordion Drying Rack, from $31 at Macy's and Wayfair

When folded down, this drying rack is flat and can be stored easily under your bed. When opened up, it provides 14 feet of drying space without taking up much space in your room. If you have any clothing that is too delicate for the dryer, one of these racks will come in handy. The best part is, you won't even notice it once you put it away.

Decorative pillows to liven up your space

A twin bed with a white comforter, a white shad body pillow, a butterfly pillow, a pink square pillow, and a blue circle pillow

Decorative Pillows, starting at $9.50 at Dormify

To make your dorm feel homey, add some decorative pillows to your bed. Decorative pillows are a fun way to show off your style and make your space feel like it is yours. Plus, these will also make your bed extra cozy. 

A rolling storage bin for extra space

On a white background, a rolling, clear, under-the-bed storage container
Bed, Bath, and Beyond

Simply Essential 33 qt. Underbed Rolling Storage Box, $20 at Bed Bath and Beyond

Ample closet space is a luxury not typically found in dorm rooms, particularly if you are sharing a space with roommates. Having a few plastic bins that fit under your bed maximizes storage without taking up extra space. I love versions with wheels because it makes it easy to pull the bin out from underneath the bed if you need to regularly get items out of it. — Lauren Arzbaecher, associate story producer

A power strip for all of your devices

belkin $11.99

Belkin Power Strip Surge Protector, $13.50 at Amazon

With alot of tech, you will need alot of outlets to charge everything. Many dorm rooms are not set up so outlets are in the most accessible locations, plus you have to share what is available with your roommate. A power strip is an easy, cheap solution to make sure all of your devices can be charged simultaneously. 

A hamper that also holds your laundry supplies

pop up hamper $7.99
Bed Bath & Beyond

Pop-Up Mesh Laundry Hamper, 3.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond

Depending on your laundry situation, you might be lugging your hamper up flights of stairs or to another building on campus. This hamper will make that process a little easier, with side pockets for your laundry supplies, so you have everything laundry related in one place. Plus, when you're not using it, this hamper can be folded down flat and stored easily elsewhere in your room. 

A kettle that makes heating water safer, and easier

black&decker $24.99

Black + Decker Electric Kettle, $24.55 at Amazon

I didn't use an electric kettle until Senior year, but now it's a staple in my kitchen. It heats up water rapidly and automatically turns the kettle off once the water is boiled, so you don't have to worry about any fire hazards. As a college student who was always rushing out of my apartment in the mornings, I always had peace of mind knowing that I didn't leave the stove on to make my tea or oatmeal, because I didn't need to use the stove at all. If you're in a dorm and don't have a kitchen, this is just as useful of an appliance for quickly heating water for tea, oatmeal, or a personal favorite instant meal, easy mac.

A towel that won't fall

towelwrap $19.95

Women's Waffle Spa Bath Wrap, $18.95 at Amazon

Mens Cotton Spa Bath Wrap, $21.95 at Amazon

A towel wrap is a great substitute for a regular towel. These are just as comfortable and drying as your average towel, but the added Velcro strap ensures that your towel will stay put on your trek from your room to the shower.

A mini-fridge to stock when you're over the dining hall

Whirlpool 3.1 cu ft Mini Refrigerator Stainless Steel in an office setting against an orange wall next to a desk with a printer

Whirlpool 3.1 Cubic Feet Mini Refrigerator, $199 at Target and Bed Bath and Beyond

I lived with three other people my freshman year and the tiny little thing I bought at first just did not cut it. Having a fridge this big might be considered an unnecessary luxury, but if you live with more than one other person, you'll be extremely glad you made the investment. The freezer works almost a little too well, but you can adjust it as needed. I kept it for all four years of college and it's still going strong. — Sarah Braner, healthcare editorial fellow

Nutrition bars to keep you energized on long days

gomacro $16.83

GoMacro Nutrition Bars, $31.99/12 pack at Amazon

On those days when it feels like you will never get out of class, you're going to need some sustenance. Nutrition bars are a quick fix that you can throw in your backpack for long days when you don't have time to sit down for a meal. I like these ones because they're made of simple, natural ingredients which will keep you fueled without a dreaded sugar crash later on. 

A little wastebasket to keep your room clean

trashbin $5.99
Bed Bath & Beyond

Mesh Metal Wastebasket, $2.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond

It's easy to let trash pile up in your dorm room, but having a trashcan will at least help contain that mess. A lot of dorms have giant trash and recycling bins scattered throughout, but don't have anything in the actual rooms. These wastebaskets are small enough that they can be hidden in the corners of your room, but they're big enough to actually hold a good amount of garbage to make sure your surfaces are visible, and hopefully, clean.

A comforter that feels like your favorite t-shirt

A folded target room essentials comforter, Insider Reviews pick for the best budget comforter in 2022.
Connie Chen/Insider

Room Essentials Down-Alternative Comforter, $35 at Target

Most likely, you won't be able to control the temperature of your dorm room, so having a warm comforter is essential. Target's Room Essentials comforter is the best budget option we've tested, with moderate thickness and a soft outer shell.

A dorm-safe way to keep your space smelling fresh

A small white essential oil diffuser on a white nightstand with a houseplant behind it
Kenedee Fowler/Insider

Urpower 2nd Generation Essential Oil Diffuser, $14.99 at Amazon

Most dorms don't allow candles, which makes an essential oil diffuser perfect for college-sanctioned scent and ambiance. The Urpower diffuser is under $20, has a six-hour run time, and saturated our tester's room with scent.

A quirky mug

A ceramic mug with flowers on the outside with a peek-a-boo snail at the bottom

Peekaboo Ceramic Mug, $16 at Urban Outfitters

Instead of swiping them from the dining hall, bring your own mug to college — bonus points if it is as cute as this peekaboo one. A mug that you love is a little thing that can help make a dorm room feel more like home.  

A set of sheets that is cozy and cool at the same time

A set of Brooklinen Luxe sheets in white and gray on a bed.

Brooklinen Classic Core Sheet Set, $134.10 for a Twin XL

These cozy percale sheets only get better with time. With each wash, the breathable fabric softens— a good incentive to do your laundry. Each set comes with a fitted sheet, flat sheet, and two pillowcases.

A bottle that will keep your water cold all day long

Hydro Flask
Hydro Flask

Hydro Flask 18 oz. Standard Mouth Water Bottle, $29.95

This insulated water bottle can keep your beverages cold for 24 hours, so you can always stay hydrated with ice cold water.  I love the range of bright colors and the option to purchase different caps, like a sports cap great for taking to the gym.

A set of reusable snack bags

A person holding a turquoise Stasher reusable bag in front of a rock beach

Reusable Silicone On-the-Go Bags, $65 at Stasher and Amazon

Whether you need a grab and go sandwich or want to keep leftovers fresh, Stasher bags are reusable, microwave ready, and dishwasher safe. The flexible storage bags are perfect for tucking into your backpack or totebag.

A streaming stick for movie nights

Fire TV Stick Lite

Amazon Fire Stick, $40 at Amazon

Some of my most treasured memories from living in the dorms were movie nights. A bunch of friends would pack themselves into someone's room and watch a favorite film while sitting on the floor and passing around a bowl of popcorn. An Amazon Fire Stick gives you endless options of content to choose from, and is extra handy if your dorm doesn't offer a cable hookup. — Lauren Arzbaecher, associate story producer

A Keurig for a quick caffeine fix

The Keurig K-Classic Single-Serve K-Cup Pod Coffee Maker sits on a kitchen counter with a red coffee mug on it.

Keurig K-Classic Coffee Maker, $139.99 at Amazon

Early morning classes and late night study sessions make caffeine a college student's best friend. When I was a freshman I could get unlimited free coffee at the campus dining halls, which was great. Once I graduated from an unlimited meal-plan though, I realized how much money I was wasting buying coffee that was honestly not even good. The Keurig was the answer; a speedy, single-serve coffee maker that is extremely easy to use and clean. The upfront cost may seem like a lot for a coffeemaker, but if you consider how much money you will save making your own brews in the morning, it definitely is a smart purchase.

A folder that can fit all of your subjects

five star $10.29

Five Star Expanding File Folder, $12.78 at Amazon

You most definitely will need folders or binders to keep track of all of your class handouts. While you can opt for individual folders for each subject, I found that one compact folder was the most convenient. With one folder, I was always prepared for class as I had all of my papers with me. Plus, this one is vertical so you can easily take papers in and out when you need them.

A pair of comfy leggings or joggers

Side-by-side image of writer wearing black leggings and stretching and wearing a camouflage pair in front of mirror
Talia Ergas/Insider

Colorfulkoala Leggings, $23 at Amazon

Champion Powerblend Fleece Joggers, $23 at Amazon

When your day starts with an 8 a.m. class and ends with homework, your outfit needs to be comfortable as well as cute. We suggest adding a few pairs of Colorfulkoala leggings to your wardrobe — they're inexpensive, but durable and opaque.

A pair of joggers is another college essential. This retro pair from Champion comes in 10 colors and will quickly become your favorite pants for staying comfortable on the go.

Clorox wipes for easy cleaning

Profile shot of a man as he cleans and disinfects his laptop, using disposable wipes.
Mixetto/Getty Images

Clorox Wipes, $7.28 for a 3-pack at Target and Walmart

Nobody is cleaning your room for you once you get to college, so you should have some basic cleaning supplies on hand. Clorox wipes are great for wiping away crumbs, dust, and any other grime that accumulates in your room. I have even used these to clean muddy, white sneakers, but I'm not sure that is the best method.

A charging cable that is extra-long and extra-convenient

amazon cable $9.99

AmazonBasics 6-Foot Long Charging Cable, $10.60 at Amazon

This phone charger is extra-long, so you can use your phone while it charges in an outlet up to six feet away. This is super useful if there is no outlet near your bed, but also it's just as good as a regular phone charger.

An adjustable shelf for your desk

A pale wood, desk shelving unit with succulents, a round clock, and books stacked on the two levels of shelves

Adjustable Desktop Organizer, $25.99 at Amazon

Your desk may be the only tabletop you have in your room, so it's key to make it as multifunctional as possible. This organizer comes in two parts that you can position vertically or horizontally and as close to each other as you want. It basically adds a mini-shelving unit to your desktop.

A string of lights with photo clips

Photo Clip String Lights - gifts for teen girls

Photo Clip String Lights, $14 at Amazon

The thing I'd often forget when I was planning to move off to college was how much I'd miss the everyday moments with my friends and family. It wasn't until I was already moved in, with all the practical items, that I realized I had nowhere to display my memories. I immediately ordered these string lights to decorate my small dorm with all of my favorite faces and it made the first few months of newness feel much more manageable. Maiya Pascouche, associate story producer

Versatile footwear

UGG Tasman Slipper

Ugg Tasman Slipper, $99.99 at Ugg, Nordstrom, and Amazon

The versatility of the Tasman slipper is ideal for college students. With a plush lining and durable outsole, you can slip into them from bed and wear them straight to class. These slippers made it on our lists of the best women's and men's slippers, so you know they're worth trying out.

Some additional hanging space attached to your door

The Container Store

Hook-Over Over the Door Hook, $4.99 at The Container Store

Another great space-saver, these hooks fit right over your door and are flat enough so your door can actually close. Use these to hold your towels, jackets, and bags. 

A Kindle for reading in your free time

A person taking notes in a journal on a table next to a latte and an Amazon Kindle.

Kindle Paperwhite with built-in-light, $139.99 at Amazon

If you have the free time to read for pleasure, a kindle is the way to go. With all the reading you have to do for class, you'll have enough books taking up space on your desk and in your backpack. With a kindle you can get all of the titles you want on one compact device and at a fraction of the cost. This one has a Paperwhite surface, so you can read outside with no glare, and a built in light, so you can read before bed even if your roommate is sleeping.

An aesthetically pleasing storage bin

Farmhouse-style wire and wood hanging wall baskets

Farmhouse Wall Storage Bins, $40 at Amazon

When you're in a dorm room, every inch of space matters. These baskets are great to put on your bedside wall to hold your water bottle and phone as it's charging overnight, or perfect to put next to your desk to showcase picture frames or plants. Plus, if you can't use screws, Command hooks should still do the trick! — Jane Knight, social video fellow

An upgrade for your mattress

A blue gel infused Lucid mattress topper on top of a Lucid mattress on a bed with a grey fabric headboard

LUCID 2 Inch Zoned Gel Memory Foam Mattress Topper, from $45 at Amazon, Overstock, and Home Depot

Dorm room beds are not the comfiest. A memory foam mattress topper instantly elevates your bed and makes it feel 10 times comfier. It was one of the best investments I made for my dorm. — Keana Fabian, video production fellow

A tapestry to liven up dull dorm room walls

society6 tapestry, $43.99

Society6 Tapestries, starting at $35

Dorm room walls can be dull, but you can easily cover them and add some intrigue to your room with a tapestry. Society6 has tapestries in a wide range of prints including photographs, paintings, and typography. You can find lots of unique designs to make your room feel a little more like your own.

Sign up for Insider Reviews' weekly newsletter for more buying advice and great deals.

You can purchase logo and accolade licensing to this story here.

Disclosure: Written and researched by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our partners. We may receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at reviews@insider.com.

Close icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. It indicates a way to close an interaction, or dismiss a notification.