What to Pack for College (and What to Leave at Home)

When shopping with your soon-to-be college freshman, the typical dorm-room necessities—shower caddy, twin XL sheets, laptop—might come to mind.

But after spending a few weeks at school, your child will be calling home wishing they had thought of these essentials. Pre-empt the angst of forgetfulness, and have your college kid pack these often overlooked, but important items for dorm life.

1. Noise-cancelling headphones

Your teen likes rap, but the new roommate is a musical-theatre aficionado. With differing taste in music, invest in a quality pair of noise-canceling headphones. Quality headphones are available for purchase at the Apple store or Best Buy.

2. Quarters

Amidst all the college preparations, it’s easy to forget that laundry does cost money. Pack a few rolls of quarters—enough to last them until Thanksgiving Break. Then when they come home, you’ll have an idea of how many quarters they really need and can restock. Pick up rolls of quarters at your local bank. (Note: Some campuses allow students to charge laundry right onto their student ID card, so look into the school’s policy before heading out.)

3. A safe

Even if your kid and their roommate end up sharing everything, it’s advisable to bring a reasonably sized safe to store valuables and personal items. The cost of the safe will seem like nothing on the off chance that their beloved iPad or diamond earrings “go missing.” It also may take them a while to get used to locking their dorm door when leaving; having a safe can be good insurance against that. Browse options on Amazon.

4. Earplugs and a sleeping mask

Night owl? Early riser? Differing sleeping habits mean that earplugs and a sleeping mask are items you might want to seriously consider when packing. You can find both at REI.

5. Water bottles

Buying a case of Ice Mountain may seem more convenient, but bringing one or two Nalgene water bottles is environmentally friendly and will save a lot of money. Find Nalgene bottles at Target, REI or Dick’s Sporting Goods.

6. Extension cords

Unless you’ve seen the dorm room ahead of time, there’s really no way of knowing how it’s set up. Chances are there won’t be enough outlets for both roommates. Extension cords are great for multitasking; and you won’t have to worry about a laptop running out of power while the cell phone is charging and the overhead lamp is in use.

7. Cards/envelopes

This one may sound silly, but you never know when they’ll be moved to write a snail-mail thank-you note to a teacher or fellow student. If you’re looking for monogrammed stationery, check out Etsy for some cute ideas!

8. Drawers

Organizing a dorm room is all about making the most of the small space provided. They enter college with dreams of the perfect dorm room; and those dreams are immediately crushed when they realize that their tiny living space isn’t out of a Pottery Barn catalog. Inexpensive drawer units can be found at Bed Bath & Beyond.

9. Late-night snack options

It’s important to have some healthy pick-me-ups to keep the energy flowing on the nights they’re up late writing papers. Just be sure the snacks are non-perishable. A great option is SkinnyPop Popcorn. Pick up snacks in bulk at Costco or Target.

10. Medicine

For those killer headaches or cramps throughout the day, it’s good to have Advil or Tylenol; for allergies or colds, Benadryl or Dayquil might do the trick. It’s important to hide the medicine they do bring, ideally in the safe mentioned above.


What to leave at home:

The name of the game when entering college is saving money. In all seriousness, don’t bring any expensive items that might tempt theft.

1. Stereo system

Unnecessary. Think iPod and headphones, or a portable, desktop speaker for amplification

2. Candles

It’s all fun and games until something catches fire. Instead, opt for scented plug ins.

3. Expensive TVs

Once again, it’s all about conserving space. Plus, it will be a sad day when the kid down the hall accidentally knocks it over or spills a drink on it. A great alternative? A laptop. Getting a Netflix or Hulu Plus account will more than make up for lost channels. If they’re set on bringing a TV, you can find affordable and reasonably sized options at Best Buy.

4. Ironing board/iron

Please. Not happening. You’ll be glad if they just do their laundry occasionally. Instead, buy a wrinkle-removing spray. Nice clothes should be hung up to avoid wrinkles.

5. High-school memorabilia

Leave the helmets and stuffed mascots at home. High-school sweatshirts and T-shirts are great for working out and sleeping in, but treat them to some new college-logo swag to wear around campus!