college packing list- what to bring to college
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What to Bring to College – An Introduction to the College Packing List

Now that you’ve mastered the art of distilling who you are into a college application, your next challenge is putting together your college packing list to begin the process of compacting your entire life into just a few bags and boxes. For most students, packing isn’t anything new. But packing for college isn’t the same as packing for a family vacation or spending a night at a friend’s house – you need to pack with the thought: “What do I need to make my college dorm my home for the next few months?”

Figuring out what to pack for college and what not to pack for college can be difficult because it’s something you’ve never done before! That is why we’ve created What to Bring to College: a College Packing List from CollegeAdvisor. In this guide, we’ll break down everything you should (and shouldn’t) have on your freshman college packing list. We’ll provide a few versions of the ultimate college packing list so you can be sure you have everything you need.

This College Packing List guide will include:

  • Our college essentials list
  • Unexpected things to bring to college
  • What not to bring to college
  • Using a college planner
  • CollegeAdvisor’s printable college dorm checklist
  • School-specific packing lists
  • College packing list for girls and boys
  • When to start packing, and more!

We know each student will have their own particular needs and preferences, so don’t worry if our college dorm checklist for freshman year doesn’t perfectly match your personal college checklist. If you see something on the list that feels like it falls into the category of unexpected things to bring to college, there is no pressure to include it on your own college packing list. Use our college packing list as a guide to help get you thinking about what to bring to college so you can start building your own college essentials list.

What do College Students Need for Dorms?

While packing for college may seem simple enough, it can often be an overwhelming part of starting your college experience. For many students, going to college is their first time being away from home and living on their own, and it can be difficult to know exactly what a college packing list should have on it. As you start thinking about what to bring to college and eventually making your college packing list, remember that you already did the hard part. Your applications are in and you’ve been accepted to a fantastic school, so all the rest should be fun!

college packing list
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In this “What to Bring to College” guide, we’ll go over things every college freshman should have on their college checklist. However, we know everyone’s living situation will be slightly different and therefore may require a slightly altered college checklist. Certain factors, like whether you’re an in-state vs. international student, living in a single room vs. double room, living in a suite, or even living on a co-ed vs. single-gendered floor might influence your college packing list. There are many ways living in a dorm will feel different from living at home, so we’ll help give you an idea of how to approach these differences when it comes to creating your college dorm packing list.

What Should I Pack for College?

Living in a dorm is one of the most exciting parts about going to college, and making sure you have everything you need on your college essentials list will help you feel right at home! As you start shopping for items on your college packing list, keep in mind the size of your dorm room. Dorm rooms tend to be on the smaller side, so efficient packing is key – you don’t want to show up with too many suitcases to fit in your room!

Communicating with your roommate (or roommates) about what to bring to college can be helpful as you start to craft a college packing list. For example, you may decide to split the cost of a TV or buy shared cleaning products for the bathroom, which means only one of you needs to have shared items on your “what to bring to college” packing list. However, don’t assume that you’ll share everything with your roommate. You never know what living styles people might be comfortable with, so be sure to have everything you need to make yourself feel comfortable!

What Do College Students Need the Most?

Now, let’s get down to the specifics of what to bring to college. The number of things we use in our day-to-day lives might make it feel like there are endless things to include on a college dorm checklist for freshman year. The more you think about what to bring to college, the more you might find yourself realizing there are unexpected things to bring to college that your dorm won’t feel complete without. Narrowing down the essentials can help you focus on what you absolutely need to include on your college dorm packing list.

what to bring to college
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Here are five things to include on your “what to bring to college” essentials list:

  • School supplies
  • Clothing
  • Toiletries
  • Bedding (pillows, comforter, sheets, towels)
  • Medicine

The ultimate college packing list should be a mix of the above items. Having the right school supplies, like your laptop, pens, pencils, tape, and even index cards, will help keep you organized for class and ensure you are always ready to take notes. When adding clothing to your college checklist, make sure you think ahead about both your day-to-day activities and specific occasions, like job fairs, interviews, working out, and going to parties.

Along with clothes, it’s important that you have toiletries like shampoo/conditioner, soap, skincare products, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, and a hairbrush on your “what to bring to college” packing list. Certain items that you’ve never worried about not having at home, like q-tips or nail clippers, are things you’ll need to purchase if you want to have them handy.

Some things you DON’T need to bring

However, there are certain things that you don’t need to worry about buying as you figure out what to pack for college. All dorms will come with a standard mattress, and most come with a desk and desk chair set-up. Most college mattresses are Twin XLs, so having the right kind of bedding on your “what to bring to college” packing list is essential. This means your college checklist should have a comforter, pillows, sheets, pillowcases, and towels on it. The last item on our “what to bring to college” essentials list is medicine. If you take certain types of medication, make sure you remember to include it on your college checklist (and know where to get your prescription refilled near campus).

What Every Girl Needs for College

If you are searching for a college packing list for girls, you’re probably wondering if your freshman college packing list is leaving off anything essential. While you may hear some people say, “a college packing list for girls will be longer than a college packing list for guys,” that is not always the case! While the types and quantities of certain items will vary from person to person, the categories of items included on a college packing list for girls will be very similar to a college packing list for guys.

Here are some items you might not typically find on a college dorm packing list or a college packing list for guys that you may want to include in your college essentials list:

  • Feminine hygiene products (tampons, pads, etc.)
  • Hair styling tools (straightener, curling iron, blow-dryer, diffuser) 
  • Nail polish and remover
  • Makeup

Although you might expect to find the above items on a college packing list for girls, none of the items listed above are gender-specific. Anyone may want to include some of the above items on their college checklist. Ultimately, it’s your decision what you’d like to have available in your day-to-day life, and it will be your responsibility to make sure those items end up on your college checklist and in your suitcases as you finish packing for college.

College Packing List for Guys

If, instead of searching for a “college packing list for girls” you are looking for a “college packing list for guys,” you might be surprised to find they are very similar. Toiletries like moisturizer, deodorant, a hairbrush, toothpaste, and soap are things all students will need regardless of their gender.

Here are some items you might not typically find on a college dorm packing list or college packing list for girls that you may want to include in your college essentials list:

  • Beard/facial hair trimmer
  • Hair gel
  • Nail trimmer

As we mentioned when discussing the college packing list for girls, none of the items above are gender-specific or should only be on a college packing list for guys. Anyone, not just men, may want to have these items in their dorm rooms. The bottom line is, when making your college essentials list, make sure you are making the ultimate college packing list for you. That means bringing the items that make you happy, that you’ll use often, and that’ll make your dorm feel like home.

What Am I Forgetting to Pack for College?

Even with the perfect college checklist, there may be some unexpected things to bring to college that you haven’t considered. If you think you may have left an important item off your “what to bring to college” packing list, here are some unexpected things to bring to college that may be overlooked in the packing frenzy:

  • Command hooks for decor
  • Laundry detergent & hamper
  • Earbuds/headphones
  • Keychain
  • Glasses cleaner
  • Extension cords
  • College planner
college packing list
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Or you might find once you’ve arrived and unpacked that you’ve forgotten something on your college packing list. If you do – don’t panic! It’s likely that your college will have either a store nearby or a way to have packages delivered. If you’re planning on deliveries, double-check you’ve correctly entered your dorm room’s address and that you’ve looked up where on campus your packages will be delivered. Some campuses have multiple mail rooms serving different dorms, so be sure you look for your packages in the right place. 

The value of college packing list

Having a physical checklist to check off while packing for college (like our printable college dorm checklist) can help you stay organized throughout the packing process. While you may not be as likely to forget your everyday items that are on every “what to bring to college” checklist (like your phone, bed sheets, or your favorite sneakers), small items are easier to forget.

Alternatively, if you are bringing your belongings on a plane or without the help of friends or family, you may even intentionally choose to pack lighter and purchase items like toiletries or school supplies once you arrive to save space in your luggage.

College Planner: Keep Yourself Organized!

While it may not seem like a dorm room essential or the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a “what to bring to college” packing list, a college planner can be one of the most helpful things to include on your college checklist. If you didn’t already use a planner in high school, a college planner can be one of those unexpected things to bring to college to help you keep track of all your different classes, activities, assignments, and upcoming tests. Especially during the first months of school, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of different and challenging things you need to juggle. Using a college planner to stay organized can help you stay on top of your deadlines and manage your workload.

college planner
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There are all kinds of different college planner styles; one style may work better for you than another. Figuring out how you like to stay organized and keep track of details can help you find the college planner that works best for you (which may not look like a typical “college planner” at all).

A college planner can come in styles including:

  • School year vs. calendar year college planner
  • Weekly vs. monthly college planner
  • Lined vs. unlined college planner

Not only can a college planner have different ways to organize time, but they can also come in different formatting styles that can include prompts, categories, and designs for each individual day or week. 

If you aren’t the kind of person who can imagine yourself faithfully recording due dates and study sessions into a college planner, it is still valuable to find other ways to keep track of your time. Using a virtual calendar on your phone or computer can help you visually map out your class schedule, get alerts on upcoming deadlines, and even pull important meetings straight from your school email.

College Planner: How to Choose the Right Planner for You

Now that we’ve gone over the differences between one college planner and another, you may be thinking: “Which one is right for me?” You can expect to learn and hone your organizational and time management skills throughout college and your adult life. Starting with a college planner can be a helpful path toward discovering what works best for you.

Beyond simply purchasing a college planner because you feel like you should have one or because you saw one on a “what to bring to college” packing list, we encourage you to think about your learning, memory, and cognitive processing styles. Do you feel like you lean more toward certain patterns or visual styles? Do you organize your thoughts linearly or by ideas? Does writing things out help you remember things, or does the ability to standardize your formatting digitally help you see the big picture more clearly?

Choose what works best for you

Once you’ve spent some time thinking about how your brain best processes and retains information, it will make more sense why a college planner doesn’t have a one-fit-all approach. For example, students who like a rigorous schedule may want a college planner where they can map out their day-by-hourly time slots. Students who like to see upcoming assignments may want a weekly or monthly college planner, so they have an overview of all their upcoming deadlines in one place. Students who prefer to focus on what they need to get done that day may want a daily college planner with enough room to fit all their activities and to-dos for the day.

If the idea of using a college planner doesn’t appeal to you, don’t stress yourself out about leaving it off your college checklist. However, if you choose not to invest in a college planner, it’s still worthwhile to explore other options for keeping yourself organized and up-to-date on deadlines and activities. Talk to your mentors, or even your college advisor, to learn more about what kind of college planner or scheduling tools they used to successfully navigate their time in college. Maybe you’ll be inspired to start using your own college planner when you get to school! 

CollegeAdvisor’s Ultimate College Packing List

To ensure you don’t show up to campus and realize you’ve forgotten something at home, we’ve created a printable college dorm checklist for you to use while packing for college. We’ve pulled together 99 items to create a universal college dorm checklist for freshman year for students who aren’t sure what to expect from their college dorm room.

Feel free to print our checklist out and add your own personal necessities to it as well! We’ve organized our printable college dorm checklist into 10 categories that make it easy to consider a variety of your college packing needs.

college packing list
college packing list

Breaking down our printable college dorm checklist

Here are some of our top five recommended items from our printable college dorm checklist and why we think they are important to have on your own “what to bring to college” checklist:

College Checklist Item #1: Shower caddy + shower shoes

Most students will have to get used to communal showers, which require an easy way to transport your toiletries to the restroom and back to your dorm room. A shower caddy will make it easy for you to keep all your essentials in one place (and shower shoes will keep your feet clean both in and out of the shower).

College Checklist Item #2: Laundry bag + detergent

If college is going to be the first time you’re doing your own laundry, you might forget to add a laundry bag and detergent to your college dorm packing list. Make sure you have a laundry bag and detergent so when you make your first journey to your dorm’s laundry room, you’ll have everything you need.

College Checklist Item #3: Bedsheets

Most college dorm rooms have twin XL mattresses that require specifically sized bed sheets. While you technically only need one set of sheets, having a second set gives you flexibility when it’s time to wash your sheets (which we recommend doing every two weeks when possible!)

College Checklist Item #4: Storage containers

It’s easy for dorm rooms to feel cramped, especially if you’re sharing your room with another person for the first time. Having the right types of storage containers will help you maximize your space and make sure everything has a place, keeping your room organized and tidy for you and your roommate.

College Checklist Item #5: Power strips

In this day and age, our devices are an essential part of how we live, learn, and operate in our daily lives. Having the right types of extension cords and power strips on your college checklist can help you keep your devices fully charged between classes and study sessions.

When to Start Packing for College

Once you’ve been accepted and have enjoyed that feeling of success, it’s time to turn to your college packing list and start thinking about what to pack for college. We recommend drafting your “what to bring to college” checklist in June or July. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to shop around for great deals and items you love before you start packing in August (for those on the quarter system – be sure to use your extra time wisely)!

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Although you can check “college applications” and “completing your senior year” off of your high school checklist, you’ll likely still be busy the summer before your freshman fall, either working, seeing your hometown friends, or simply enjoying your final months living at home. Thinking about what to pack for college, shopping, and then actually packing for college may not seem like a priority, and you might be surprised when all of a sudden you only have a week before you head off to campus.

Our advice? Start early!

We know that shopping for everything on a typical freshman college packing list can be expensive, which is why it can be helpful to make your college checklist early. That way, you won’t feel pressured to buy everything all at once, and you can take time to look for the best deals on different items on your college checklist. Back-to-school sales offer great savings for students, especially if you need pricier items like a new laptop, shoes, or school supplies. Planning ahead will give you your best chance of finding the best deals (and making sure you get every item on your college essentials list). 

College Packing List: What Should I NOT Bring?

Now that we’ve discussed what to pack for college, it’s time to go over what not to include on your college checklist. As you start thinking about what to pack for college, your first instinct might be to put everything you could possibly need onto your college checklist. However, there are certain things you just don’t need to include when packing for college.

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Here are a few items that should NOT make it on to your college packing list:

  • Coffee pot
  • Kettle
  • Hot plate
  • Illegal or dangerous items

Although it may seem like a given that anything illegal or dangerous should be left off of your college dorm packing list, we want to emphasize that if you are living in dorms, you will be living on school property. That means you are required to follow all of the rules and regulations set out by your school. As you start packing for college, it is important you keep in mind that failing to do so might negatively impact your standing as a student. 

Many schools have dorm policies that prohibit students from having anything in their dorms that might be a fire hazard (like kettles or coffee pots) and regulate the types of approved appliances (hot plates and refrigerators) students are allowed to have in their rooms. If, while thinking about what to pack for college, you decide you want to have items like a microwave or fridge, make sure they’re compliant with the school’s requirements and that you use all of your items safely and responsibly.

College Packing List: Exploring School Specific Packing Lists

If you’re looking for more inspiration for a college dorm checklist for freshman year, check out your college’s website! Many schools offer their own version of a freshman college packing list as well as more general guidance on packing for college. Below, we’ll check out some popular schools to see their take on the ultimate college packing list.

What to pack for college checklist: Boston University

BU breaks their college packing list into seven categories: bath, laundry, kitchen, health, miscellaneous, entertainment/tech, and sleep. In addition to their “what to bring to college” checklist, they also provide a list of items you can rent from BU Vending Services (a micro-fridge, an electronic safe, a TV) and a list of what not to have on your college packing list, including food prep appliances, electric blankets, candles, grills, and sun lamps.

What to pack for college checklist: UCLA

UCLA breaks their college packing list into two sections: what to bring to college and what not to bring to college. Students can expect their rooms to be furnished with a bed, desks, and desk chairs, which means students need to remember to bring their own bedding and electronics (including a non-halogen desk lamp).

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What to pack for college checklist: Yale

Yale also wants students to be clear on what they can expect in their rooms, as these items cannot be removed. University-provided furnishings include a desk, chair, bureau, bed frame, mattress, and closet or wardrobe. Along with their description of what to bring to college, Yale provides information about laundry services, linens available for sale, and refrigerators students can rent through Associated Student Agencies.

What to pack for college checklist: Cornell

Cornell provides both a “what to bring to college” checklist and a “what not to bring” checklist. Their top six items to have on your college packing list are bedding/pillows, towels, personal care items, weather-appropriate clothing, your computer, and small office supplies. The items they ask students to leave off of their college packing list are similar to other schools: halogen lamps, e-scooters, hoverboards, microwave ovens, and air conditioning units of any kind.

What to pack for college checklist: Harvard

Harvard’s “what to bring to college” packing list includes a few items you may not immediately think to pack, including a laundry basket, trash can, and temporary adhesives for posters, pictures, and wall art. To make sure students are compliant with university policy, Harvard has also provided a list of prohibited items, including space heaters, weapons, dart boards, and various cooking appliances.

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What to pack for college checklist: Swarthmore

Swarthmore separates their college checklist into three sections: what to bring to college, what to buy once you get there, and what to leave off of your college packing list. If you’re not sure where you’ll be able to find some of the items on your list, Swarthmore has noted which of the items are available for purchase at their campus store!

What to pack for college checklist: Amherst

Amherst has separated their “what to bring to college” packing list into what to bring, things to consider, please leave at home, and prohibited items. If you’re not sure how much you should be packing overall, Amherst recommends packing light and only bringing what you need for the semester – ideally in just two suitcases.

What to Bring to College: Additional FAQs

1. What kind of décor should I bring?

College dorm rooms are generally extremely plain, so packing some type of décor can help the place feel a little more like home. Just be sure that whatever you choose to bring, your roommate is okay with it (you’re sharing the space after all) and that it can easily be hung with non-wall damaging tape, poster putty, or command strips.

2. Should I pack my bicycle?

what to bring to college
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A bicycle is a great mode of transportation used across many college campuses. If you are driving to campus and can easily load your bicycle onto your car – great! If you are flying, check with your particular airline to see what their policy on flying with bicycles is (most airlines will allow you to check it like a normal bag, just be sure to package it properly).

3. What if I can’t afford everything on my college packing list?

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the number of items on your college packing list that you need to buy, you are not alone. The costs of moving and starting a new year in a new place can be daunting, so don’t pressure yourself to buy everything you need before you arrive on campus. Prioritize the essentials and, if you are a low-income or first-generation college student, take some time to explore the programs your school offers to help support students as they begin their first year of college.

4. What should I prioritize if I live far away and have to fly?

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As you begin packing for college, you might find the ultimate college packing list doesn’t actually fit in two checked bags. If you are flying, prioritize things like your electronics, clothes, and your favorite stuffed animal. Also, make a list of items you want to purchase as soon as you arrive (body wash, deodorant, etc.).

5. What if I forget something?

Don’t worry! Even with the ultimate college packing list, there’s always a chance you might arrive and realize you’ve forgotten something at home. If it is something like a missing toiletry or notebook, you’ll easily be able to pick one up at your local convenience store. If it’s something you only have at home, make a note to remember to get it when you go home for winter break.

College Packing List: Final Thoughts

Leaving for college can be exciting, but trying to check everything off of your college checklist can be stressful, especially if done at the last minute. As you begin thinking about what to include on your “what to bring to college” checklist, we hope our “What to Pack for College” guide and CollegeAdvisor-approved college packing list provides a helpful starting place to begin your move-in preparations.

After reading our college packing list, you may have found some unexpected things to bring to college, like a college planner, or things not to bring to college, like a hoverboard. To help simplify things, here are some questions to keep in mind when creating your college packing list. As you think about adding an item to your college packing list, ask yourself: Is this item allowed on my campus? Can I buy it once I get there? Do I use it often? Will it make my dorm feel like a home? Good luck – and happy packing!

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This article was written by Stefanie Tedards. If you want to get help with your college applications from CollegeAdvisor admissions experts, click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how can support you in the college application process.