Eight often overlooked things you need to pack for college


So you’ve been accepted to your University of choice. Awesome. Now comes the fun part, leaving home and assembling a living space that you have always wanted. Do you want the ‘fridge with in range of your bed? So be it, it’s your place now.

But with college there are a few staples that every student should have. There are tons of checklists for obvious stuff. But I asked some friends for their overlooked essentials, and came up with the following list. What would you include?

I am aware that some of these items depend on your dorm’s policy.

  1. A Microwave
    Let me tell you this: my mother is a microwave chef. You show her a dish and she can tell you exactly how long it needs to be microwaved for. Incidentally, I learned all kinds of dishes that can be easily prepared in the microwave. When you move on to campus a reality will hit you. Your meal plan is either very expensive or very limited, and you will not feel like walking to a store at 1am. Do yourself a favor and pack some Easy Mac or some Beefaroni to heat up. If your dorm won’t allow it, bring one anyway, they won’t care. Just make sure you know how to nuke popcorn without setting off the fire alarms. I recommend searching eBay! for a local pickup as described in a earlier post.
  2. Laptop NOT a desktop
    When I was shopping for computers I picked a desktop thinking “hey, its cheaper why the heck not!” However I found out when I wanted to do some geeky fun stuff I would have to be on my computer. When I wanted to do work I had to be…on my computer. Needless to say I spent a lot of time in the same damn chair because I opted to forgo the freedom to go outside on a nice day and type my paper. So I say to you soon-to-be freshmen take the laptop! But I’m not bitter….
  3. Vitamins
    You will eat like crap at first. These will save your ass. Nothing fancy, just your basic Centrum.
  4. Awesome Sheets
    Spend the extra money and get yourself the highest thread count your money can afford. Trust me, my dad and I had a little debate about this. He said go high quality, I said I didn’t really care. God, was he right. Yo are going to be spending a lot of time in that bed (for better or for worse). If the parents are buying convince them that sleep is essential to a good education – or something like that. But in reality it can’t hurt to be the guy with the really comfy bed, can it? Designer Linens has a nice back to sale, and if you use This Link with coupon: CJDOTF you can get $25 off of your purchase (and help support College v2).
  5. Clorox Wipes
    Off all the cleaner stuff your mom will recommend you take this will be all you need. They clean EVERYTHING.
  6. Random Boxes
    You will accumulate so much crap, that you will not feel like “organizing” it. Shove it all in a box, away it goes.
  7. If you’re a drinker… Girl? No Alcohol. Guy? Bring Alcohol!
    If you’re a girl, celebrate. It will probably be 4 years before you pay for alcohol ever again. Guys, we don’t have it so good.
  8. Mini Vacuum
    One of those little hand held vacuums will help you quickly clean up that dinner you spilled. A vacuumed carpet is also the quickest way to freshen up your room. I found myself borrowing a neighbors upright vacuum at least once a month. Save the trouble, and get a handheld. It’ll do.

Those of you who have already braved dorm life what did you bring? What did you wish you took with you?

Later this week: What NOT to bring and why

[tags]eBay, Alcohol, Vacuum, Microwave, laptop, dorm, college dorm[/tags]

33 Responses to “Eight often overlooked things you need to pack for college”

  1. Steven Vance Says:

    The new design is great.

    You made a few spelling errors in this post.

    I think you should redefine random boxes to mean “plastic storage boxes with lids” that fit underneath dorm beds.

    Another reason to have a laptop is that you can take it to the library, cafes, and friends’ dorm rooms, and moving it (from home -> dorm, or dorm -> home) is easier.

    Number 9: If space allows it, a plastic, wheeled chest of drawers. This makes moving so much easier.

    Number 10: Garment bags. Do you have a lot of clothes on hangers? If so, buy some garment bags and while the clothes are still hanging, you can stuff about 10 items into the bag. The bag will keep the clothes in top notch condition so you don’t have to iron them after moving.

  2. Andy Says:

    I’m heading into my junior year, here’s my advice:

    Can’t find a link for an example, but Bed Bath & Beyond used to sell a springy soft-sided popup clothes hamper with a carrying strap. Easily compacted when you go home, strong enough to carry a full load of laundry.

    Febreeze airsprays. At least for the guys, this is mandatory to keep the room from smelling too much like…guy. =)

    Duct tape. Grey and White (white to blend in). You’ll be amazed how much you use it.

    If you are going to buy anything furniture-like (chairs, desks, lamps, etc.) try not to be *too* cheap. Remember that in a year or three you’ll be out of a dorm and into your own living arrangment, willingly or not. Buy stuff that’s nice enough to last and won’t give that new apartment a cheap freshman feel.

    And I was a desktop PC guy. I’m a gamer, and a nerd, so I built myself a PC that could play Unreal Tournament, and had a TV card in it as well, and a TON of harddrive space. I never really had a need for a laptop, despite being a CS major at an engineering school. All my classes are math related so I couldn’t take notes on a laptop, and PCs are available all over campus for when I did need one. So as they say, “your mileage may vary.”

    My roommate had a tablet PC, and made very good use of it. If you’re after the laptop and have the cash, I’d highly recommend it. All your notes in one place, no limitations when it comes to math classes, and you still have the ritual of writing things down. Just bear in mind that the tablet screen costs more than the rest of the PC, so treat it carefully.

  3. Blanda Says:

    Thanks for the input guys.

    @Steve – The garment bag sounds good, but I never had enough nice clothes to really merit a bag. Then again, this is coming from a kid who still has his middle school graduation shirt.

    @Andy- I thought I would play a lot of games on the computer, but then TFC fell off….

    Damn them.

  4. Shim Says:

    Don’t Worry TF2 will be out soon.

  5. Andrew Says:

    I am in the process of trying to combine all those “other” lists you mentioned on my dorm decorating website, DormDelicious (http://www.dormdelicious.com/). I am trying to do what you did – create a list that is actually a useful and not just obvious and/or outdated. I will link to this post over there. Would be great if you could hit me back. Thanks!

  6. Jess Says:

    Invest in some plastic plates/bowls/cutlery too…because seriously, paper plates don’t cut it after awhile. I got some cheapo ones at Target and they lasted me almost all the way through college. It made eating cold Chinese leftovers that much nicer.

    If your dorm doesn’t allow you to use cinderblocks to loft your bed (most won’t nowadays) use milk crates. We used one in each corner plus two in the middle, underneath the box springs. This gave us ample under the bed storage space and lessened that “sleeping too close to the floor” feeling my dorm bed gave me at first.

    3-M hangers/clips–one in the bathroom for your wet towel or bathrobe, some in the closet to hang bags/ties/belts/etc., get the clips to hold your Christmas lights around the room. They are amazing, and if you’re careful when you take them down, they won’t screw up the paint.

    Earplugs for when your suitemate’s alarm goes off for 72 hours and you can’t get in his/her room to turn it off. Trust me on this one…if you don’t have them, you’ll eventually want them.

  7. Ben Oakes Says:

    I was a freshman last year, and of course, I had a laptop. I actually bought it half way through my senior year in High School and I used it all the time. When I was writing a 15-page term paper and working on chemistry papers, it was a lifesaver because there was no easy way to go home quickly and the computers at the high school sucked. So, I thought I’d take it all over the place at college, but I only did a couple of times. If you’re living in the dorms, “home” isn’t far away. Plus, every single building I’ve been to on campus has at least some sort of computers for students, so one was never far away when I needed it. This was especially nice when my laptop’s motherboard shorted out (~$900 to repair). That’s another thing about laptops; they’re much more expensive to repair. If you have a desktop and the screen goes bad, not hard or especially expensive. On laptops, expect around $800. I’ve built computers myself, and if the motherboard had gone bad in a desktop, I could have repaired it, but laptops are a much different story.

    As far as note taking goes, all the people I ever saw taking “notes” on laptops usually were playing World of Warcraft; I guess the temptation was just too much during a boring class. Seriously, paper works so much better for notes. Really, think about it: what class wouldn’t have diagrams for you to draw at *least* occasionally? If you have the chunk of change it takes to get a Tablet PC, I wouldn’t waste the money; I’ve never seen one being used for more than a couple of weeks. (It’s a novelty.) Also, remember that desks in college are quite a bit smaller than what you might have had in high school. Remember that you’ll probably be having classes in auditoriums at least a few times. Also, if you live in a colder climate (I go to the University of Iowa), you won’t be able to use it outside for too long. And when it gets *seriously* cold (i.e. when the insides of your nostrils freeze as soon as you step outside), taking it outside could ruin it if you’re going for a relatively long walk.

    It really depends on the type of person you are, I suppose. It’s great to be able to have your data with you everywhere if you want. I’d recommend a Palm or Pocket PC over a full-fledged portable. That’s just me though.

  8. Ben Oakes Says:

    You missed a big one: an umbrella. Don’t go with a cheapie, either. It’ll fall apart at the worst time.

  9. huh Says:

    i think most things on the list is pretty ordinary stuff that students DO bring to college.. about the computer, i have both a desktop and a laptop, but i rarely use my laptop.. i’m an engineer so i cant take down notes related with math with efficiency.. buy a recorder if you want to remember what the prof said in class.. i sometimes take pictures of the blackboard when i’m too lazy.. haha. turn the flash off if you’re gonna try though.. obviously.. some profs record their class and post it online if you request it.. as for storage.. buy alot of shelves/boxes to keep your room look organized.. i usually just stuff random things in boxes and hide it under the bed..

  10. bigboy101011 Says:

    Bring some sort of weapon, i don’t mean a gun or knife, a cardboard tube will do, just something to fend of drunks.

  11. 8 Things to Bring to College by Cornell Blog Says:

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  12. Taylor Says:

    Haha. Good list!
    I have a few things:

    flip-flops: avoid nasty bathroom floors
    sharpies: I endorse drawing on your friends
    Febreeze: Andy ^ nailed it…

    Ironically, I wrote about this about a week ago and there are more.

    Sorry for the relentless plug.

  13. Christopher Penn, Financial Aid Podcast Says:

    A couple of other suggestions:

    1. A knife – all purpose, utility, small, folding – is something you should never be without.

    2. Something to NOT bring – a credit card. You will find yourself in trouble faster than anything if you bring plastic. Bring a debit card or stored value card, but NEVER a credit card. Ever.

    Christopher S. Penn
    Daily financial aid internet radio on demand, no iPod required

  14. theprof Says:

    Thing i would reccomend going on as a fifth year senion in engineering

    superglue – one of thoes things like ducttape, it will come in handy when you need it

    black thread and a needle – you dont need a whole sewing kit, but when you put on 15lbs and pop the buttons off your pants, you gotta be able to sew them back on, or in my case pledging a fraternity puts some abuse on a sport coat (think rolling around wasted in a suit) so sewing buttons back on that as well

    glade plugins – 99% of places candles and incense will be illegal and getting caught usually implies a hefty fine, get a couple glade plugins, work better then febreeze to cover up the smell of pizza box mountain.

    flashlight – again something thats often overlooked and will come in handy when you need it.

    i also second an umbrella, but get a golf umbrella, then it will be large enuf to keep your bookpack dry and invite the cute girl in your lit class to stay dry with you on the walk home.

  15. first yr law student Says:

    a mattress pad! those egg carton ones work well. this is just as important as good sheets since the dorm mattresses are vinyl and feel gross.

  16. Eva Grecius Says:

    But how do you know what will fit in your dorm room if you’ve never seen a room? It’s not like they’re a standard size or anything. And in one university they can vary from huge to tiny. Website has no information on this, and Housing said you just have to wait to be assigned one. How did any of you handle this?

  17. Derek Says:

    Earplugs. They’re absolutely essential when your neighbors are having a raucous party while you’re trying to sleep.

  18. Lauren Says:

    “Bring a microwave, they won’t care” — yes, actually, they likely will care. They won’t do anything worse than make you get rid of it, but that’s a waste of a microwave. Most dorms have at least one in the common area.
    In any case don’t give your RA a hard time — it usually falls to the RA to make sure no one’s violating fire codes, and there’s no reason to make your RA’s life crappy over something like a microwave, especially if you have access to one in a common area. (And you probably want to save up your happy RA points for when you get caught with beer or pot. If the RA likes you, you might just get a warning; if you already caused trouble over a microwave, you’re already on the annoyances list.)

  19. abb3w Says:

    Number One Important Item: Whether you get a laptop or desktop, get an external hard drive to back up your system regularly. Do it right before you go out to start the weekend’s partying; a lot of cheap backup software can be made to run unattended, but needs a manual start. There is nothing worse than losing a term paper shortly before it’s due. An external drive is cheap insurance these days.

    Number two would be a USB flash drive, for keeping the stuff from your current semesters classes on. Make sure this stuff is also on your computer hard drive for the regular back up.

  20. dan Says:

    Bring Flip Flops. Using a public shower is a sure-fire way to get something wierd growing on the bottom of your feet, and a $2 pair of flip flops can save you this hassle.

  21. Godkarmachine Says:

    Get a TV tuner to go with your computer. Space is going to be a premium in any dorm, and a TV tuner will enable you to use your computer as a TV, making one less thing you have to keep there. If you’re using a laptop, there are some good USB 2.0 units.

    Also, you want a Swiss army knife and a multitool. You are going to constantly find uses for these things, and it’s better from a space standpoint than keeping a huge toolkit around.

    As well, a collapsible wood drying rack will do you a lot of good. They’re cheap, they don’t take up much space, and they’re a godsend when all the dorm’s washing machines and/or dryers are in use and you have no clean clothes the next day–just wash your clothes in your sink, hang them on the rack, and the next day, you’ll have clean, dry clothes. Of course, this works best if you’re attending college in a warm climate and don’t wear a lot of denim (denim takes forever to dry).

  22. Don’t forget… at Taco’s Toppings Says:

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  24. Howtobewebsmart Says:

    One things I would tell college kids: buy all this stuff online. If you shop early enough, you can save on sales tax, and just have the entire list shipped to your dorm (which means you dont have to carry it in the always overstuffed car).

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  26. theprof Says:

    i agree, as alton brown is fond of saying, ORGANIZATION WILL SET YOU FREE!

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  29. Blanda Says:

    I second the Swiss Army knife.

    @Ben Oakes
    The tablet PCs do seem like a novelty, but I’ve never really used one. Although they look tempting.

    If you replace “drunks” with “zombies” thats whould have been awesome.

    I think I was misunderstood on the microwave. In my case my RA would walk in, say “you shouldnt have that” and walk out. There were already microwaves scattered throughout the dorm. And I never cook/burn popcorn.

  30. Tom Says:

    Check out this list at http://www.studential.com/checklist/ it doesn’t go into a lot of detail though there’s almost everything you could think of bringing.

  31. Blanda Says:

    that is a LOT of stuff

  32. Ross Says:

    A microwave isn’t absolutely necessary, sometimes they have them available on your floor… and with a triple, I’m not sure I want to be eating in such a crowded place where I could spill on a multitude of electronics…

    i also like those 3M command adhesive hooks…

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