What to Take to College: the Ultimate Checklist

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Sure, his dorm room looked great when you dropped him off. Credit: Getty Images

Leaving the nest can be traumatic for any baby bird -- even one who's 18 years old. Yet, in just a few short weeks, millions of teens will be heading off to college for the very first time, trying their wings to see if they can fly solo.

But fear not, because we've got a secret weapon that can help you turn overwhelmed into overjoyed: the ultimate what-to-take-to-college checklist, put together with a little help from the experts at Bed Bath & Beyond and The Container Store.

Though there's tons of stuff on the list, the great news is that if you shop at a chain store, you will likely be able to pick up the packages at a store near the college, instead of stuffing your car to the brim. (We had a seamless experience with Bed Bath & Beyond's Pack & Hold service when our college kid headed off last fall.)

So, here's our list of college life essentials from alarm clocks to XL sheets:


Freshman dorm rooms are traditionally the most space-challenged on campus, where a bed often does triple duty for sleeping, entertaining and studying (we hope!), so it's a good place to splurge.

  • Bed bug mattress protector: We don't want to freak you out, but you really don't know where that mattress has been, so better to be safe and guard against nasty bed bugs.
  • Mattress topper: A topper helps comfy up and smooth out coil-laden dorm room mattresses. Available in feather, fiber or foam; whichever fill you choose, be sure not to skimp on thickness.
  • Mattress pad: Helps keep the topper clean. Some toppers have pads built in, so you may be able to save a little by buying an all-in-one.
  • Bedding: This is the fun part! Let them choose designs they love, and make sure they have at least three sets of sheets so one is sure to be clean at all times. If they're heading to a warmer or colder climate, keep that in mind when choosing a blanket, and don't forget protective pillow covers. Dorms typically have twin extra-long (XL) mattresses, so be sure they check what's standard at their school before you buy.
Dorm room space is at a premium, so clever organization is key. When it comes to storage, the experts at Bed Bath & Beyond experts advise to stack it, stow it, hang it or hide it.

  • Stow it: Use colorful storage boxes on top of shelves to help keep things neat and tidy, while adding a dash of color and pattern to their space.
  • Stow It: Look for clever pieces that multitask, such as a storage ottoman that provides seating and storage space, with a top that can even double as a lap desk.
  • Hang It: Make the most of their closet space with a double hang closet rod that instantly doubles their hanging space, and maximize every inch with extra thin clothes hangers. For girls, a hanging shoe bag is essential, as they will likely bring all of their shoes; no, we're not kidding.
  • Hide It: Many dorms are equipped with high rise beds that afford extra storage space underneath, but if theirs doesn't, a set of inexpensive bed lifts works. Underbed storage containers are great for stowing seasonal clothes and shoes, even extra toiletries and school supplies.
Bath & Personal Care
Whether your kid is lucky enough to score a suite with a bathroom, or destined to frequent the hallway facilities, she'll be sharing a bathroom.
  • Shower tote: A sturdy, portable carry-all big enough to stow all their bathroom essentials and light enough to tote back and forth several times a day.
  • Towels: At least three of each -- bath sheets, hand towels and washcloths (if they use one) in their favorite colors or patterns.
  • Toiletries: It's great to start with at least two of everything, and then let them replenish as needed. This includes shampoo, conditioner, razor, shaving cream, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap or body wash, cotton swabs, bandages and anything else that's crucial to their grooming routine.
  • Medications: Make sure they understand what medications they need to be taking, what to do if they miss a dose (which is likely, at least at first) and how to get refills.
  • Sewing kit: At some point in time, they'll thank you for it, trust us.
Décor and Room Necessities
There are many quick, easy, inexpensive ways to dress up a room and make it feel like home. Colleges typically don't allow anything to be nailed into the wall, so be sure pick up a range of adhesive hooks that can be easily removed when they move out of the room.

  • Posters
  • Photos: Supply the photo paper and let them print out their own photos of family and friends -- the montage is sure to grow throughout the year.
  • White board/bulletin board
  • Wall decals
  • Desk lamp
  • Mirror
  • Hamper
  • Waste basket
  • Alarm clock: Yes, they will actually master getting themselves out of bed on time, even though you're not there to badger them in the morning.
  • Power strips/extension cords
  • Dishes and silverware: Inexpensive, durable, easily-replaceable bowls, plates, glasses and silverware for in-room quick meals and late-night snacks.
Bigger Ticket Items
These are the things that help cozy up their dorm room, and help make it feel more like home. It's a good idea to have them check with their roommate to see if they want to split the cost on some of these items, or divvy up who brings which.

  • Television, DVD player and DVDs
  • Video game system and games
  • Area rug
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Printer
  • Fan and/or space heater (if allowed)
  • Mini refrigerator (can be rented at some schools, sometimes with a combo microwave)
  • Microwave (can be rented at some schools, sometimes with a combo mini refrigerator)
In today's wired world, certain things are absolute essentials for their learning and leisure time.

  • Ethernet cord and/or wireless router (have them check to see if the school has wireless throughout the campus; if not, make sure wireless routers are permitted in dorm rooms)
  • Laptop with laptop lock to secure to bed or desk
  • Flash drive for portable file storage
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Digital camera
  • iPod and headphones
  • Compact iPod/iPhone speaker system (our college kid insists we tell you to look for one with extra bass)
  • Rechargeable batteries with charger
School Supplies
Even though they're in the big leagues now, they'll still love stocking up on the coolest back-to-school supplies.

  • Pens, notebooks, folders, highlighters, markers, scissors, stapler -- most of the basics are the same, but nothing they used in high school will do.
  • Printer paper
  • Textbooks: Although it's easy to pick up text books at the college bookstore, you can often find great deals on used books online -- Amazon has an entire section devoted to textbooks -- but if you're going to order online, make sure you do it a few weeks before classes begin.
Cleaning Supplies
Some colleges provide a cleaning service for dorm rooms and suite bathrooms, so they may not need cleaning supplies. Have them check with their school before you buy the essentials, such as toilet bowl cleaner (Ick, Mom! I have to clean the toilet?!), all-purpose cleaner, broom and dust pan, mop and dish soap to wash cups and other incidentals. If you don't yet use healthy, "greener" cleaning products at home, this is a great time to switch over and set a great example for your soon-to-be-adults.


Whether they're in the next town over or across the country, they'll be taking more responsibility for themselves, so it's important they have essential information and documents with them.

  • Driver's license or state ID
  • Health insurance card
  • Social security card
  • Health records
Of course, there's probably no end to the list of things your college kid wants, but if you cover most of the things on our list, they should have what they need most. Except for you, of course.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.