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Back to School Checklist for College Students

Use our ultimate college checklist to take the stress out of shopping and packing for college and set yourself up for a successful year at school.

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Mother seeing daughter off to collegeAriel Skelley/Getty Images

Before You Shop

Consult your school’s list of what to bring and what not to bring to campus (available on the college’s website) before heading out on your first college dorm shopping spree. This will also include a list of any items the dorm will supply for the students. For example, some schools provide toilet paper and trash bags, and others have vacuum cleaners and brooms available for checkout.

Once you make your list, coordinate with roommates to spread the cost of high-ticket items like a microwave or TV.

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Blue backpack with different stationery and study supplies and medical face masks. Back to school concept. The concept of the teachers day. Protection against coronavirus of schoolchildren and students. Studying in the new reality pandemic.Yulia Naumenko/Getty Images

Academic Supplies

Let’s start with all the things needed for a successful academic year. Before buying a computer or laptop (and accessories), check with your school to determine if a Mac or PC is preferred for your program of study. Then bring the following additional items on move-in day: backpack, notebooks, writing utensils, highlighters and a digital or paper planner.

A lap desk is a nice extra for studying in bed or on a comfortable chair or couch. Because many aspects of school are handled digitally, before buying a printer or loading up on too many paper-based school supplies, get settled at school. Then make a trip to the college’s bookstore or shop online to pick up any additional needed supplies.

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Shower suppliesRichard Villalonundefined undefined/Getty Images

Bathroom Items

All students will need towels, washcloths, hand towels, shower shoes, a bath wrap and toiletry items such as shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc. Also, pick up a mesh tote to transport items to and from the bathroom. If your dorm includes an in-room bathroom, add a bath mat to your list.

Other nice-to-haves include a first aid kit and basic medications such as pain relievers, stomach remedies, cold and flu medicine and immune support supplements. Bring an extra toothbrush to use as a replacement if you get sick. Consider bringing a beach towel or Turkish towel for picnics or studying in the commons area.

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BeddingOlga Nikiforova/Getty Images

Bedding / Sleeping Items

Confirm your dorm’s mattress size before shopping for bedding essentials: Sheet set, pillows, pillow protectors, mattress protector and pad, blankets and a quilt or comforter. Opt for blankets and a light quilt instead of a comforter to ensure comfortable sleep regardless of your body temperature and the climate controls in the dorm room. (Many dorms don’t have air conditioning and do have overly-active heaters.)

If you’re a light sleeper, consider adding blackout curtains and ear plugs to your shopping list. A memory foam mattress topper can compensate for a hard or lumpy dorm mattress. Extra throw pillows or a pillow with arms are great for in-bed reading and studying.

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cleaning suppliesAvelina/Shutterstock

Cleaning Supplies

Corral basic cleaning supplies like an all-purpose cleaner, dusting spray, rags, toilet cleaner and a toilet brush into a storage bin or cleaning caddy. Equip a second bin with dish soap and dish towels to clean up after in-room meals and snacks. Don’t forget a trash can and trash bags.

If your school doesn’t supply a vacuum cleaner or broom for check out, consider adding at least a hand-held vacuum to your list as well. This is a great place to coordinate with roommates and split up the shopping list so you don’t end up with more supplies than you have space to store.

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While it may be tempting to pack your entire wardrobe, remember that your dorm-room closet and dresser could be much smaller than what you’re used to at home. Employ a seasonal clothing strategy and start the year with lighter weight clothing that can be layered when it gets colder. Plan to do a swap out at Thanksgiving, and then again at spring break. Be sure to bring along climate appropriate outerwear such as waterproof shoes or boots, a raincoat and an umbrella.

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Laundry Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Clothing Storage and Care

Here’s everything you’ll need to keep your clothes clean and crisp while away at school: laundry basket or bag, detergent, spot remover, bleach, dryer sheets and plenty of hangers. Make plans to share an iron and a table-top ironing board or clothing steamer between you and your roommates. Be sure to practice doing laundry and other essential college skills before leaving home.

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Dorm decorationssvetikd/Getty Images


Don’t forget items to make your dorm room feel like home, such as a bean-bag chair, throw rug (confirm room dimensions), wall decorations such as a tapestry or bulletin board, framed photos of family and friends and string lights.

Check your university’s guidelines for hanging items and bring the appropriate supplies on move-in day. This is also a terrific reason to plan ahead with your roommate, especially if you want your room to have a coordinated look. You can use your decorations to provide dorm storage and organization, too.

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important tax documentsMoobin/Shutterstock


If you’re leaving home for the first time, be sure to collect the following important paperwork and store it in an accordion file or small lock box: renters insurance information (if you’re not living in a dorm), health insurance card and HSA card (with an explanation of what each is and how to use it), student ID and photo ID. Also store these signed legal documents: HIPPA authorization form, healthcare proxy or medical Power of Attorney, and a Living Will.

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old chargers cables wiresdiy13/Shutterstock


Essential dorm technology goes beyond the devices you’ll use for class. Aside from a computer, here’s a list of other electronics to bring with you to school: TV and cables, gaming system and accessories, lamps and bulbs (floor lamp, desk lamp and/or clip lamp for reading in bed), chargers for all devices, extension cords and a power strip/surge protector with USB charging ports.

Consider an extra-long phone charging cable especially if you will be using a loft bed or bed risers. A clip-on fan will help you stay cool in a room without air conditioning and provide white noise. If you’re a really light sleeper, a sound machine is an even better option.

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Kitchen Supplies

Even if you don’t have a kitchenette in your dorm room, a few essentials will make it easier for in-room pizza deliveries and late-night snacking.

Make a plan with your roommates and then collectively stock up on the following: A few basic dishes, microwave safe cookware, silverware, cups, a coffee mug, a travel cup, reusable water bottles and a filtered-water pitcher or faucet filter. Add a small refrigerator and microwave to your list if they aren’t provided by your school.

A coffee maker is another great add-on that will save money over daily stops at the campus coffee shop. (Many schools prohibit kitchen appliances other than a microwave so check your school’s list before buying a coffee maker or any other appliance.)

THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT! Bring a few snacks from home such as chips, popcorn, power bars and coffee. They’re a great way to make new friends and tide you over between cafeteria meals.

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Student on a bikesimonkr/Getty Images


If you’re bringing a car or bike to campus, be sure to get the appropriate pass or registration permits. And don’t forget your helmet, bike maintenance supplies and bike lock.

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Student with a laundry basket of dorm suppliesMoyo Studio/Getty Images

Packing Tips

Now that you have everything you need, save space by packing items in your laundry basket and other storage containers you’ll be using at school. IKEA shopping bags and collapsible totes take up little storage space at school, making it easier to pack up come spring. Move-in day can be quite hectic so be sure to label all your belongings with your name, dorm name, room number and phone number.

Aby Garvey
Aby Garvey is an organizing expert who believes organizing can be creative and fun—the more you love an organizing solution, the more likely you are to use it. She offers a variety of online classes that can help you get organized at her website