Thursday, August 02, 2012

Going off to College Dorm Room Essentials

Basic essentials:

  • Bed sheets -- Get 2 sets. Trust me, you'll need 2. Dorm beds are usually twin XL (unless your building hasn't been renovated recently, then it might be standard twin) but double-check with the school's website.
  • Pillows -- These are almost never provided. Bring your own.
  • Towels -- Bring at least 2 for the shower, 1 hand towel, and 1 dish towel.
  • Mattress pad -- Usually the mattress you have is hard and uncomfortable (it's designed to not harbor bedbugs easily). Add a pad to it, and you'll sleep a lot better, especially when your neighbors decide to blast loud music through the walls.
  • Clothes -- Take about a week's worth minimum, plus something you'd wear to a job interview and gym clothes. Also be sure everything that needs to be hung has a hanger for it. You want to fill the washer to capacity on wash day; otherwise, you'll be wasting money. Don't forget to bring laundry detergent, etc. If you expect to attend a lot of formal functions (e.g. if you want to join a fraternity) also bring an iron and ironing board.
  • Toiletries -- You'll inevitably go through everything you bring, except possibly an electric or straight razor. But it's important to have it right from the start. Don't forget: tooth brush, toothpaste, hand soap, shower soap, shampoo, shower shoes, razor, shaving cream. If your dorm is the old style with communal bathrooms, also bring something to carry these things. If it's the newer suite-style or the fancier apartment-style, also bring toilet paper and a plunger.
  • Cleaning supplies -- You need something for glass, something with ammonia, and something with bleach (but of course, never mix the two). Don't forget the sponge and toilet paper, and perhaps a rag (inexperienced drinkers + lots of booze = people throwing up everywhere). If you have a private bathroom, also bring a brush and cleaner for the toilet.
  • Storage space -- Most dorms provide a desk and a dresser. This is usually not enough storage space. Bring a couple crates to begin with, then buy more storage space as you need it.
  • First aid kit -- Invariably, you'll get a cut or a small scrape at some point. It's important that you can take care of the problem yourself. The RA can't do much except call an ambulance, which will cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

School essentials:

  • Computer -- Even if it's not a listed requirement by your school, bring a computer. Also install a basic antivirus program (Windows Security Essentials is usually good enough) because most technology departments require them.
  • Cable lock for your computer -- If it's a new/high-end computer, especially if it's a Mac, you'll need it to prevent your computer from being stolen.
  • Computer peripherals -- Think about them, and determine what you need. I had a printer, headphones, and a mouse. If you have a printer, don't forget paper and ink.
  • Headphones -- I list these separately because they're especially important in a dorm, where you might want/need to listen to something on your computer without creating a lot of noise. Even if you don't listen to music or you have a portable MP3 player, there may still be course-related materials with audio. If you use loud speakers, your roommate/neighbors will hate you, and you may even get in trouble with the RA/police.
  • Pens and pencils -- You'll need both of these to take the exams, which are still on paper for most classes. Multiple choice usually requires #2 or darker pencil, while essay questions require pen.
  • Notebook paper and binders -- There will always be at least one class where you can't take notes on your computer. If you're a science/engineering major, there will be many. Some professors have banned computers in class after seeing too many students on Facebook.


Read your dorm's rules before you buy or bring anything related to cooking. Many of them ban certain appliances. Others provide appliances, and bringing them will just leave you with a lot of junk you won't use.
  • Refrigerator -- Although you'll probably have a meal plan, at some point, you'll want something to eat when the dining hall is closed. Some of it will have to go in the refrigerator. Consider buying a refrigerator with a lock -- an RA is more likely to ask you to open it, but your roommate won't be able to raid it while you're away.
  • Microwave oven -- Get a small one; there's usually a power limit. And understand how it works; you don't want to do something with it that will bring the RA to your room.
  • Rice cooker -- If it's allowed, it'll make rice cooking easy and worry-free.
  • Plates, bowls -- Make sure these are unbreakable. There will always be someone who will knock them to the ground.
  • Utensils -- Knives may be prohibited. But either way, it's better to have reusable utensils than to always use disposable ones.
  • Tupperware -- Use these to save unfinished portions of food for later.
  • Coffee maker -- Dining hall coffee costs only marginally less than Starbucks. Why not see if you can get a free coffee maker for your dorm room?
  • Tea kettle -- More likely to be banned than the coffee maker, but more versatile.

Useful things to have:

  • Carpet -- Be sure it's approximately the size of your room. The floors are usually hard and cold.
  • Vacuum cleaner -- If you have a carpet or the room comes with it, you'll need it to clean the carpet.
  • Furniture -- Look for small, easily folded furniture such as butterfly chairs and futons. Be aware that many types of lamps are not allowed.
  • Spare bulbs -- Only for the lamps you bring. Dorms usually replace the bulbs for fixtures they provide.
  • Posters -- The dorm walls are usually bare at best and prison-like at worst. Try to avoid posters that are pornographic (this is usually a turn-off to the women) or feature booze/weed (this will put you at odds with any RA who walks into your room). Remember that people who enter your room will judge you based on your choice of posters, so choose wisely.
  • Sticky hooks -- For hanging things. Screws, nails, and even tacks are usually not allowed (and some walls won't accept them at all).
  • Reusable adhesive -- For hanging posters; see above.
  • Condoms -- Better have them when you need them than need them and not have them.
  • Fan -- If the air in your room is hot, stale, or has a smell you don't want in your room, you'll need a fan to blow it out the window.
  • Air freshener -- House plants usually don't last long in a dorm, but you'll still need to prevent the air from getting stale. It's also important to cover smells when the fan isn't enough.
  • TV -- If you like having people over, the room with the TV usually becomes the hang-out spot. But be careful not to get distracted from college life (studying, partying) by the TV.
  • Game console -- Multiplayer games are another great way to turn your dorm room into a hangout spot.
  • Speakers -- When you want to play music to everyone in the room, you'll need speakers to do it.

Things not to bring:

  • Any booze or drugs -- If your roommate turns out to be "straight edge" and you have these things, you might start the year by getting in trouble. Wait until you've met your roommate before you buy any. Same with shot glasses and red cups.
  • Large pieces -- It's a lot harder to hide a 3 foot bong than it is to hide a small pipe, pack of papers, or portable vaporizer.
  • Any appliance banned by the dorm rules -- These are also usually hard to hide.
  • Anything expensive -- These often get stolen.
  • Addictive video games -- Many people miss out on the college experience because they were too drawn into their MMORPGs to live it.
by LurkinGrue


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great list, Dave. I think you covered everything pretty well; even the things that should not be taken along. I just sent this link to my son who is headed off this fall. A lot of this is common sense but I know a lot of kids his age lack that particular trait. I am sending him out with a gift box of sorts, and it includes a first aid kit, some gag gifts like hangover pills and I also included a Nexus 7 tablet with the DISH Remote Access app on it. He came to me the other day complaining that he couldn’t have DISH service in his dorm because they do not allow dish installations. He knows I work for DISH and he asked if I knew a work around. I played dumb at the time so he will be surprised when he finds that he can use the DISH app to watch his favorite channels AND DVR recordings right from our DVR at home.

Dave said...

Hi Hunter-

Glad you found the list helpful! Just got my daughter off to college a couple of weeks ago....

And that's pretty cool about providing DISH! Cable was still pretty new when I was in school , but our dorm has it. Not free of course, unless you get a splitter from Radio Sharck, open the cable box and split off someone who was buying it :)