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Articles / Applying to College / Dorm Room Checklist

Dorm Room Checklist

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | July 16, 2019
Dorm Room Checklist

One of the parallels to rising college costs is the increase in the time needed to get everything together to move to college. It's mid-July already. Where is the summer going? Campus move-in day looms large for many students, especially at state universities, which seem to open their gates earlier every year. This brings me to my annual review of what to take with you to your dorm. Getting your list together on time can be a challenge.

Those of you who are college juniors and seniors are crusty veterans of moving wars. In fact, some of you enjoying the right circumstances may have stashed a lot of your stuff nearby campus at a friend's house or in a storage facility, since you don't need those things at home. That's a strategic move that saves a lot of effort and even stress by having much less to move back into the dorm every year. For others, especially about-to-be first-year students, the question is always, “What do I need to survive college dorm life this year?"

I have to laugh every time I think of moving our daughter to college. In our case, we chose to use our Honda Accord as the only “containment" vehicle to transport all her needs for that crucial higher education beginning.

Being the expert packing engineer that I am, I calculated the available space volume and realized that I would need a bit more, so I borrowed from a friend one of those so-called “clamshell" roof-mounted carriers. Once that was in place, we began filling the Accord's trunk, back seat and clamshell with our daughter's needs.

As the process progressed on that late-summer day, I soon realized that her needs would quickly outstrip my careful planning. The clamshell was jammed and locked shut. The truck was so full that I had to be sure that closing it would not crunch any delicate beauty aids or CDs. The back seat and rear shelf were full of clothes and other items piled high. I had to draw the line about being able to see out the rear and side windows.

We had to do a test “seating" to make sure that there was enough room for our daughter, who was no doubt the most important item we were transporting. So, with more “stuff" to move, and literally no more car or clamshell space available, I approached my solution by thinking of Manhattan. I wondered how they got so many residences and places of business into such a limited geographical space. Then the light bulb went on -- they went vertical!

Fortunately, our clamshell had a flat top, rather than curved, like a true clam shell. So, we began stowing the remaining items atop the roof carrier. I always keep a fairly large inventory of various-length bungee cords on hand for situations similar to this one. Thus, I was able to lash everything for the dorm securely to the clamshell's mounting straps. By the time we were done, we had what looked like a mid-sized Manhattan skyscraper on top of the old Accord.

Always anticipating negative possibilities (in this case, rain), I wrapped everything -- clamshell and sky scraper -- in a new green-vinyl tarp that was waiting for a chance to serve. We have a hilarious picture of what we dubbed “The Honda High-Rise." The height of my design was so imposing that I called our state police to ask if there was any prohibition to the height of items piled onto a car roof-top carrier. The trooper with whom I spoke responded that he was unaware of any height restrictions for family cars. I detected a note of amusement in his voice as he asked me why I was asking. Once I explained, he seemed satisfied that I was within the law but cautioned me to watch out for low-flying aircraft. These days one would have to include drones in that caution.

Our five-years-younger son added the icing to our clown-car cake when he suggested that I put a sign on the front side of the clamshell high-rise's green tarp: “Your Ad Here!" His wry sense of humor was the perfect antidote to the mounting anxiety we all felt about bidding farewell to our daughter that day as we traveled toward her dorm.

Bring These Items

In doing research for this article, I found a huge number of “What to Pack for College" articles on these pages. So, to do the work you may not want to do, here is a compilation of “things to take to college" suggestions from the various sources I found. Feel free to explore the Google links on your own, but I think you'll find this list fairly comprehensive. Although some are obvious, I know that I would never have thought of a number of these items, which can work for women and/or men as they move into the dorm:

10 T-shirts

Your miniscule dorm closet will fit less than you think.

30 Pairs of Underwear

Because you won't want to do laundry more than once a month.

Summer Gear

It'll still be hot when you get to school -- your body will appreciate tank tops.

Winter Gear

Think flannel. The temp will drop before you know it, and layers will come in handy.

Business Casual Attire

You never know when you'll need to dress to impress: panel speakers, class presentation, career fair.


Because after a long day of classes, they're like heaven on earth.

Running Shoes

You might want to keep in shape … or make a fast getaway.

Alarm Clock

Even if you use the alarm on your phone, it never hurts to have back up around finals.

Egg Crate Mattress Pad

Those XL twin mattresses are murder on your back.


For comfort at night and during study hours.


You'll constantly disagree with your roommate about the temperature.

Twin XL Sheets

Yes, your new bed is tiny.

Sleeping Bag

For expected and unexpected visitors. No more sacrificing your own blankets so people don't have to sleep on concrete.


At some point, you'll miss your family and friends from home (it's a great way to cover up the white cinder block walls, too).

Bedrest Pillow

For when you want to work on your bed but don't want to lean up against the miserable, cold, hard wall.


Because your business casual outfits look less than casual wrinkled.


You don't want to have to eat out of your Frisbee.

Your Own Set of Utensils

Because the sink will fill up, and you won't want to dig around for a fork.

Brita Filter

The tap water isn't wonderful everywhere.


Because movie nights will be among your fondest college memories.

Bulk Stock-Up

Stockpile granola, mac 'n cheese and ramen from a bulk store like Costco -- because you won't want to go food shopping during midterms.

Bottle Opener

The best beverages don't have twist-off caps.


Because mornings are much more sociable with peppermint-tinged breath.


You'll want to dry off after scrubbing the Sharpie marker off your skin.

Shower Shoes

Because you don't really know what kind of lifeform is lurking on that cold wet floor.


For updating your blog and drafting party playlists. Oh yeah, and writing papers, researching and getting school stuff done.

Surge Protector/Outlet Strip

You might get only one or two outlets in your room and you need five.

Extension cord

The solution to when the outlet you need is behind your roommate's desk.

iPhone/iPod Speakers

It isn't a party unless you're blasting Billie Eilish.

Medical Insurance Card

You'll most likely need a doctor at least once this semester, although I hope not.

Umbrella/Rain Jacket

Because it will rain harder in your college town than you expected.

Step Stool

Because something is always hard to reach.

Small Tool Kit

For putting together that Ikea desk.


You'll need them more often than you think.

Storage Bins

Extra storage under your bed for those bulky winter clothes and other stuff.

If you take all the items listed in this article to college, you may need your own Honda High-Rise. Full disclosure: When we took our son to college, we rented a U-Haul trailer for the Honda. Live and learn, eh?

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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