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Articles / Campus Life / Dorm Room Shopping List

Dorm Room Shopping List

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | May 23, 2018

I've talked about moving to college. But what about the essentials of living on campus? I'm talking about where you'll be spending much of your time, at least where most college students do — your dorm room.

You can search my archives here for information on how to make your dorm room more like home. You'll also find articles about some of the fanciest (and messiest) dorm rooms in America. But, of all the things in the world — and in your room at home — what should you be taking to campus this year, especially if this is your debut as a college student?

I started a thread on the College Confidential discussion forum about this very topic. My inspiration was this article: What to Buy for a College Dorm and What to Skip. The key part of that title, in my view, is “what to skip." Many students, especially first-years, bring way too much stuff to college and it ends up either being not used (and in the way) or (worst of all) thrown out at the end of the year.

The thrown-out stuff sometimes qualifies as gold for someone else. It's the old “One person's trash is another person's stash." For example: Trash to Treasure Sale has Junk for Everyone. Take note from the article, which focuses on Penn State:

There is no greater example of the phrase “One man's trash is another man's treasure" than what's happening this Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

In it's 13th year, the annual Trash to Treasure sale has become a mecca for bargain hunters. For an event that raises funds for local non-profits while keeping tons of unwanted items out of the landfill, there's not much to dislike.

Pulling off an event like this takes months of preparation and a lot of heaving lifting. As the end of the semester approaches, Penn State Housing encourages students to sort their unwanted belongings into special collection bags and drop-off locations.

Students are asked to make sure items are in working condition and are reasonably clean. Any usable food, like canned goods, is donated to the State College Area Food Bank.

Beth Shaha, special events coordinator for the Centre County United Way, estimates that this year's haul is somewhere around 65 tons of donated items. The 2012 event raised more than $60,000 for the Centre County United Way and its partners, while also saving money on landfill fees and labor costs …

So, there is some good news about discarding things you didn't need at college. However, what do others, especially parents, think about my thread-starting article? First, let's take a look at some of what the article advises:

The list of stuff you're told to buy when sending your kid off to college is long and expensive, and some of it is unnecessary. Focusing on the basics for the student living in a tiny dorm room or that first apartment will save you money and make packing easier. Here's a list of things to buy and what to skip, from the pros at Consumer Reports who've been down this road …


Bath towels. Expensive towels and towels that look great for many years may be wasted on the young. With coupon in hand, choose thicker-but-affordable towels for their absorbency …

Sheets. For dorm living, check the size of the bed online. Most dorm beds are five inches longer than the standard twin, so regular twin sheets won't fit. You'll need XL twin sheets, and a mattress cover too, along with a comforter or blankets that are long enough …

Coffee maker. For off-campus living, take a look at the $40 Black+Decker CM4000S drip coffee maker. It holds 12 cups and was impressive at brewing and easy to use …

Microwave. The dorm may offer access to a communal microwave, or not allow them, and the apartment may already have one. So check …

Wait and See:

Mini-fridge. A waste for some, others put this in the essential category for a dorm room even though it takes up space …

Humidifier. If your child complains that the dorm room or apartment bedroom gets hot and dry in winter, order a small humidifier online and have it shipped …

Don't Take:

Iron. There's no time to iron, and you care more about the wrinkled, rumpled look than they do …

Expensive bedding and decorative pillows. The extra pillows eat up valuable space …

Extra set of sheets. Buying them assumes the sheets are changed regularly …

Alarm clock. Essential to you, but a relic. Your college student probably has a cell phone and can set the alarm …

Okay, so there's the Consumer Reports baseline. Let's see what some CC posters think about that.

– I don't know anyone who had a humidifier. I'd put an extra set of sheets before a humidifier for sure.

– … school in Michigan where we all know nature's refrigerator/freezer is available at least 6 months of the year. You slide open the inside window and leave closed the outside one, and viola, refrigeration. Or freezer if you leave things there too long. It's also designed to hold a six pack perfectly, or even some bottles so some window designer was thinking ahead too …

– FWIW, my D was told over and over how essential a mini-fridge was for her room. I refused to purchase one and she kept her fingers crossed that her roommate would have one to share, which neither did lol. She has survived quite well without one. What she couldn't survive without though is a fan…boy does it get hot in those first months …

– At some point, your kid will need to do an in-person interview for a job or internship and will suddenly need an iron and the skill to use it. Irons don't cost very much and don't take up very much space. I don't see any reason not to bring one …

– My music major had an iron. All of the music majors had irons….so did the ROTC folks. No one else did.

There were two things I wanted my kids to take…thst I am quite positive NEVER got used…an alarm clock, and a desk lock for the laptop. Complete waste of money …

– My daughter attends school in Wyoming and needs a fan all year long. The dorms are not air conditioned, but even worse in the winter when those in power crank the heat and the individual rooms can't control it. They cracked their windows even when it was -10 because it was 80 in the room.

– D and her roomie have the typical fridge, microwave and Keurig (which they use to make tea and hot cocoa more than coffee).

Things we didn't need first year: over the door shoe rack (closets didn't have doors), bed risers (bed was self-adjusting), dry erase board for door (had a built in one), fans (dorm had A/C) …

– At one of the pre-orientation parent sessions one of the Deans at Marquette specifically said to bring an alarm clock that plugs in and has battery back-up and strategically place is across the room from the bed. Because on those cold winter mornings you want to force the kid to actually get up out of that warm comfy bed and turn off the alarm, it is too easy to silence the alarm on the cell phone that likely went to bed with the kids and go back to sleep …

– My kid had a small,electric broom also. It got a LOT of use…as did his iron. Lots of folks borrowed it.

– The things my son used were a iron, extra set of sheets, a stack of paper plates, small tupperware containers, salt & pepper shakers, broom, alarm clock, head phones, small tool box. Waste of space items were computer printer, TV tray, full size ironing board and dvd player.

– my daughter used a swiffer to clean the floors (they were not carpeted) and then we got her an non-electric brush sweeper when she ended up in a room with a carpet.


I hope you may have gotten some insight on what works and what doesn't work for dorm rooms. It appears that a number of comments disagree with the CR article. That's okay, though. Practical applications most times outweigh theory.

Bottom line: A little research and planning before you make your move to campus can save a lot of time, money, room, and waste. Be kind to your planet!


Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.

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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