The Dorm Essentials You Can Buy Now For College

October 4, 2023

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Dorm must have essentials that you can buy early.

Getting ready for college is an exciting time, but the growing realization of the cost of college including setting up a dorm room can be daunting.

Whether you’re a high-school senior working through college applications or the parent of one of those seniors, you may be wondering what dorm needs you can buy early to spread out the dorm shopping.

There are many dorm items that you should definitely wait to buy until you know your dorm assignment and your roommate but we have a categorized list below of the dorm essentials you can safely buy early.

These dorm essentials will serve you well in any dorm room, regardless of the layout and roommate situation.

Why Can’t You Shop Early for All Dorm Essentials?

There are so many variables in today’s dorm rooms. For many dorm essentials, you’ll need more information about the following before making some of the major purchases. Variables include:

  • Room Types and Configurations – Single, double, triple, suite-style, hall bath, private shared bath, closet or wardrobe, laundry nearby or in another building. Depending on your room type and setup, your dorm needs are going to vary greatly!
  • Bed Sizes – Twin, TwinXL, Full and Full XL are all out there. TwinXL is the most common, but you absolutely cannot predict your bed size these days.
  • Housing Policies – Mini fridges (and size limits), microwaves (and size limits), curtains, rugs, furniture, bed heights, appliances, desk hutches, extension cords, UL-Listed electronics. These things could be provided, allowed, prohibited, or only available as a rental through the school. Unfortunately, every school’s list of provided/allowed/prohibited is different!
  • Climate Considerations – Dehumidifier or humidifier? Heavy comforter or lightweight comforter? Beach towels or ski storage?

If you want some visuals of all of these different room types, join our Dorm Shopping Recommendations Facebook Group and scroll back through the wonderful move-in pictures (room reveals) in August and September. You’ll be amazed at the different layouts and setups and you’ll be inspired by their planning and decorating stories and results!

Dorm Essentials You Can Buy Early

You won’t need everything on this list, but you’ll get a good idea of common essentials that are just about universally allowed in dorm rooms year after year.

Please note that this list of recommendations is based on years of advising dorm shoppers and testing dorm essentials. All dorm room items listed below meet our strict standards and are highly rated. We aim to find Made In The USA and non-toxic items whenever possible!

Dorm Bedding

Nope, no bedding yet. While TwinXL is the most common dorm bed size, there are too many schools with varying dorm bed sizes these days – everything from Twin to Full XL. Please wait to buy any of your dorm bed layers until you are certain of your mattress size.

Our Dorm Shopping Facebook group tracks all of the best deals on high-quality toxin-free bedding, so as soon as you have your dorm room assignment and bedding size, we’ll let you know what we recommend and when it goes on sale/deal.

If at all possible, try to buy bedding before the summer – prices rise and inventory dwindles during the summer months.

Dorm Bathrooms/Showers

Soooo many dorms have attached bathrooms versus down the hall community bathrooms these days. As our Facebook group of 60k+ members showed us their move-in pics this year, I would say at least 30% had private baths, meaning one for that dorm room, or one shared with one or two other rooms in a suite-style setup.

Those private baths need to be outfitted by the roommates – shower curtain/liner/rings, shower storage (caddies mostly), bath mats, under sink storage, over-toilet storage, cleaning supplies, even your own toilet paper in most cases. But we’ll hold on those until we know your dorm setup and just focus on those items that you’ll need regardless of your assigned bathroom type.

Quick Dry Bath Towels For Dorms

Dorm rooms are usually damp, humid and lack proper air circulation. As there is not a lot of room to open up towels to fully dry, dorm residents are encouraged to forgo big soft fluffy towels and choose quick dry towels to avoid damp, mildew smelling towels.

These 2 towel options are both OEKO-TEX® certified which ensures there are no toxins in the fabric:

Bath Wraps & Bathrobes

No matter the bathroom situation in college, bath wraps and robes are certainly going to be needed. Here are some of our favorites.

Bath Wraps For College

Bathrobes For College

Dorm Laundry

Everyone needs a laundry hamper/bag for dirty clothes! Most dorms will have laundry machines in the building, but you may have to navigate stairs or an elevator to get there. At some schools, laundry facilities may be in another building. Regardless, an easy to carry laundry bag is a plus in any situation.

  • Backpack Laundry Bag – A basic backpack laundry bag – easy to carry no matter the distance to the laundry room.
  • Personalized Laundry Bag – Super fun colors/patterns and choice of fonts for name or initials.
  • Hamper With 2 Laundry Bags – Use one in the hamper to collect dirty laundry and the other for sheets and towels right before you head to the laundry room. Available in 5 colors.

Maybe it is just me, but I don’t like to put clean clothes back into the dirty laundry hamper/bag – I prefer a laundry basket for the clean clothes, towels and sheets.

  • Standard Laundry Basket – This is a good-sized basket that can hold a couple of loads of laundry plus sheets & towels.
  • Collapsible Laundry Basket – If you’re worried about where to keep a standard laundry basket, this is a version that collapses down to 2.7″ ‘flat’ when not in use.

Slim Hangers – Slim hangers are a smart solution for dorm closets – they are almost always SMALL! Many dorms don’t actually have closets, rather they have wardrobe units as closet space. These slim hangers allow more hangers to fit and have the added benefit of non-slip grips on the shoulders and the flat pants/accessories bar as well.

Collapsible Clothes Drying Rack – Have a lot of clothing items that need to be hung dry? This collapsible drying rack is a great solution to quickly dry clothes in a dorm room and then fold it away into a small space.

Dorm Air Quality & Temperatures

Air Purifiers For A Dorm Room

Dorms house a lot of students in small spaces, and colds, sniffles and the flu tend to spread as quickly as they did in the nursery school days.

Air purifiers are the best defense against germs and a great option to keep air clean and reduce smells that come along with dorm life

These are a few that we recommend:

  • GOOD: Levoit H13 – Removes 99.7% of particles. Cleans 129sqft every 12.5 minutes.
  • BETTER: BlueAir 511 – Removes 99.97% of particles. Cleans 180sqft every 12.5 minutes.
  • BEST: Puro Air HEPA 14 – Removes 99.99% of particles. Cleans 232sqft every 12.5 minutes. This is a medical grade air purifier and would be the best choice for students with asthma or allergies.
  • Combined Air Purifier & Fan: Dyson Purifier Cool Autoreact TP7A

Fans For A Dorm Room

Hands down, there really is just one answer here. The WOOZOO fan. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you will. It will get ALL the hype and conversation throughout the spring and summer, and once these little guys are opened up and tested out, all you will see is “the hype was worth it”! Promise.

There are many different models of WOOZOO out there, but THE best model, the one you want is the PCF-SC15T – the others don’t hand a candle to the air movement and cooling. This model is typically only available at Costco, and only for limited months of the year (roughly April – July). The good news is that you don’t have to be a member to buy them online at Costco, they will just add a small 5% non-member fee. It’s a $30 fan (when it’s at its best price), so that’s all of an extra $1.50.

We will let you know as soon as it becomes available and also when it hits the low price via our Dorm Shopping Facebook group, or you can also subscribe to receive our emails.

Legal Documents For 18 Year Olds

Dorm Desk Essentials

Just about every dorm room comes equipped with a desk and a (probably uncomfortable wood) desk chair. Some come with a hutch on the top for extra storage, but most do not. Once you know your dorm, we can point you to the best dorm desk hutches if you need to bring your own.

For now, you’d be safe to go ahead and shop early for the following dorm desk essentials.

Desk Lamps

Hopefully, all of our students will spend TONS of time at their desks studying and working on school projects and papers. Look for desk lamps with features such as reduced eye strain, phone/accessory charging and adjustable color/dimming.

  • Love this sanitizing desk lamp (see talk of germs above in air purifier section) with eye strain reducing light and a wireless charging pad. This is the one I sent with my current college freshman. I have not been able to find this particular model anywhere other than Walmart.
  • This is another more budget friendly desk lamp that comes in multiple colors including pink!

Desk Organizers

Many dorm desks do not have a top drawer (some have no drawers at all) for things like pens, pencils, sticky notes, paper clips, etc. A desktop organizer can help keep everything in its place.

WhiteBoards & BUlletin Boards

I love this reversible whiteboard for a college desktop. One side is a blank dry erase board, and the other side is a reusable calendar to help keep up with due dates and planning ahead.

Another helpful desk accessory is a traditional framed bulletin board. This one is simple and lightweight, just lean on the back of the desk or hang behind desk to hold pictures, reminders and keepsakes. My son loves his! 

School Supplies

No matter where you go to school, you’ll want to have your preferred school supplies.

While most schools use technology to turn in school work, projects and papers, you may still want to stock up on pens, notebooks, and your other favorite supplies.

And FYI, printers are usually not necessary in college due to so much being turned in online. If you do decide to bring a printer, be sure it has a cable to directly connect it to your computer. Most school networks will not allow you to put a printer on their network.

Keep In Mind: Hutch Clearance

Keep in mind as you shop for your desktops, your dorm may provide a desk hutch which will limit the height of items at the back of the desk. If you end up bringing your own desk hutch, popular desk hutches have clearance below the bottom shelf of 15″-24″.

Dorm Desk Hutch
Dorm Desk Hutch Tall

Down The Road: Covering A Dorm Desk

Another trend, primarily for girls’ dorm rooms, is to cover the desktop in either fabric or removable wallpaper and then put a piece of plexiglass or acrylic over the top. This is both to transform the look of the potentially shabby desk as well as put a protective surface at the top for hair, makeup, drinks, etc. Once you know your exact desk size, you can have the acrylic or plexiglass cut at a Home Depot or Lowe’s. Just something to keep in mind for now.

Dorm Room Hair & Makeup

Hair Tool Organization For A Dorm Room

  • Polder Style Station – Safely store hair tools while cooling. Use freestanding or hang on a towel bar. Multiple colors available.
  • Over Cabinet Hair Tool Holder – Use freestanding or hang on the inside or outside of a cabinet.
  • Protective Heat Mat – Protect your dorm desk or countertop surfaces while hot hair tools are in use. Also opens to store tools inside for travel.

Makeup Organizers For A Dorm Room

Lighted Makeup Mirrors

Dorm Room Jewelry Storage

Keeping jewelry neat, organized and untangled in a dorm room can be a challenge. Below are some of our favorite solutions for dorm jewelry storage and also some ideas for travel jewelry storage to make weekend trips and back and forth to home a little easier.

  • Velvet Lined Acrylic Drawers – The sturdiness of clear acrylic with the addition of velvet jewelry organization. Perfect for organizing and safely storing multiple jewelry items. 
  • Tabletop Tiered Tree With Accessory Dish – We personally recommend this product! We have purchased it twice – one for home and one for college, and it has held up for all 4 years. (BONUS – it was used as a letter jacket stand for her senior table too). 

Dorm Room Decor

Wall Art & Wall Hangings

  • Circle Wooden Monogram Signs – Classic and elegant and extremely popular for over the head of a dorm bed.
  • Custom Wood Name Signs – For over the bed or for your side of the dorm room.
  • Colorful Picture/Artwork Frames – Scandanavian inspired frames in 4 sizes and multiple bright color options. Brighten up your desk area or dorm room walls with these simple frames.
  • Mixtiles – Check out Mixtiles for creating custom gallery walls with frames that ‘stick to any surface’.
  • Custom Posters – Create posters with anything from family photos to student-created artwork.
  • Sports Flags – You may not know what your college team will be yet, but you can get ahead on shopping for your favorite professional sports team now. The typical flag size for a dorm is 3’x5′.
  • MLB Pennants & Banners – For your baseball fan.

Other Fun Dorm Decor You Can Buy Early – These Make Great Gifts!

  • Custom Pet Pillows – This is the hands down favorite pet pillow maker, and this link will apply 25% off.
  • Call Your Mom Pillow – We like this one as you can put a custom message on the back.
  • Message Board – Use this 10″x10″ message board with its precut letters to post quotes, leave notes or personalize your room. Comes in multiple colors and makes a great gift for students!
  • Vintage Gumball Dispenser – A unique option for a conversation piece in the room with the benefit of also being a treat dispenser!
  • Three-Chamber Treat Dispenser – Similar to the gumball dispenser, but with 3 chambers to hold smaller treats like M&M’s, mints, nuts, jellybeans, etc.

Dorm Decor You Should Wait To Buy

These often come with rules and restrictions and/or the need to know room sizes, so please hold off on buying these dorm items until you know.

  • Curtains
  • Rugs
  • String lights
  • Heavy wall decor

Dorm Room Technology

Personal Technology

TV’s For A Dorm Room

Many young adults watch shows on their phones, but bigger TVs are great for multiple viewers, sports and video games! They are a great option for socializing with new friends.

There won’t be much room for the TV so keep that in mind with considering the size. More than likely, you will place the TV on top of a dresser or desk hutch.

Size-wise, look for 40-50″ TVs, a size that will be appropriate for the dorm and eventually for an off-campus apartment/house bedroom TV. If you end up without a large enough flat area, many students choose a rolling TV cart to make it easy to move around the room for different viewing situations. A clamp mount is also an option.

We recommend a Smart TV as many students can get by with WiFi instead of paying for a cable service. My kids are able to use their Roku Smart TVs and access our home cable from their TVs via a Roku Xfinity app.

Here are a few options:


  • Laptops – your school and major should provide the requirements and laptop specifications that you’ll need. This will vary by school, so please don’t anticipate the requirements or purchase a college laptop until you’ve committed to a school.
  • Surge Protectors – some schools are REALLY picky about surge protectors and require them to be UL-Listed. Some are more relaxed. Very few schools allow extension cords without surge protection, so I would skip extension cords altogether.

Dorm And College Campus Safety

  • First Aid/Medicine Storage Box (without the meds yet) – this stacking kit is perfect for putting together a first aid/medicine box (although wait to buy the meds due to expiration dates). We have a printable ‘when to take it’ list in our Dorm Shopping Facebook group that you can mount to the inside of the kit. You’ll need to join the group, then you can find the medicine list and instructions in the Dorm Shopping Group Files Here.
  • Birdie Personal Alarm – there is a basic Birdie keychain alarm with a loud alarm and a strobe light, but there is also the subscription-based Birdie+ with many extra safety options including live support to stay on the phone with you on your way home. Give them both a look and use our code PSA15 to save 15% on your device purchase.
  • Carbon Monoxide Detector – yes, the school should ensure there is an operational carbon monoxide detector in every corner of each dorm building, but a little of your own backup monitoring might be a good thing.
  • Scrunchie Drink Cover – keep it on your wrist until you have a drink nearby.

Dorm Food, Drink & Cooking Options

While rules and allowed appliances can vary widely, we’ve found that most schools will allow a Keurig, a small blender and an electric kettle, but there are exceptions. Definitely hold off on things like air fryers, sandwich makers, microwaves and mini fridges.

Small Appliances For A Dorm Room

  • Keurig Mini – Just about all dorm rooms will allow a small Keurig. This one is the most popular with the smallest footprint and multiple colors to match your room.
  • Ninja Fit Personal Blender – This is the favorite Smoothie maker of our family.
  • Magic Bullet Blender – Another popular personal blender option.
  • Blender Bottle – An unmotorized BPA and phthalate-free shaker bottle for mixing protein powder or other supplements into liquid, no blades or plug-in necessary.
  • Electric Kettle – Great for not only tea but also oatmeal, ramen, hot chocolate and other favorites. Quickly and quietly bring hot water to a boil. The auto shut-off is important too!

Coffee Mugs & Tumblers

Water Pitchers & Bottles

Food & Drink Accessories

  • Magnetic Shelves & Paper Towel Holder – whether you rent or buy a mini fridge, it is almost a certainty that you’ll have one. These shelves are super strong and are a great place to store water bottles, spices, sugar and other food and drink items that don’t need to be refrigerated.


  • Mini Fridge
  • Microwave
  • Other Appliances

CleanIng Up A Dorm Room

At a recent college orientation, the student counselors were asked what their #1 dorm item was in their dorm, and the response was a full-sized trash can!

Out And About On And Off Campus

Dorm Move-In/Assembly Prep

  • VENO Moving Bags – Forget IKEA bags, the VENO moving bags are thicker, slightly larger, less expensive and just the best thing ever. Go ahead and get yourself an 8 or 10-pack and start using them on your next road-trip. You can thank us later. Please use this link to ensure you get the version with backpack straps because there are other variations without them that look similar.
  • Toolbox – A simple toolbox for move-in and beyond. Be sure a measuring tape is included if you choose a different set!
  • Rubber mallet – If you don’t have a rubber mallet at home now, go ahead and get one. These come in very handy on move-in day for adjusting dorm bed heights and putting furniture together. You’ll be loaning yours to others on the hall who weren’t in the know.

Taking A Car To College

  • Portable Tire Inflator/Air Compressor – Fill your own tires as soon as necessary and avoid looking for air filling machines at gas stations. Also has nozzles for bike tires, sports balls and pool floats. A must have for college and to keep one at home too.
  • Portable Jump Start Battery – Jump your own car with this heavy duty portable battery with jumper cables. I’ve used this personally to jump my 8-cylinder SUV, worked like a charm and did it by myself.
  • Dash Cam – Our family was in an accident just off-campus in the Fall of 2023. A college freshman caused a 3-car collision, and we were thankful for video of the situation to clear up any doubts of fault. Young (and older) drivers should consider dash cams to protect themselves from misplaced blame as well as proof of any incidents that may occur when the student is away from the car (parking monitor function).

What Is Not On This List?

In addition to all bedding, we recommend waiting for your dorm assignment to purchase:

  • Headboards
  • Storage
  • Nightstands
  • Closet organizers
  • Ottomans
  • Chairs
  • Futons
  • Most appliances
  • Surge protectors
  • Shower caddies
  • Shower shoes
  • Desk hutches
  • Desk chair covers
  • Laundry soap
  • Backpack (until you know laptop size)
  • Any Command Strips or other wall-hanging products

You can find recommendations for all of these dorm essentials in our full Dorm Essentials Shopping Guide.

Most importantly, we strongly recommend against buying a laptop for college until you have specific recommendations from your school for your major.

More Dorm Planning And Shopping Resources

For dorm deal alerts, questions and recommendations, you want to be in our Dorm Shopping Recommendations And Deal Alerts Facebook group. If you have any questions about this article or dorm shopping in general, you can post them in the group.

Our full list of College Dorm Room Essentials & Nice To Haves includes several other categories and dorm essentials, but those will need to wait until you have your room assignment and roommate information. Every dorm has different rules for what is provided, what is allowed and what is prohibited. There are even differences between dorms at the same school, so don’t make assumptions until you know your exact assumption.

Additional Helpful Articles:

How To Layer A Perfectly Comfortable Dorm Bed

25 Important Tips For Dorm Room And College Campus Safety

How To Prepare And Pack For College Move-In Day

25 Practical High School Graduation Gifts For Girls

The Best Products For Healthier Non-Toxic Dorm Beds

The Best Dorm Storage Ideas To Maximize And Organize Space

The Important Documents You Need When Your Child Turns 18

Share This Article With Friends!

Help us get the word out by sharing this list with your fellow senior parents, senior students and even those a year behind so they can start learning early. This would be a great article to share in your local high school Facebook group.

Simply Copy/Paste this URL to share via text, messenger, email or Facebook:

Thank you!

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Important Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, a lawyer or a financial advisor. Please use this content as informational only and as only one input as you consider what options are best for you and your family. This is not professional advice.

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