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25 Surprising Things You’ll Need for College (and 5 You Won’t)

Start college off on the right foot—with the right stuff! Here’s our checklist of essentials you might forget to pack (plus a few you can leave at home).

Transporting your entire bedroom to college is too difficult and expensive (and also a little weird), so there’s no choice but to pack for the upcoming semester. Even if you’ve studied the official packing list from your college like it was an SAT prep book, anticipating what you may need in a brand-new situation is still daunting and stressful.

Lucky for you, we’re here to help. We’ve compiled a list of the must-haves you’ll need to ace the school year without missing the comforts of home (as well as a few things you can leave behind).

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1. First aid kit

There is no communal medicine cabinet in college, so be sure to BYO. Pre-packaged first aid kits are a great start. And here’s a complete list of essentials to have on hand (which you’re used to having at home). Make sure your kit is well stocked before you need it.

2. Professional clothes

what to pack for college

Internship interviews, networking events, and even some class presentations will require you to dress up, so be prepared with the appropriate clothes. Pack an interview-ready outfit and also a “business casual” look (think nice pants, but not overly formal) to be ready for any event. Don’t forget the appropriate hangers— professional clothes are wrinkle prone!

3. Stain remover

Nothing will ruin a polished look (i.e., the clothes in #2) like a coffee stain on your pressed shirt or pair of nice pants. A stain remover like Tide to Go can save the day before your interview or presentation. Stain removers also comes in handy if your laundry access is limited (or if you just keep forgetting to, you know, actually do your laundry.)

4. Alarm clock

what to pack for college

Your phone is a great alarm clock—most of the time. Forgetting to charge it or unmute it after class (and definitely losing it) are all great reasons to have an actual alarm clock as a backup. Parking it out of reach will keep you from hitting snooze too many times.

5. Phone charger with a 6-foot cord

what to pack for college

You’re going to lose or break your phone charger; it’s just a fact of life. Be prepared by having a backup charger when the time comes, rather than frantically trying to borrow one (which is more difficult if you have an older or less popular brand of phone). Also, since you don’t know where the outlets will be in relation to your bed, an extra-long cord can be a game changer.

6. Portable phone charger

A dead phone battery can seriously derail your day no matter where you are. Be prepared with a portable phone charger you can throw in your bag for when you’re walking around campus or you have a busy class schedule. Don’t be that person sitting on the floor by the outlet in the hallway (or trying to run that 6-foot cord into the classroom).

7. Surge protector with USB ports

A surge protector is essential for safeguarding your electronics—and also your relationship with your roommate. You don’t want to fight over available outlets; a surge protector with several extra outlets and USB ports will keep the peace when you both want to charge your tech devices at the same time.

8. Water bottle

what to pack for college

Buying bottled water or drinks can get pricey—plus it’s bad for the environment. A water bottle is not only great on the go but also when you’re in your dorm: An insulated bottle will keep your beverages cool, especially if you don’t have a mini fridge in your room. For anyone who likes to keep a glass of water next to the bed, your water bottle will help prevent spills. And while you’re in an eco-friendly frame of mind, don’t forget a metal straw!

9. Water filter

The bathroom faucet may be your only access to water in your dorm. A pitcher with a water filter ensures you always have fresh drinking water. Another option is a water bottle with a built-in filter.

10. Laptop case

what to pack for college

In high school, your laptop may never have left your bedroom, but now it will likely travel with you to your classes. Protect it (and all your hard work) with a laptop case before you throw it into your backpack with leaky pens and granola bar crumbs.

11. Umbrella

You only need to get caught in a surprise storm once to never forget your umbrella again. Take our advice and don’t even let that one time happen. Pack a compact umbrella and don’t leave home (a.k.a. your dorm) without it.

12. Lanyard for your ID or cardholder on your phone

You’ll be using your college ID for everything—as a key to enter school buildings, as a library card, to access your meal plan—and it’s so easy to forget in your room. Before school starts, pick up a lanyard or cardholder wallet that sticks to your phone so your ID will always be handy.

13. Wall adhesives

You probably won’t forget the new poster you bought, or the picture collage of your friends from home, but you might forget to bring adhesives to put them up. Pack some Command strips and tape if you’re planning on hanging things in your new space. Washi tape (a thin masking tape that comes in a variety of fun colors and patterns) is a great adhesive option because you can also use the tape itself to make cool designs on your walls.

14. Doorstop

Its first use will be to prop open the door as you lug in all your stuff on move-in day. Throughout the semester, a doorstop will keep your dorm room open so you can invite visitors in and make new friends!

15. Color-catching laundry sheets

Shout ColorCatcher Dye-Trapping Sheets are magic. Throw one in the washing machine with a load of laundry to absorb any excess dye (from new or colorful clothing) and you’ll never have to worry about your red T-shirt turning your white socks pink! It’s perfect for laundry novices, or for anyone lacking the time or space to sort laundry.

16. Health insurance card (or a photo of your parents’ card)

If you have your own health insurance card, definitely remember to pack it! If you’re on your parents’ plan and you don’t have your own card, take a photo of theirs and save it on your phone so you can access it in an emergency.

17. Snacks

Nonperishables such as granola bars, pretzels, and cereal will save you from starvation until you get the lay of the land. Soon you’ll be walking to the dining hall with friends and know all the spots to buy groceries, but until you figure everything out, it’s good to have some snacks on hand.

18. Earplugs

what to pack for college

Who knew tiny pieces of foam could save your relationships—with noisy neighbors or snoring roommates. Earplugs will ensure your sleep (and your sanity) and are also great for blocking out loud music while you’re studying.

19. Agenda/planner

what to pack for college

Even if you use your phone calendar and reminders, there’s still a case to be made for also owning a physical planner or agenda. A tip from college blog Society 19 suggests filling out all of your assignments and due dates on a paper planner or calendar at the beginning of the semester, which will allow you to gauge your busy weeks at a glance for better time management.

20. Laundry bag

what to pack for college

Compared to a hamper or basket, a laundry bag saves space since you can hang it in your closet or shove it under your bed. The bag also makes for easy transport to the laundromat (or your parents’ house—no judgment). And don’t forget to pack laundry detergent!

21. Cleaning supplies

what to pack for college

Vacuuming or scrubbing the floors may be a little too aspirational in terms of dorm cleanliness, but a few simple cleaning products will go a long way. For instance, paper towels and disinfectant wipes will come in handy when you spill your iced coffee or your roommate with the flu coughs all over your shared space. Pack some trash bags for your future cleaning sprees (or as a replacement for #20 in a pinch)!

22. Tissues

what to pack for college

Cold and flu season is just around the corner, so stock up on tissues now. You may think you’ll just pick some up later when you get sick, but trust us, you won’t feel like making a tissue-run when you’re in bed with a 101 fever. (Which you’ll know since you have a thermometer in your first aid kit, see #1). Learn from our mistakes: If you resort to using dorm-issued toilet paper or paper towels for your runny nose, you will regret it.

23. Scissors

what to pack for college

You might be tempted to leave scissors off your packing list since, like markers or a glue stick, they’re traditional school supplies you feel you’ve outgrown. But scissors are really useful, especially when you need to open a package or trim a thread hanging off your clothes.

24. Dish soap

Yes, you’re going to be washing dishes in your bathroom sink. So make the process more sanitary by packing some dish soap. A small hand towel or dishtowel will also be helpful if you don’t want to dry your dishes with the same towel you use for your hair.

25. Nail clippers (and lesser used toiletry items)

Because you only use them every few weeks, certain items may slip your mind, like nail clippers, emery boards, period supplies, and anything else you use sporadically. Think about packing a heating pad, even if you only need it once a month.

Leave these at home for extra packing space!

1. A printer

Your school will have a library or computer center where you can print out your assignments. You might think it’ll be easier to bring your own printer, but often when you need to print something, you’ll find yourself in the computer center anyway. Additionally, some professors don’t even require you to print your work and will instead let you email your assignments.

2. Candles

Candles are always a nice touch, both in terms of dorm decor and also to mask any weird smells, but most colleges don’t allow them in dorms because of the risk of fire.

3. Extra dishes, cutlery, and glasses

You only need one plate, one bowl, one cup, and one set of silverware. Honestly, you could even get away with bringing a Friends-size mug and letting it double as a bowl and cup. Having fewer items not only frees up storage space but also lessens the chance of dirty dishes piling up.

4. Plastic storage bins

Almost every back-to-school packing list includes plastic storage bins, but hear us out: Hold off on buying them until you’re unpacked and you’ve surveyed your space. Then you can buy the appropriate size bins for your room, rather than hauling in something bulky that will just get in the way.

5. A laptop tray

Maybe you think you’ll use it when you’re sitting on your bed to study. Again, wait until the semester starts to see what study routines you establish. You may find that you prefer working in the library—or if you do study in bed, you might be just fine without one.

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