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Top 10 Unexpected Must-Haves For Your College Dorm

by Jenna Ranney, Content Manager

Moving from your room at home into a college dorm or apartment is always stressful, especially if it’s your first year! There are hundreds of shopping lists out there to guide you through the necessities of moving into college, filled with the basics like pillows, sheets, a mattress pad, a shower caddy, etc. Your school might even provide a helpful list detailing what you need for your school specifically, and more importantly what you’re not allowed to bring.

We’ve compiled our own back-to-school list, one that skips right over the basics that you already know and highlights some of the most useful bits from our experience. Most of these things aren’t on a lot of the must-have lists, but trust us - they make a big difference! With the return to college and university life looking a bit different this year and the use of shared spaces being at a minimum, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’ll have a dorm space that works for you!

Shopping bags

Weekly Calendar

Most people have a normal monthly calendar in their dorm rooms, but what really saved my life was having a weekly calendar of my class schedule on my closet door. It's definitely a necessity in those first two weeks of the semester when you’re still getting used to the class schedule, but even 2 months into the year it was incredibly helpful to be able to visually understand how my day would play out. It was also a great way to plan little things like gym trips, meals, and meetings in between classes. You can get a reusable version, like a whiteboard or chalkboard, or you can just print out / write out your schedule on a piece of paper and tape it up like I did!

Wipes/Paper Towels

These are likely on a lot of the other lists to bring to college, but I’m including it here because it’s something I (and a lot of my friends) initially glossed over. I assumed only clean-freaks would keep wipes in their room and use them regularly... I was entirely incorrect. You can never underestimate the number of spills or messes you’ll make in your dorm room; after all, it’s where you sleep, eat, work, hang out with friends, and everything in between!

Command Velcro Strips

We all know that Command Hooks are a classic dorm-room staple, but before moving into college I never knew they make Velcro strips too. I bought them on a whim, and ended up using most of my pack! When you have limited space, being able to stick your stuff to the wall when you don’t need it and easily remove it when you do is surprisingly useful, and kind of fun! I ended up adding Velcro strips to all kinds of things: the remotes for my TV and lights, my hairbrush, my tapestry and posters, the battery pack for my fairy lights, even a little marker holder for my whiteboard. You can use them in all kinds of places, and they were definitely one of my best purchases for move-in!


This one may seem a little extravagant or unnecessary, and it’s definitely not for everyone. That said, having a diffuser or air freshener in your dorm room can make a world of difference and can change the entire feel of your room. Residence halls are different at every school, but they don’t tend to be the newest, cleanest, or best ventilated spaces. It’s not uncommon for dorms to have a lingering musty smell, so having something to cover that up and make the place smell fresh is a huge relief. Especially now that social distance precautions might have us spending more time in our rooms, making the place feel as welcoming as possible is never a bad idea. You’ll be surprised how much better a sweet smell can make you feel!

Heated Blanket

If you tend to run cold, investing in a heated blanket for your dorm room is key. Dorms aren’t known for fantastic temperature control, meaning that your room could end up pretty cold in the winter. Having a heated blanket was a lifesaver for me! An unexpected bonus: my roommate was always pretty warm whenever I was cold, so she could keep the room cooler without bothering me because I had my own personal heater in blanket form! Just be sure to use caution while using a heated blanket and always unplug it when you aren't using it!

Lap Desk/ Desk Cushion

Making sure you have a comfortable place to sit and focus is crucial for productivity! Most dorms come with their own desk space for you to use for working and studying, but they’re not overly concerned with comfort. I hated sitting at my desk for more than 20 minutes in my first semester because the chair was so uncomfortable, but I still needed a dedicated study space. Getting a cushion for my desk chair and a lap desk to facilitate studying in bed were major upgrades.

Laundry Drying Rack

When my mom insisted I bring a drying rack to college I rolled my eyes - I knew I wouldn’t have much space and I figured I’d be machine-drying all my clothes anyway. Turns out, fighting for an open dryer can be incredibly frustrating, especially when the dryers don’t really work (like the ones in my building). My fold-up drying rack became my best friend, and a major must-have in terms of laundry. It was super convenient, didn’t take up nearly as much space as I’d expected, and it saved me some of my laundry dollars!

Book Organizer/Bookshelf

I’ve never seen this listed on a college move-in list, but it seems like an essential to me! After a semester of keeping all my heavy textbooks and many notebooks in a haphazard pile on my desk, I invested in an adjustable desktop book organizer. There are all kinds of these desktop shelving gadgets online and in supply stores, and it was so perfect in keeping my study space organized. I definitely recommend it!

Over-the-Counter Medicines

Bringing your own mini medicine cabinet to combat seasonal allergies can be a life-saver! Keeping a stash of all the over-the-counter medicines that you might need throughout the semester saves you time, money, and rest when you need it most!

Storage Ottoman

Definitely one of my most well-loved dorm essentials was the storage ottoman I bought for my first year. It gave me a place to keep my extra blankets, a seating option for any guests I might have, a step-stool to get onto my vaulted bed, and it barely took up any space. Talk about multi-purpose!


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