The Must-Have College Packing List

Updated: Mar. 14, 2023

Sending kids off to college is stressful enough. Why let packing add to your anxiety? Use this list to make packing for college easier.

Sending a child off to college is a stressful time for everyone involved. Why let packing add to your anxiety?  Most college towns have a big box store (or even a Bed Bath & Beyond) nearby, so buy the trashcans, lamps and hotpots when you get there and save room in the trunk for the true essentials.

Bring From Home:

  • 2 weeks worth of underwear and socks
  • Clothes that will carry you through fall temperatures (you can bring your winter gear at Thanksgiving)
  • Pajamas (you might be hanging around the dorm in them, so skip the skimpy ones)
  • Raincoat & boots
  • Fall jacket
  • Hat & gloves (if climate-appropriate)
  • At least one cocktail dress or jacket & tie (for semiformal events, particularly if you’re planning to rush a fraternity or sorority)
  • At least one pair of dress shoes
  • Sneakers
  • Everyday shoes
  • Hiking boots if you plan to explore the outdoors
  • At least one bathing suit
  • Flip-flops
  • Bathrobe
  • 2 sets of towels & a beach towel or two (if you don’t have extras, buy them there)
  • 2 sets of sheets and pillowcases (or buy them there)
  • Your favorite pillow
  • Under-the-bed storage bins (if you’re driving, use them to pack clothes or supplies)
  • Cell phone (and charger!)
  • iPod (and headphones!)
  • Camera
  • Laptop computer (don’t forget the power cords!)
  • Printer
  • Sports equipment (if you really think you’ll use it)
  • Bike
  • Vitamins
  • Medications (plus your doctor’s phone number, any extra prescriptions, and something that indicates your blood type)
  • Driver’s license, insurance card, social security card (or copy), birth certificate (or copy), ATM card, checkbook, credit card, passport (if you plan to travel)
  • Receipts for anything you did buy at a big box store or BB&B, in case you want to exchange it

Buy at School:

  • Bathroom caddy or toiletries bag (you may be toting it from your room to the bathroom daily)
  • Your favorite toiletries: Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, moisturizer, facial soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, hairbrush, styling gel, baby powder, deodorant, razor, shaving cream, nail clippers, etc.
  • Hair dryer
  • Over the counter medications: Ibuprofen, antacid, cold reliever, band-aids, antibacterial gel, etc.
  • Earplugs (you may be bunking with a snorer)
  • Cleaning supplies: Surface spray or wipes, laundry detergent, dish soap, aromatic room spray, stain remover, etc.
  • Air freshener
  • Hand-held vacuum
  • Small iron & ironing pad (if you think you’ll use them)
  • Drying rack
  • Hangers
  • Wall hooks & picture hangers
  • Over-the-door hooks
  • Shoe bag or organizer
  • Mirror
  • Message board
  • Bulletin board or magnetic board
  • Pushpins or magnets
  • Posters and/or picture frames
  • Area rug
  • Storage boxes & bins
  • Laundry bag or basket
  • Small safe for valuables
  • Alarm clock
  • Portable tool kit
  • Duct tape (you never know when you’ll need it)
  • Water pitcher & purifier (like a Brita filter, to cut down on buying bottled water)
  • At least one good coffee mug, bowl and travel mug
  • Disposable dishes & silverware (or just collect when you order take out)
  • Adapters, power strips & extension cords
  • Desk and/or reading lamp (check to see if your dorm provides these first)
  • Trashcan (dorms usually provide these too)
  • Desk supplies: stapler, staples, tape dispenser & tape, pens, pencils, highlighters, sticky notes, scissors, white-out, printer ink, printer paper, etc.
  • USB flash drive (or two)
  • Batteries
  • Microwave & mini-fridge (you can often rent these in your dorm for the school year)
  • Coffee maker (if you can’t even make it to the dining hall without caffeine)


Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest