The Must-Have College Packing List

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

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

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